BY MARY MORRISSEY
The conversation about legalizing recreational marijuana is one I’ve come to realize is important to the residents of Suffolk County. While many have expressed their thoughts on this topic, a lot of opinions surrounding this are based on misinformation or half-truths without appropriate data to fit their narrative. As a former resident of Washington State, where recreational marijuana was legalized during the November 2012 election, I feel as though it is important to address these falsehoods in an effort to provide others with the ability to make the most educated decision regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana.
The first issue I want to address is the idea that legalizing recreational marijuana will cause a sharp spike in DUIs. The truth? In 2013, there were 27,414 DUI arrests in Washington State while in 2017 that number dropped to 25,400 arrests, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. Also, according to WASPC, in 2013, 19.6 percent of drug abuse arrests were related to marijuana while in 2017 that number dropped to 16.9 percent. So, in fact, it appears as though legalization has caused a decrease in marijuana-related arrests of all kinds.
To dive a little deeper into the data, I took a look at population totals in both 2013 and 2017 for Washington. In 2013, the total population of that state was 6,883,148 according to WASPC and went up to 7,317,175 in 2017. Of the total population, 0.4 percent were arrested for DUIs in 2013 and 0.3 percent in 2017. This is all to say that in reality, the actual percentage of the population that is arrested for DUIs of any kind is actually rather small.
The second issue that I want to address is the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. According to drugabuse.gov, there is no evidence to suggest that there is a link between marijuana and the subsequent use of “harder” drugs. However, there is also no evidence to suggest that there isn’t a link between the two, either. The truth is, there isn’t enough research to back either side of the argument, and considering there is a considerably larger amount of the population on amphetamines and heroine than there is smoking marijuana, I would be obliged to conclude that marijuana is not the problem. In 2017, according to WASPC, out of the total number of offenses (this includes citations, not necessarily arrests) for drug and narcotic violations, 32 percent were for amphetamines/methamphetamines and 25 percent were for heroine. That means over half of the offenses weren’t even related to marijuana. As I said, there isn’t enough research to support either side, but I’ll let you decide what the data we do have really means.
The final point I would like to address covers three separate concerns I’ve heard voiced in this conversation: kids, regulation, and taxes. As far as legalization goes, it is my belief that one of the most successful implementations of a recreational program happened in my home state. I want to start by saying that the first recreational marijuana shop didn’t open in my state until July 2014. The state Legislature took their time addressing the important issues around regulation and breaking down what happens to the tax revenue from marijuana sales.
The first full year of sales was 2015. Originally, they projected a tax revenue of around $30 million; however, that number doubled to about $65 million in the first year. In 2017, my home state brought in $319 million in taxes from marijuana sales. According to the law, RCW 59.50.540, the distribution of that income is as follows: 50 percent goes to the state health program for low-income families, 15 percent goes to substance abuse research as well as proven and tested existing substance abuse programs, and 5 percent goes to low-income health clinics. The remaining money is spent on education programs (such as Building Bridges, which helps kids graduate from high school) and media campaigns for both adults and youth about the effects marijuana has on the body (which must be based on factual research). Of course, there is a small portion that goes into the general fund for the state as well.
If my state, with a population of about 7.5 million, can bring in $319 million in tax revenue and put over half of it into programs that help the community, then I can’t even begin to fathom how much good could be done in New York with a population of about 20 million people. It is easy to make assumptions about what will happen after legalization, but to make a decision based on an assumption would be careless. I have seen the benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana in my home state and I only hope that New York and Suffolk County will see the information above and take it into consideration when making their final decision.
Editor’s note: Mary Morrissey is a resident of Holbrook, N.Y.