The legalization of marijuana

It is ballot measure time again. Aside from hotly contested races, there are several important issues on the 2016 general election ballot.

One of the more contentious measures is the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is already legal with an appropriate prescription. This initiative would legalize marijuana use for anyone 21 years old or older.

I have not seen the arguments for this initiative, but I can hear them already. It would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. It would ease prison crowding. It would generate revenue for the state. And on and on.

Those may all be true. The details, however, muddy the water. I have read the proposed statute. While it is reasonably well written, unlike the firearm background check measure, there are some omissions and flaws in it.

First, the proposed tax rate is 15 percent. That is substantially lower than the 25 percent levied in Colorado and 37 percent in Washington State. That raises the logical question of why so low? If an intent is to provide revenue to the state, wouldn’t the proposed tax be higher? This has the appearance of a favored few benefiting from marijuana stores and farms.

Second, the penalties written into the proposal are more lenient for underage use and “open container” type use than are on the books for alcohol and even for cigarettes. Added to this are the driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) penalties that are weaker than those for alcohol and weaker than the laws enacted in Colorado and Washington.

The law also appears to allow for edible products containing marijuana, or at least does not specifically ban such products. This raises a concern of risk to children eating something they shouldn’t, as they are prone to do. In fact, accidental marijuana ingestion by children has risen sharply since 2013. The law also seems to allow concentrated marijuana products.

One additional note, marijuana possession is still against federal law, although that seems to be generally ignored in other states with legalized marijuana. I suppose that would not be the case if you are a “public enemy” where they might drum up anything to throw the book at you.

One of the problems with marijuana legalization is that there is no reliable on-site impairment test available. There is a breathalyzer test for suspected impairment from alcohol. Marijuana or other drug use requires a blood or urine test. Even those are problematic since marijuana, unlike alcohol, leaves a long-lasting residual in the body. That is why testing hair samples is a recognized drug use test for employers.

The best way to gauge a new law is to see how it has worked elsewhere. In Colorado, nearly one in five traffic fatalities the driver tested positive for marijuana. Washington has similar statistics. Marijuana-related poisonings are also on the rise in Washington.

States bordering Colorado have seen increased drug problems. These include driving impairment, crime, sale and distribution and possession. Nebraska and Kansas have sued Colorado for the additional law enforcement burden in their states the Colorado law has caused. I suppose that if marijuana were legal everywhere this might not be an issue.

Marijuana has become more and more potent over time. The roadside weed of the 60s and 70s is no more. Growers have become more ambitious in trying to be competitive. As marijuana has become more potent, the risk of addiction has increased as well. Also, the intent of people use marijuana is to get high, period. Drinkers may have one or two drinks socially and then go on their way. I am told (I can’t personally vouch for this) you can get high in as little as two minutes with a joint of the right marijuana. It would probably take 30 minutes or more of steady drinking to obtain the same result, even with straight hard liquor.

I suppose legalizing marijuana is a sign of the times we live in. After all, look at all the other activities that are now legal. That does not eliminate the problems marijuana brings with it. It has long been acknowledged by law enforcement and youth counselors that marijuana is a gateway to hard drugs.

Combine that with lax penalties for underage use, the risk of young children ingesting edible marijuana and the comparatively low tax rate to the state, and you have a law that has a lot of problems. Why not avoid these problems, and at least rewrite the initiative to address these issues.

I oppose this initiative.

Tom Riggins’ column appears every other Friday. He may be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment