There’s an old saying that adversity doesn’t build character, it exposes it. As such, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has truly shown the nefarious side of the pot industry.
While thousands of business owners nationwide are on the precipice of going under, the pot profiteers have bragged incessantly about 2020 being a year of record profits.
But out of the other side of their mouth, the pot industry has tried to turn the screw on lawmakers at both the state and federal level, demanding taxpayer-backed bailouts and suing state leaders who dared to not to deem pot shops as “essential” businesses.
Oh, and for those who think marijuana revenues are the solution for struggling state budgets: marijuana-legal states face a combined budget deficit greater than $70 billion and are asking the federal government for $1 trillion in aid.
Marijuana revenues are wildly unpredictable and barely register as more than a drop in the bucket in states with “legal” pot. Is this the kind of industry folks want to see unleashed on Connecticut? This industry could care less about public health, but we have already known this. Big Pot has spent millions on its PR campaign to convince the nation that marijuana is harmless, though a mountain of evidence says otherwise.
Heavy users of today’s 99 percent THC concentrates, edibles, and vaping oils were found to be five times more likely to develop psychosis. And despite industry rhetoric, established science has concluded that marijuana is indeed addictive. A recent study found one in three past-year users had a Cannabis Use Disorder, or addiction.
In just the last few months, several studies have come out that the pot pushers would prefer you didn’t see. One found that marijuana use in veterans was associated with future substance abuse, mental health issues, and self-harm/suicide. Another found that a high density of marijuana shops was associated with increased youth use of the drug and yet another found that medical marijuana users displayed withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, aggression, and difficulty sleeping.
Even more studies have pointed out significant links to additional serious mental health conditions —including schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and suicide. If the risks of low-medium potency pot are this serious, what is 99 percent THC doing to the human brain?
Vermont, a close neighbor, has taken the plunge to commercialize. But lawmakers realized the danger of allowing the market to be saturated with high potency products and implemented a potency cap. But don’t cheer just yet; pot lobbyists have made repealing this commonsense regulation number one on their agenda.
And by the way, don’t expect the industry to care much about social justice and equity: only 4% of the industry nationwide features African-American ownership while pot shops are disproportionately located in communities of color, which historically lack the resources to combat predatory marketing and would be incredibly harmed by increased substance abuse issues. Illinois serves as a perfect example of this.
Lawmakers there promised to “set the standard” when it came to social equity in the marijuana industry. In reality, now a year later, there is not a single minority-owned marijuana retailer in the state. Instead, licenses have gone to existing multi-state operators and connected political insiders. Social justice? Not so much.
If lawmakers want to accomplish something real, replace criminal penalties for marijuana use with referrals for treatment, if needed, and make it easier to expunge prior records. This paves the road to beginning to heal the harms of the War on Drugs without unleashing a new predatory industry upon vulnerable communities. There’s no need to unleash the second coming of Big Tobacco upon Connecticut.
Will Jones, MPA, serves as the Communications and Community Outreach Associate for Smart Approaches to Marijuana. (SAM)