Summary. The Johnson County Community Task Force on Marijuana Impact is not an official government organization or agency. It is a group of concerned citizens exploring mitigation and contingency planning for minimizing any potential negative impact of marijuana use. In the likely event that marijuana use becomes legalized in Iowa, we desire to be prepared as a community to most effectively encourage responsible and safe use. Even if it remains illegal, we desire to promote proper and safe use through awareness campaigns. Click here to contact us and get involved.
Initial Findings. Justice Reinvestment guidelines established by the Department of Justice emphasize that justice system resources should be dedicated to the most urgent and pressing needs. Organizations such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition are calling for an immediate end to the prohibition on marijuana. Our initial findings suggest that legalization of marijuana may significantly reduce its potential negative impact on public health, public safety, and racial disparity in the justice system (for the reasons outlined below).
Impact. According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Marijuana is a potent drug with potential dangers almost as serious as tobacco and alcohol. [PDF] For example, studies suggest that high levels THC may impair driving. Marijuana use by minors may have a long-term negative impact on health.
Addiction. Although 91% of users do not become addicted, an alarming 9% will become dependent on marijuana. [Source: DrugAbuse.gov] While this number is lower than those who become addicted to alcohol (60%), tobacco (90%), prescription drugs (20%) or video games (40%), it’s still something to be concerned about. Marijuana is more addictive than gambling (7%). Even though alcohol presents a greater risk to public health and public safety, the impact of marijuana use should be monitored and any negative impact should be minimized.
Impact of Marijuana Prohibition. Although current and future levels of marijuana use may pose a health risk and create public safety concerns (for the reasons explained above), making it illegal and stigmatizing its use does nothing to reduce it’s potential negative impact and unfortunately makes it more dangerous and amplifies its negative impact on society in the following ways:
- Child Safety. With no oversight over sales and use, there is no way to offer child-proof packaging.
- Consumer Fraud. Without any manufacturer oversight and regulations, consumers may be sold a product that is unsafe or does nothing. In a black market, consumers have no ability to request a refund, report fraud, or complain to a Better Business Bureau or similar agency.
- Consumer Safety. With no oversight over production, harmful additives may be included that cause a greater health threat.
- Crime. Because it’s illegal, it is a product for which the production, sale, and consumption are closely correlated to crime syndicates, drug cartels, gangs, and dangerous criminal activity. This places our entire community at risk.
- Criminal Record Impact. The primary persuasive argument for making marijuana use illegal is based on the potential negative health impact it may have. However, any negative side effects of marijuana use are insignificant when compared to the life-long impact of a criminal record which makes it hard for someone to get a job or find a place to live. When drug possession leads to incarceration, we know that the conditions of incarceration frequently contribute to promoting worse crime and recidivism.
- Driving Safety. Without any best practices established, we have no way of testing for or measuring the impact of THC on driving. This means that users who may be impaired will not have guidelines for responsible driving to determine when driving under the influence may not be safe.
- Economy Impact. Illegal drug trade has created conditions for an ongoing financial drain on our national economy. With drug money flowing out of our country at an alarming rate, our nation is weakened financially which presents a threat to national security and homeland security.
- Loss of Tax Revenue. We are unable to collect tax from any commercial production and sale.
- Medial Efficacy. We have no control over its purity. So, the proper dosage for medical efficacy is unknown.
- Medical Research. While medical research has identified some benefits and side effects, further research needs to be done to optimize the medical use of marijuana while learning more about any interactions or side effects. Such research cannot be done effectively to obtain the big data required. Prohibition is hindering this research, and to the extent unknown dangers exist, prohibition is putting people at risk. If additional cures and benefits exist, we need to know that also. Prohibition is contradictory to the spirit and work of academic and medical professions.
- Product Labeling. It’s argued that the health benefits of marijuana use, particularly when used to treat a specific medical condition, outweigh any possible side effects. This may indeed be true, however there are still some side effects that consumers need to be made aware of, and these side effects need to be printed on product labels just like every other product sold for consumption. To the extent that there are some potential negative health side effects, consumers need to be informed about that.
- Public Education. If a growing permit were required, this might be an opportunity to collect revenue and provide literature about best practices directly to those who are most likely to benefit from that information.
- Racial Disparity. Based on data collected from the FBI and Census Bureau, a 187-page ACLU report determined that “Iowa is the worst state in the U.S. in disparities for black arrests for marijuana use.” In fact, in Iowa, a person of color is 830% more “likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though both use marijuana at about the same rate.” [Sources: Press Citizen and ACLU] The 187-page report is available as a PDF. Page 150 has details about Iowa arrests.
- Youth Impact. The prohibition of marijuana serves as an enticement that incentivises its use among youth who are looking for ways to rebel against parents, authority, and society.
Action Points. Given the long list of problems created by marijuana prohibition (above), and considering that these problems are the only ‘fruit’ of a decades-long multi-billion dollar war on drugs, it would seem prudent to consider exploring the safe legalization of marijuana use.
ACLU Advisory. A 187-page report on marijuana and law enforcement published by the ACLU in June 2013 offers the following advisory (from page 5 of the report):
“To repair this country’s wrecked War on Marijuana, the ACLU recommends that marijuana be legalized for persons 21 or older through a system of taxation, licensing, and regulation. Legalization is the smartest and surest way to end targeted enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color, and, moreover, would eliminate the costs of such enforcement while generating revenue for cash-strapped states. States could then reinvest the money saved and generated into public schools and public health programs, including substance abuse treatment.”
“If legalization is not possible, the ACLU recommends depenalizing marijuana use and possession for persons 21 or older by removing all attendant civil and criminal penalties, or, if depenalization is unobtainable, decriminalizing marijuana use and possession for adults and youth by classifying such activities as civil, not criminal, offenses.”
“The ACLU also recommends that until legalization or depenalization is achieved, law
enforcement agencies and district attorney offices should deprioritize enforcement
of marijuana possession laws. In addition, police should end racial profiling and
unconstitutional stop, frisk, and search practices, and no longer measure success
and productivity by the number of arrests they make. Further, states and the federal
government should eliminate the financial incentives and rewards that enable and
encourage law enforcement to make large numbers of arrests, including for low-level
offenses such as marijuana possession. In sum, it is time to end marijuana possession arrests.”
Resources. Below are other resources. Please note that the people and organizations below do not necessarily endorse (or even know about) this initiative or the Johnson County Justice Center.
- “ACLU: Iowa is worst in U.S. in disparities for black arrests for marijuana use,” Press Citizen, 4 June 2013
- Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests – Report by the ACLU
- “Five myths about legalizing marijuana,” Washington Post, 7 June 2013
- Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
- “Marijuana Abuse” – Report on marijuana health impact by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at DrugAbuse.gov. All materials appearing in the Research Reports series are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated.
- “Marijuana Possession – Arrests and Race,” Video – MSNBC, 4 June 2013
- “Medical Marijuana Bill Wins by 95 to 38 in the New York State Assembly,” Village Voice, 4 June 2013
- “Racially Biased Arrests for Pot,” New York Times, 15 June 2013
- “Should the U.S. Make Pot Legal?,” Barrons, 3 June 2013
Videos. Below are videos that address various topics relating to marijuana use. Please note that the people and organizations below do not necessarily endorse (or even know about) this initiative or the Johnson County Justice Center.
Caroline Dieterle Presentation on Medical and Health Impact of Marijuana Use and Assessment of Impact on Incarceration Rates
Video from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.