In a recent letter to friends, family and neighbors I addressed a question many have asked: where do I stand on the legalization of marijuana?
I’ve spoken to many of you about this topic. I’ve heard your thoughts and concerns and I am convinced now, more than ever, that should a bill that seeks to legalize marijuana for recreational use come to the floor of the Vermont State House this year—I will be voting no.
As I’m sure you’re aware, the issue has picked up steam over the last several years as Colorado and Washington legalized it within their borders and the national conversation and stigma surrounding its use have softened. Additionally, millions of dollars have been spent by marijuana advocates on advertising and lobbying campaigns that have, obviously, borne fruit.
While many of the arguments made by legalization backers are compelling and while I believe that there might be medical or other scientific benefits of cannabis yet to be discovered (beyond those already fully established and accepted by many in those communities), the overall tenor of the “legalize-it” argument is that marijuana is not truly an addictive or harmful substance in the traditional sense. Frequently, the argument is also made that the negative effects on youth are exaggerated and that legalizing the drug in Vermont would usher in a new era of budget surpluses.
I must disagree with all of those arguments.
It has been shown in many studies that marijuana use can lead to overstimulation of certain receptors in the brain that directly affect memory, concentration, motor skills, coordination and sensory perception while also paving the way for serious withdrawal symptoms–all of which pose myriad complications for our State’s law enforcement and healthcare communities; and research acutely demonstrates that marijuana is not only addictive ( 1 out of 6 young people who use marijuana will establish a dependence) but that the negative effects of marijuana are far more pronounced in adolescents than in adults.
Also, for a state so at war with opiate addiction, marijuana is unquestionably a gateway to other, more dangerous drug use and studies have shown that regular use of marijuana may lead to a significant and irreversible drop in IQ. (It should also be noted that the marijuana smoked today is not the same that was smoked even twenty years ago. It has become exponentially more potent, and the scientific research is having a hard time keeping up with the changes to the drug.)
And while the idea of millions of dollars in new revenue is a tantalizing one, the increase to our receipts would likely lead to an increase to our budget–more spending and more programs. Should our neighboring states also legalize it we would find ourselves with an even wider budget deficit as the easy money dried up.
We must also keep in mind, as a state so eager to be attractive to employers, that it would remain illegal for many no matter how the law might change. Anyone that works for a company with a drug-testing policy or for anyone that must pass a DOT physical, work for an airline, be a federal contractor, be one of the 4000 members of our National Guard and even Petty Officer Second Class Job Tate, as long as he wants to stay within the good graces of the United States Navy.
As I’ve sought out and talked to many of our local law enforcement officers and school officials about this topic, the consensus has been overwhelmingly clear: legalization right now would hit a state that is woefully unprepared to handle the legal, economic and health effects it would present. We should let research further evolve and better understand the possible damage (and benefits) of the drug, build a consensus around a balanced policy in terms of law enforcement and, if possible, develop safe, effective, FDA-approved medications from the active ingredients of cannabis.
I know that legalization is a passionate issue for some and I’m still eager to hear your unique views on the subject. Please know that I certainly don’t believe someone should be locked up and have their life ruined for smoking some pot, and I think there is work to be done on that very issue–but right now, in 2016, I truly believe that passing such a law would be a bad idea for Vermont and I simply can’t support it.
Job Tate, state representative for Mendon, Chittenden, Killington and Bridgewater