By Kevin Sabet // Chicago Runtimes // May 8, 2019
What once felt inevitable is no longer so: marijuana legalization. From law enforcement to employers to the NAACP, community leaders and everyday citizens are adding their voices to a growing coalition who are saying “not in our state.”
And they are right.
It wouldn’t be the first time this push-back happened. One only needs to look at the example of New Jersey. Like Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on legal weed in New Jersey. In fact, he vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of his governorship – way back in January 2018. Blowing well past that timeline, efforts have stalled and many lawmakers – including key members of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus – presented numerous concerns about allowing Big Marijuana into their state.
After months of news stories that painted an easy path for marijuana legalization, more than a year has passed since Gov. Murphy’s vow. Then just over a month ago, the New Jersey Legislature scheduled, and then had to cancel, a vote to legalize weed when they couldn’t confirm enough votes for passage.
With under a month left to go in the 2019 Illinois legislative session, marijuana isn’t a slam dunk here either. A majority of lawmakers in the House have added their name to a bipartisan resolution put forward by Democratic State Rep. Marty Moylan, advising lawmakers to slow down on their push for legal weed.
What’s more, Smart Approaches to Marijuana-Illinois (SAM-IL) and their coalition members are working to bring meaningful data to lawmakers and communities about the real impact that legalization and commercialization of marijuana will have in Illinois. We’re telling them to slow down, see what has happened in other states, and not to rush through a bill that will negatively impact Illinoisans.
A key partner for SAM-IL has been the Illinois NAACP. State President Teresa Haley has expressed serious concerns about marijuana legalization and told press earlier this year that, “Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for our communities.”
And she is absolutely right.
For communities of color, legalization has not brought about the social justice reforms that have been promised. In Denver, arrest rates of African Americans were unchanged between 2012 and 2017, and actually went up for Hispanics and Asians. What’s more, African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana in Colorado and Washington – both states that have legalized recreational use and sales. In legal states, minority youth are also showing much higher increases in marijuana usage than their Caucasian counterparts.
We must find ways to do better on social justice, but by legalizing and then commercializing marijuana, you’re allowing a multi-billion-dollar industry to operate in the state – and that will do nothing to improve the underlying problems.
While social justice is one reason some are advocating for legalization, other lawmakers are considering marijuana for revenue (with the governor’s budget calling for $170 million in the first year). But marijuana will cost Illinois far more than it will bring in. A recent study found that for every $1 Colorado takes in in revenue from marijuana, it spends a whopping $4.50 in societal costs.
In the health field, that includes costs like increased marijuana-related hospitalizations and the need for more mental health and addiction services. For law enforcement, it means trying to find ways to stop drugged driving – Washington State saw drugged driving fatalities double in the years after legalization. For employers, it means struggling to find employees who can pass drug tests – just ask one of the largest construction companies in Colorado, GE Johnson, which now hires from out-of-state.
When lawmakers and citizens start taking a real look at the facts surrounding marijuana legalization in other states, they see what problems lie ahead for them.
In New Jersey, in Illinois and across the country, legalization is not inevitable. Illinois lawmakers should reject any legislation that allows Big Marijuana to operate in their state.
Kevin Sabet is president and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. SAM-IL includes the NAACP, law enforcement, health care professionals, community leaders and concerned citizens.