Legalizing Marijuana: The Failed Experiment

by Sheila Polk, Yavapai County Attorney

Marijuana legalization is a failed experiment. There is no good reason for Arizona to follow others over that cliff.

In 2010, Arizonans voted to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Now, the marijuana industry is asking you to let them sell their “medicine” for recreational use. Medicine is never for recreational use. Isn’t that how we got into the opioid crisis?

Some politicians and pundits, fearful of the unfixable nature of an initiative, want the Legislature to preemptively legalize pot.

Both approaches are misguided. There is no successful model for legalization anywhere, whether by initiative or legislation. The evidence is piling up — in traffic deaths involving stoned drivers, in increasing teen usage, in medical studies — that legalizing marijuana is a bad idea.

In Colorado, someone dies in a marijuana-related traffic accident every 2½ days1.

Here in Arizona, 33% more teens said they used marijuana regularly in 2018 compared to 2016. Teen use of marijuana2 leads to reduced school performance, more problems with friends and family and a higher likelihood of using other drugs. Trying marijuana just once or twice is enough to change a teen’s brain, a new study3 found.

The Banner Poison and Drug Information Center saw a tenfold increase in calls involving young children exposed to marijuana from 2014 to 2018. Last month, two Ash Fork toddlers4 were airlifted to Phoenix after eating their father’s “rainbow belts” — colorful marijuana gummies naturally attractive to children.

Opioid death rates are higher5 in states where marijuana is legal, and a major study in Europe6 linked high-potency marijuana to a fivefold increase in the risk of psychosis.

The marijuana industry works tirelessly to convince the public that its product is benign, despite the mountain of evidence that says otherwise. Industry representatives will trot out their false arguments in slick ads again next year. Please keep these thoughts in mind when they do:

  • Marijuana increases the dangers to you on our roads and workplaces. Colorado has seen an increase in the rate of marijuana-related traffic collisions since legalization. Positive marijuana workplace tests in Arizona have nearly tripled7 over the past eight years, yet legalization laws increasingly tie the hands of employers in dealing with stoned workers. Do you want to share the roads or your workplace with someone under the influence?
  • Proponents promised to keep pot away from kids during the medical marijuana campaign. So why are their shelves filled with gummy bears and brightly colored edibles with names that sound like candy? There’s no reason to think this marketing to children won’t increase if recreational marijuana is legalized. Be prepared to see youth marijuana-usage rates rise higher than they already are.
  • The states that led the way in legalizing recreational marijuana are finding much to regret. The additional tax money isn’t enough to cover increased costs of social services, addiction treatment, homelessness, education, health care and law enforcement. The cartels don’t go away; they thrive because they can hide in plain sight. And those are just the short-term consequences. Research lags the rush to legalize; there’s a lot we don’t know about marijuana. The studies cited above suggest that the more we know, the less wise legalization will look. But how do you get the genie back in the bottle?

Big Marijuana is the latest iteration of Big Tobacco. Both operate from the same mindset: profits are more important than your well-being and the future of your children. They do not have your interests at heart, no matter what they say in their campaign ads.

Good public policy should discourage — not encourage — drug use. Legalization of marijuana is bad public policy.   

Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact, Volume 5,”
National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens,
Study Finds website, “Study: Teens’ Brains Change After Using Marijuana Just Once Or Twice,”
Daily Courier, “2 toddlers hospitalized after apparently consuming edible gummies containing marijuana,”
Journal of American Medical Association Network, “Opioid Death Rate Acceleration in Jurisdictions Legalizing Marijuana Use,”
The Lancet, “The contribution of cannabis use to variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder across Europe (EU-GEI): a multicentre case-control study,”
Quest Diagnostic Drug Testing Index, “Drug Testing Index™: Overall Positivity Rate in 2018,”