Legal pot's promises all go up in smoke - Albuquerque Journal

Legal pot’s promises all go up in smoke

For the third year in a row, Big Pot has returned its lobbying effort to Santa Fe in the hopes of finally convincing New Mexico lawmakers to allow the expansion of its addiction-for-profit model in the state. Both Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth have recently continued their coronation of pot commercialization as the next best thing that could shower New Mexico in tax revenue and be a win for social justice.

To be clear, lawmakers that tout marijuana legalization for revenue during times of fiscal hardship deserve immediate pushback. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow lawmakers are facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit and among his top responses has been a call to legalize marijuana for the revenue. To wit, both the state’s budget director and two chief sponsors of the bill to legalize the drug have pushed back on this, saying it would take several years for the state to begin realizing tax revenues. Even then, the top projected revenue amounts of $350 million would amount to two-tenths of one percent of the overall state budget.

In New Mexico, Lujan Grisham is claiming the state could somehow double the projected revenue of New York, with projections of upward of more than half a billion dollars in revenue. This is ludicrous.

One would be hard-pressed to find a state with a “legal” marijuana market where tax revenue projections have come anywhere close to reality. Former governors of such states, as well as former “marijuana czars,” have thrown water on the legalization-for-revenue argument. Furthermore, states with “legal” marijuana markets are asking the federal government for more than $1 trillion in aid. So much for the great pot boon.

This argument falls flat as the revenues are laughable in the big picture, and they fail to consider the costs related to legalization.

No, the sky hasn’t fallen in states that have allowed the marijuana industry to expand – and no one said it was going to. But there have been many harms that were in fact forewarned. According to a report from Colorado, for every dollar raised in pot tax revenue, $4.50 must be spent to mitigate such harms. Marijuana commercialization has led to an increase in marijuana-impaired traffic deaths, marijuana-related hospitalizations and poison-control center calls, and costs to the workforce, just to name a few.

On the social justice front, there has not been a greater example of an argument in support of commercialization being completely destroyed. Commercialization results in the proliferation of marijuana stores in vulnerable communities. And the ownership of those stores doesn’t reflect those communities: less than 19% of the marijuana industry features minority ownership. State after state has promised to develop a marijuana industry where the people who bore the brunt of the harms from the War on Drugs were the ones who profited from commercialization, and they have each utterly failed.

Of course, the beginning of commercialization in Arizona will be a key talking point from the pro-pot crowd, but just because Arizona has chosen to jump off the proverbial bridge does not mean New Mexico has to follow suit. The smarter approach would be to adopt a wait-and-see mentality when it comes to the rollout of Arizona’s pot industry. And given how the state’s rollout will essentially give existing multi-state operators a monopoly on the market and how history has shown that states rushing to implement sales has resulted in rampant issues of corruption, perhaps New Mexico should take a moment to see how this plays out.

Marijuana commercialization has succeeded mostly in undercutting the predominate arguments in favor of it while also unleashing harms. We cannot allow such fallacious arguments to continue to be spread, and lawmakers who tout them must be held accountable. Lawmakers in Santa Fe must once again do the right thing and defeat this reckless proposal.

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