Jim Hartman guest commentary: Legal marijuana is bad for Nevada
Out-of-state pot industry promoters are pouring millions of dollars into Nevada to legalize recreational marijuana in this state. To qualify for the ballot, these promoters raised nearly $800,000, with 60 percent from outside Nevada — given by pot industry corporate donors from California, Colorado, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts — and including $250,000 from the Washington, D.C., pro-pot lobby group, Marijuana Policy Project.
Nevadans need to know what this initiative is not. This initiative isn’t a Nevada-based libertarian “live and let live” effort to permit limited “backyard marijuana grows.” Instead, the initiative will require the Nevada Department of Taxation to be radically transformed into a massive bureaucracy and become the single most powerful agency in state government. Under the initiative, the Department of Taxation would be given the responsibility to set marijuana prices, regulate pot potency, certify and license marijuana cultivation, retail and wholesale establishments, ensure background checks are made on all employees, inspect pot establishments, testing facilities, etc. The duties of the Nevada Department of Taxation under the initiative are unprecedented and would overwhelm the department as currently constituted. The taxes generated from marijuana sales under this initiative would be totally consumed by the bureaucratic costs of legal pot administration run by state government.
Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana in November 2012. It’s now expected to be a $1 billion business in 2016, with recreational marijuana sales increasing by 55 percent in January 2016 from one year earlier. The result has been an alarming growth in underage marijuana use, increase in drug crimes, a continuing marijuana “black market,” sales dispensaries focused in inner-city neighborhoods, as well as issues related to health, banking, pesticides and neighborhood zoning. The tax revenues raised from pot sales have not covered the regulatory overhead. Information on the owners of Colorado marijuana businesses is opaque and not readily available. Colorado’s neighboring states, Nebraska and Oklahoma, have sued Colorado as a result of negative impacts in their states.
Nevada is already near the bottom of most U.S. rankings for schools. Studies show early marijuana use contributes to higher dropout rates and poorer university entrance scores. Studies also show how early marijuana use is associated with lower IQs and other cognitive ill-effects, leading to 1 of 6 regular teenage users becoming addicted. Today’s new commercial “potpreneurs” are selling “Pot Tarts” and “Pot Gummy Bears.” Are we comfortable with legalizing marijuana edibles like these that appeal to children?
The experience of legalization in Colorado has already shown recreational marijuana use has compromised the state’s workforce, and caused large companies to hire workers from other states, as would-be employees fail pre-employment drug tests. The “New Nevada” is expecting to see large growth in advanced manufacturing jobs — can we afford to have Nevada jobs imperiled?
Both Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, and neighboring California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, have indicated their opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana. As Governor Brown observed: “if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation.”
A bipartisan coalition of Nevadans needs to unite in the recognition legalizing recreational marijuana is bad for kids, bad for Nevada families, and bad for Nevada employers.
Jim Hartman is President of Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy and an attorney residing in Genoa.