Last updated: January 30, 2023
When money is being made from the sale of marijuana as it is in Colorado, people seem to stop asking questions. One of the most often cited reason for states to decriminalize the use of the drug centers on how much money is to be made. In an economy that has struggled for years, legalization supporters are laying claim to bringing new industry, new jobs, and new sources of tax revenue to state budgets as appealing benefits. The “success” of the nascent recreational pot business inspires a short-sighted approach to making money through policy change.
The irony of a drug that can cause long term memory loss leading to people forgetting about consequences is not lost on opponents of legalization. Those that call for caution seem to ask the question: at what cost? Articles circulate on pro-cannabis sites making great claims, but often cite statistics from dubious sources or in some cases, not at all. Those articles then get picked up or in turn cited by another article and before long, the origination of a lie is difficult or even impossible to trace.
When “legal pot” was being “sold” to Colorado residents, the savings and revenue projections were very broad. If it’s true that no one could accurately predict what taxes would be raised, one might suppose that representing between $20 million and $80 million dollars and earmarking money that had yet to be raised for schools would be slightly disingenuous. In the first year, Colorado reported more conservative numbers in taxes.
Articles include likening marijuana purchases to buying “a six-pack of beer” and citing $1 million dollars in sales on the first day, New Year’s Day 2014, that it was made recreationally available. Such use of language sets off red flags. Equating it with something that is also abused to dangerous doesn’t make for a strong argument. Why not choose obesity? While numbers for alcohol sales are more difficult to obtain, if that $1 million dollar number was compared to the average sales of just one fast-food franchise on an average day (McDonald’s), it’s less impressive. More than 2.2 million dollars are made in one day’s average sales in McDonald’s restaurants in the state of Colorado. Considering Colorado made considerably less than $365 million dollars, citing such a number is meant to impress, with little substance. It still is startling considering the drug is still illegal on the federal level, but it’s hardly providing the number of jobs or tax revenue that legal means (on a federal level) would.
Those numbers, of course, don’t account for the cost and even the official report is being misrepresented and then repeated and used to promote the agenda elsewhere. Estimates for what taxes and revenues would add are flawed according to the federal government’s collected statistics and hardly make a dent in the more than $200 billion dollars that must be spent on the effects of the drug.
Even when it’s collected, the state of Colorado has resorted to a “legal glitch” or quirk of the constitution that the governor called “magical” in order to avoid having to part with some of the revenue it collected, even though the advertisement of that benefit may have been part of the tactics enabling the ballot to pass. It would seem that even the advertised benefit to schools would be at risk.
What about marijuana being used in the workplace? A study by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine still recommends prohibition of the drug in the workplace as “best practice” but informal surveys seem to trump actual research for cannabis legalization advocates. An article appearing on Inc.com seems deliberate in portraying Colorado businesses and business owners as reluctantly welcoming to the increase in usage. Jumping on short-term effects to make long-term predictions is hardly responsible, but because it can be done, it will serve to grow the myths that pot use has no consequences.
Because research is still being conducted on drug use in legalized settings and the nearest research cited comes before state laws were changed, drug legalization advocates make claims without having to cite evidence that does not yet exist. Rather than affirming a positive, selected interviews simply claim defense when the negative is yet to be revealed. Making a claim that workplace incidents are “basically” the same between a work crew that may or may not use pot and a work crew tested for it is hardly scientific, yet because it’s in an interview, it’s allowed to pass without scrutiny. Because the existing study to the contrary comes from a medical testing company, advocates claim bias. When counter-claims come from an advocacy group, those are presented as fact. Workplaces still have the right to test and fire for the drug.
What about claims that new jobs are being created, from industries like tech and construction? At best, most of the jobs are of a temporary nature. Electricians hired to rewire old office buildings will see that work once, not repeatedly. Software development becomes standardized and overhead costs will lead to early adoption conformation. While those jobs created may not be testing for drug use, others will continue to legally test in the workplace. Temporary jobs created from the birth of a new industry and touted as a welcome impact would be similar to celebrating a hurricane or earthquake creating new work opportunities in home construction and repair. In all three examples, there are effects on the home, the neighborhood, and the economy.
