Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is a big step, and it’s natural that some Nevada voters would be concerned about taking it.
But it’s a move that makes sense when marijuana is placed in the same context as alcohol.
Like marijuana, alcohol has been subject to a ban. But Prohibition didn’t work, so Americans undid it with the 21st Amendment in 1933 and began regulating alcohol again.
Eight decades later, the War on Drugs has been as ineffective at eradicating marijuana as Prohibition was for alcohol. Surveys and studies show that at least 30 million Americans use the drug, and the percentage of adults users has only grown in the past decade.
So as Nevadans take the final step Tuesday in deciding the fate of a ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana, there’s a logical connection between legalization of marijuana and alcohol. For those who believe it’s appropriate for alcohol to be legal, the connection goes like this:
Marijuana is less harmful to the body than alcohol. Marijuana is less toxic and addictive than alcohol, which causes 35,000 deaths a year from its health effects alone versus zero per year from marijuana. Plus, there has never been recorded death from a marijuana overdose, while death from alcohol intoxication is common. That’s not to say there are no detrimental health effects from marijuana, but it is easier on the body than alcohol.
There are beneficial uses of marijuana. Beyond medicinal purposes, millions of Americans use marijuana for the same reasons some people have a drink — to de-stress, or to help get conversations flowing in social situations. Decriminalization would give those people a lawful way to obtain the drug versus buying it from a dealer who may have connections to a drug cartel or street gang.
There are better uses of law enforcement resources than punishing Americans who use marijuana recreationally. Since Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971, the U.S. has spent billions on drug interdiction, including on marijuana. But as with alcohol during the 1920s, marijuana remains in high demand.
Legalization would create a regulated, state-controlled market for recreational marijuana, which in Nevada is currently controlled by criminals. As during Prohibition, when profits from distribution of illegal liquor fueled criminal syndicates, the War on Drugs has helped feed crime and violence. It also has been a factor in overpopulation of prisons and a tragic disproportion of minorities being incarcerated. Although legalization hasn’t eliminated the black market in states where legal pot has been adopted, it has created hundreds of new businesses and millions in economic impact, proving there’s a strong demand for legal marijuana. Nevada would experience similar economic gains.
Nevada is capable of establishing a strong body of policies and regulatory structure to effectively oversee the industry. The state’s legacy includes leadership in gaming regulation, and we’re in position to learn from other states that have adopted legalization.
The benefits of a well-regulated marijuana industry outweigh potential concerns such as increased public-safety risk and greater availability to children. There’s no conclusive evidence that legalization leads to greater use among children. As for public-safety risks, marijuana generally is not associated with violent crime. Impaired driving is a concern, but it can and should continue to be enforced aggressively not only for marijuana, but any substance.
The state can craft policy to address health and safety concerns. For instance, Colorado has approved legislation to bar the sale of edible marijuana products shaped like animals, people or fruit, which children can easily mistake for candy.
Businesses are free to draft policies regarding marijuana use by employees or by visitors on their premises. This is no different from policies for alcohol. Nevada casinos will bar use of marijuana, for example, because the casinos are subject to federal and state oversight, and the federal government continues to classify marijuana as an illegal drug.
Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.