Anti-marijuana groups like California’s Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, Drug Free Florida and several others have spent millions of dollars campaigning against cannabis reform that could take place in nine states with marijuana measures on the ballot this year. Each group has valid concerns about the legalization of marijuana throughout their state and the country, from increased addiction rates caused by legalizing the plant, to worries about more drivers getting behind the wheel while under the influence of pot, potentially leading to more accidents and driving-related deaths, and dispensaries popping up in unregulated areas.
However, supporters of marijuana reform claim some of the issues anti-marijuana groups are suggesting, like children and teens having more access to pot and more kids being sent to emergency rooms for overdosing on edibles, just don’t appear to be occurring in the states that have already legalized the plant.
With polls showing more residents living in the nine states with marijuana measures on the ballots in favor of legalizing pot, NORML founder Keith Stroup said he was confident the initiatives would win in majority of the states voting for cannabis, in part because of the good examples coming out Colorado and Washington, which have both legalized recreational use for adults, such as drops in arrests and slight dips in teen consumption.
Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Montanta, Nevada and North Dakota are voting on legal pot this Election Day. Stroup told International Business Times that concerns about reefer madness are unfounded. Check out IBT’s Q & A with Stroup below:
IBT: One of the biggest reasons some people are against legalizing marijuana is because of the possibility of children having more access to cannabis. What is your response to that?
Stroup: We all would like adolescents to wait as long as possible before they begin to experiment with marijuana, alcohol or any other drugs because the body and the mind are still maturing. I will say this, under the black market system, under prohibition, you have no age control.
When you go to buy marijuana from the black market, no one asks for an ID and they don’t care how old or how young you are. The person who risks a felony arrest and prosecution to sell marijuana does not ask for an ID, so the only way you minimize the opportunity for adolescents to get their hands on marijuana is to legalize it and regulate it with age controls. Under all of these initiatives, you have to be 21 in order to qualify to obtain marijuana. So it will be far more difficult for adolescents to obtain marijuana once you have age control. I think regulation, taxation and controls are far better than a black market, where it’s just sort of anything goes. There are no rules.
That doesn’t mean that occasionally some underage kid isn’t going to get an older friend to buy it for them or go and get a fake ID. That’s the same with alcohol today, but it’s a big discouragement. Most adolescents can’t get alcohol today because of age limits, but they can get marijuana. So if we legalize marijuana, we’ll have less adolescent use than we have today. And incidentally in the states that have legalized, there has been no increase in adolescent marijuana smoking, and, in fact, there’s been a slight decrease. But I think it is reassuring that we can look at the states where we have a track record and demonstrate conclusively that there’s been no increase in adolescent marijuana smoking.
IBT: People are really concerned about children ingesting marijuana edibles that look like candy and other sweet treats. What are supporters doing to ensure that doesn’t happen?
Stroup: When the Colorado law was first passed, there were a handful of incidents where a young child got their hands on what they thought were candy or cookies and they ended up in the emergency room. Now what’s important for people to know, while none of us want that to happen, you cannot die from marijuana overdose. You can certainly die from an overdose of alcohol. You can overdose from the use of most illicit drugs, but you cannot with marijuana.
How they’ve resolved that in Colorado by now requiring edibles only come in single dose units, and they have to be marked properly with an indication makes it clear it is infused. They do not allow packaging that looks like any degree of like a recognized candy, like Reese Peanut Butter Cups, which was a case at one time. There was a time where people were selling edibles that looked very similar to what you see at a candy store, so that has been changed. I think we learned from that experience. There was more interest in edibles than any of us expected when that law was first passed, and there were people willing to play it a little fast and loose with their packaging. But again the state has stepped in with regulations and resolved that problem.
IBT: What about the chances of more DUI’s and drivers getting behind the wheel after smoking weed?
Stroup: The federal surveys show that there’s been roughly 30 to 35 million Americans who smoke marijuana once a year or more. Surely people understand that those people haven’t all been walking, they’re driving. It’s not like when you legalize marijuana you have these millions of new drivers, no. You simply have legalized a practice that’s been going on underground, and now the question is [will drivers] be responsible?
What most of the test show is that you are slightly impaired after you smoke marijuana for roughly 90 minutes. So what we recommend at NORML is that responsible smokers simply don’t drive for at least 90 minutes after you smoke. It’s that same kind of cultural practice [that’s followed in regard to drinking and driving] that’s going to have to be reinforced in the marijuana culture as well.
IBT: Some groups have suggested that legal marijuana will lead to more crime. What is your response to that?
Stroup: In the states that offer full recreational marijuana, there have been declines in arrests as low as 50 percent and as high as 93 percent. I believe Washington had a 93 percent drop and Colorado had something like 80 to 85 percent drop in arrest. [NOTE: Washington arrests dropped by 98 percent after legalizing marijuana, and there was an 80 percent drop in Colorado]
Regardless of how you reform the law and make an opportunity for people to get a license and legally grow and sell marijuana, there are always going to be a few people who are going to ignore the limits and try to profit from operating outside the legal system. And those people are subject to arrests and jail and that’s fine with us. We want the bad actors taken out of the marijuana market and we want the marijuana market to come above ground so it’s regulated and controlled and transparent.