Column: Marijuana industry wants profits, not public good
“The industry is taking over the legalization movement…” That was Dan Riffle, who resigned as federal policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project the day MPP announced a deal with marijuana businesses. The problem is that these businesses are writing legalization initiatives to enrich themselves.
For example, in Ohio, 20 investors paid to get a legalization measure on the ballot, and if it had passed, those 20 would have controlled Ohio’s entire marijuana industry. That’s an abuse of the citizens’ initiative process, and voters rejected it by two to one.
Now they’re trying in Arizona.
This year, we will vote on Proposition 205, a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project. Ninety percent of the money for Prop 205 comes from the MPP and the local medical marijuana dispensary owners MPP has teamed up with. And Prop 205 is written to give these dispensary owners a virtual monopoly. Here’s how it’s done:
1) For one year, only dispensary owners could get licenses to sell marijuana. After that, others could apply, but only dispensary owners could grow and sell unlimited amounts; everyone else would be limited. Dispensary owners would have no competition, and years to build their businesses. No wonder dispensary owners are paying for this initiative; it gives them a virtual monopoly.
2) Colorado lets towns and cities vote to prohibit marijuana stores, and most have. Under Arizona’s initiative, however, current dispensary owners would be exempted from such a ban; they can open recreational stores no matter what the city decides. The only reason for this exemption is that dispensary owners want it, and they paid for the initiative, so they get what they want.
3) Lastly, the initiative creates a Marijuana Commission to regulate the industry, but requires that three of the seven commissioners must be current marijuana business owners. No industry in America is allowed to run its own government regulatory agency. We think it’s corrupt when a business sneaks its own people onto a regulatory body. These guys are doing it in broad daylight by writing it into law.
It’s an abuse of the initiative process. That’s why marijuana users in Ohio voted against legalization, and they will in Arizona, too. On the Arizona Secretary of State’s website, look at the arguments against Proposition 205 written by Marijuana Consumers Against Fake Marijuana Legalization. These pot users support legalization but oppose what’s basically a money grab.
The other problem with Prop 205 is that it guarantees these businesses the right to sell “marijuana edibles.” If you don’t know the term, Google it and look at some images. Colorado’s pot stores don’t sell many bags of green, leafy weed. Their shelves are stocked mostly with edibles – pot-infused cookies, candy and soda – that make up most of their sales.
Tobacco companies are green with envy. They can only reach teens indirectly, with Joe Camel ads and product placement to send the message that cigarettes are cool. Marijuana cookies and candy appeal directly to teenagers, and not surprisingly, Colorado now ranks No. 1 in teenage use.
Legalization always increases teenage use. It’s basic supply and demand; more availability means more use. Teens consistently say the easiest drugs to buy are alcohol and tobacco because they’re sold in stores and found in many homes. The hardest drugs to find are crystal meth and heroin because they’re strictly illegal.
Marijuana permanently damages the developing teenage brain in ways no other drug does, so we should discourage teen use. But like tobacco, most marijuana profits come from users who start in their teens, so the industry encourages it.
Recognizing the problem, Colorado is now passing laws to ban edibles, but we won’t be able to. Initiatives passed by Arizona voters are protected, and extremely hard for the legislature to change.
Voter initiatives were meant to benefit the public, not to make businessmen rich by giving them monopolies. Even worse, this initiative would enshrine their right to get rich by targeting teens with an addictive drug. That’s why even people who support legalization should vote no on Prop 205.
Ed Gogek, MD is a Prescott psychiatrist and author of Marijuana Debunked: A handbook for parents, pundits and politicians who want to know the case against legalization.