Claims that more workers are coming to the state are unsupported. An interviewee claims “up to a 20 percent increase” without any idea of an actual number. Consider how many might leave for the same reason and the net result is as likely to be zero. More people supposedly means higher prices in real estate, but in a venture where the prize is a federally illegal substance made artificially more rare by the laws of one state, more states legalizing marijuana would all that would need to happen to immediately impact that real estate bottom-line. Just as many people are as likely to leave the state because of any coming just for the pot culture as would be coming for jobs. Citing early anecdotal and still unsupported evidence is a tactic that’s repeated again and again.
One of the most important jobs created with lasting effect seems to be in security. Since banking is difficult with federal law and regulations, many of the companies have to deal in cash and hire mercenaries to guard dispensaries and cash. Why hire someone if there’s no danger? That’s because, of course, there is, which seems to blow a hole in the argument that crime somehow decreases with marijuana legalization.
Of course, it actually has, in a way, but even that is ignored. Crime has decreased—specifically crimes associated with the use of marijuana. It still doesn’t eliminate all responsibilities associated with use of the drug. Fatal accidents involving marijuana DUIs have increased. Whether those appear in the crime statistics cited by pro-marijuana legalization advocates is uncertain, but the only statistics that do appear only appear to support the argument. By claiming that marijuana use is responsible for a 10% drop in violent crime, a connection is inferred as if it’s conclusive and positive. Even without citing statistics from other sections of the city, one simply has to look at the same table linked to discover that marijuana also seems directly responsible for a rise in aggravated assault, larceny, and a giant jump in arson. If those claims were made by opponents, however, it would be considered laughable. Legalization isn’t even having the effect of eliminating the black market—another oft-cited reason in favor of legalization.
Minimizing concerns in favor of risk
When data concerning health risks is cited, it’s often downplayed or left out completely and called “inconclusive”. Advocates bang the drum loudly on money and tenuous medical benefits while defensively dismissing concerns legitimized by reputable research. Rather than a “wait-and-see” approach, supporters of legalization want to switch a preventative measure for one that will seek a cure when a need arises later, which research has shown will be the case. A point of concern is minimized by following it with a light-hearted anecdote about a reporter.
Repeated studies continue to affirm the health risks associated with marijuana use. That new studies are needed seem to indicate wishful thinking on the part of advocacy groups and since scientific studies won’t help, the tactic has changed to making up or citing imaginary or unscientific polls. In today’s internet culture, search results return results based on that wishful thinking at a front page pace of 5-1 in favor of advocacy groups and impatience and carelessness will lead to a repetitive cycle where bad journalism is passed off as fact.
One of the easiest ways to evaluate information is often to regard the source. When researching an article for the dangers of marijuana use, going to a site run by or catering to advocates of the drug is not as wise as reading from a site that concerns itself solely with scientific research. When reviewing statistics, leaving out the bad in favor of the good is perhaps more harmful than disregarding the numbers completely. At least in those cases, it won’t get spread as misinformation. One of the most oft-cited reports is by a single Harvard professor, who has indeed made a career (from his very first available scholarly article) of speaking on one side of the legalization effort.
As for some of the more lucrative ventures that include “weed tech”, investment groups stand to make the most. Whether investing in a federally illegal venture is wise or not, the wealthiest investors can afford the legal aid and liability shielding that comes with it. Those purchasing real estate could be considered laundering money. It’s possible that a proprietor of just one establishment doesn’t have the clout to protect against possible future federal interventions or interference from marijuana conglomerates that are already forming.
There’s also not just an implication that areas have improved—an interviewee uses the word “nicer” and attributes it to “money flowing in from the pot shops.” Perhaps worse, but more telling:
“If you choose to go in and patronize them or not, it doesn’t matter—it’s better looking from the outside.”
Which in effect is the entire argument being made where the people won’t put up a fight as long as it doesn’t look bad from the outside. As time has proven before, the stench inside the shops will eventually waft out into the community and turn the temporary “Rocky Mountain high” into a lazy, tepid mess for Colorado businesses.