What do you think would be the advantages of being the first state in New England to legalize?
I do not think there would be any advantages to Rhode island becoming the first state in New England to legalize recreational marijuana.
What do you think the disadvantages would be?
Disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The verdict is not in on the impact of legalization of recreational marijuana in the states that have implemented this law. Early data indicates an increase in drugged driving, youth access, increased black market activity, increased school suspensions, emergency room visits from edibles and the list goes on from Colorado. Rhode Island does not have to implement this law now. Prudence would have the state wait for more concrete data to come from the few states that have launched these laws. Unintended consequences have already become apparent in Colorado. Advertisements and edibles seem targeted to youth. I worry that Big Marijuana (like Big Tobacco in the 1990s) is behind much of this movement. Rhode Island already has the dubious distinction of being number one in marijuana use in the 12- 25-year-old category (NSDUH 2014) and our youth treatment admissions for marijuana surpass any other drug or alcohol treatment admissions. Rhode Island is also eight years into legalized medical marijuana and the state is having a very difficult [time] regulating that use. How can our communities trust that recreational use will be any better regulated? The dangers from Butane Hash Oil manufacturing threatens the safety of our communities. Proponents of legalized recreational marijuana rally behind the cry that by regulating this drug youth will be better protected. Where is the data supporting that claim? The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study: Teens and Parents, 2013 surveyed US high school students and indicated, marijuana legalization would likely increase use among teens who already use marijuana. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of teens who reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime said that legalizing the drug would make them more likely to use it. In addition, more than three-fourths (78%) of heavy marijuana users reported that legalizing the drug would make them more likely to use it. Only 16% of teens who reported that they had never used marijuana agreed that they would be more likely to use marijuana if it were legal. According to the authors, “One possible scenario suggested by these data is that even if legalization does not drive up overall prevalence of teen marijuana use, it may lead to increased use among those already using, including teens who are already smoking marijuana almost daily (http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/cesarfax/vol22/22-26.pdf).”
That kind of information is what really scares me. Today’s marijuana is not what was used in Woodstock in 1969. These are just some of my concerns about the disadvantages of legalizing recreational marijuana.
If cannabis is legalized, what (if anything) would be fair to do about past criminal conviction records for cannabis-related offenses? Should racial and ethnic disparities in criminal justice consequences be taken into account in any way?
According to the RI Attorney General’s Office, there are no criminals in our local prisons whose sole charge was a minor cannabis-related offense, so I don’t think that this would be a big issue in Rhode Island. Racial and ethnic disparities should never be a part of criminal justice consequences.
Marijuana is sometimes referred to as a gateway drug. Would you expect to see an increase in use of other drugs if cannabis is legalized?
The concept of marijuana as a gateway drug could be argued for a long time, but suffice it to say that there are very few people in recovery who would not make the link with marijuana being their entry into addiction. More research needs to be done on addiction and how family history comes in to play. I can’t comment on further expectations of an increase in other drug use. I do know that there are no state dollars spent on substance abuse prevention and if recreational marijuana were legalized, the work of my prevention colleagues would be increased.