Maddened by Reefer – Marijuana Debate


Maddened by Reefer

It looks like Marijuana will be on the campaign trail yet again this year.  After Colorado’s legalization of the ubiquitous drug, and word of subsequent revenues splashed across the headlines for months, other states are lining up to get in on the cash cow parade.  Last year Gov. Branstad signed Iowa’s own version of medical marijuana, who, if you don’t know by now, is a moderate Republican.  The bill made it through a lower house dominated by Republicans, and a Senate with a narrow majority of Democrats.  Listening to my friends, and a lot of politicians, it seems Iowa may be looking to expand marijuana usage.  Politicians are looking at increase tax revenues, because Lord knows they can’t get their spending under control, and in particular Republicans need the energy from the Paulistas to get the Republican campaigns clicking.
I remember as a kid watching “Reefer Madness” in my homeroom.  This was before “Just Say No”, and drug education was not very high on the priority list.  I can remember my friends and I giggling at the hokey presentation.  At lunch we laughed out loud, (LOL’d for the younger generation that read this) and made fun of the ridiculous caricatures they used for the dangers of marijuana.  We especially enjoyed the melodramatic, “REEFER MADNESS!” after showing a man smoking a doobie by the window.  The movie portrayed the dangers with wild closeups of actors being just plain crazy.  The opening is comical, and not in a good way.  The dangers the movie highlights are psychosis, lethargy, sensory distortion, poor coordination, and anxiety.  Given the melodrama of the movie, it’s hard to take the message seriously.
That’s too bad, since the message is absolutely correct.
Marijuana isn’t safe.  Studies show that marijuana’s effects on the lungs can be up to four times worse than using cigarettes.  If you are an occasional smoker of Mary Jane, the effects aren’t so bad.  But if you use marijuana “medically”, the effects are much, much worse.  While the studies for increased cancer risk have been mixed for marijuana, it is clear the same types of diseases afflict marijuana smokers and cigarette smokers alike.  Increased risks of bronchitis, lung infections, and sudden lung collapse.  That’s just the physical symptoms.  The psychiatric symptoms are far worse than the physical symptoms.
So why do politicians want to tackle such a topic as the marijuana debate, and during a Presidential campaign cycle?

Taxes.

Politicians love ‘em, and you pay ‘em.
Whenever weed crops up in the political discourse, the medical problems “solved” by marijuana take front and center stage, but not the medical problems caused by marijuana.  When the medical argument starts losing steam, the revenue argument crops up.  If my local hoodlum could make his weed grow like the revenue estimates from marijuana taxation, he’d be a billionaire.  Let’s take Colorado.  When the good Governor of Colorado was pushing the legalization of Mary Jane, estimates for first year revenues was $100 million.  What did they actually collect?  $33 million. One third of the estimate.  If you ran a business based on governmental accounting practices, your business would last 3 months.  And the thing with the revenue estimates? It NEVER includes the cost of doing business, and in marijuana’s case, the costs of treating hundreds of thousands of new psychosis, bronchitis, work hours lost, and lost wages.  We won’t know those numbers for years.  But we do know that the revenues generated from marijuana are far less than expected, every single time.
The way Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have structured their marijuana laws have created an even more virulent drug trade.  In Colorado, the tax is 29% for recreational use, by far the most demand.  For medical marijuana, the tax is about 3%.  Now there is a cottage industry of doctors prescribing marijuana for all kinds of things, including pain, psychosis, diabetes, and cancer treatments. “New location in Boulder now open!” one website proudly proclaims.  It shows a smiling woman in a doctor’s white coat with a stethoscope, holding a chart, and the site proclaims to be a medical organization.  However, no actual doctors are listed.  So where is the transparency in that?
People are also driving the black market increase in Colorado due to the 29% tax.  Keep in mind, people want the best price, even if it means going to your local gang member.  THe legalization of marijuana has not diminished the drug trade from Mexico, or reduced the cartels influence.  Government taxation has led to giant black markets.  At $2500 per pound, adding another $800 in tax means people are going to look elsewhere, and sometimes deal with dangerous people.
What about the costs associated with treatment of just one aspect of using marijuana?  If you are one of the people who develop psychosis, the daily hospital rate is around $1500, the physician is $150 per day, and aftercare is expensive as well.  Average length of stay for a first break psychotic episode is about 10 days.  So $16,500, just for the initial treatment of psychosis.  Multiply that by the number of users that will experience psychosis that can be attributed directly to marijuana, approximately 16,000 citizens of Colorado, and you get $264 million in treatment.  That doesn’t include lost productivity, increased social welfare, and broken families.  Families that smoke together don’t stay together.
So much for the economic advantages of legalizing marijuana.
Doc
J. Patrick Bertroche
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Thoughts?