On July 1, I was in Las Vegas when Nevada became the eighth state to legalize recreational marijuana use for persons 21 and older. Eighteen other states have already or will soon legalize the medical use of marijuana. Several other states are considering decriminalizing possession of minor amounts of marijuana. Recently, the Texas Legislature toyed with legalizing medical marijuana, but that went nowhere.
I visited a retail dispensary located near a restaurant that my group planned to have breakfast. Scheduled to open at 8 a.m., it already had about 30 people lined up outside by 7:45 a.m. America was well represented at that dispensary. The men and women gathered were well behaved, friendly and chatty. They ranged from young adults to senior citizens. Whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians were present. I talked to as many of the folks as I could and among them were retirees, a teacher, an engineer, a casino worker, several construction workers, and they included both locals and tourists. I suspect other dispensaries had a similar cross-section of America at their locations.
One thing everyone had in common was the liberating feeling of not being tagged as a criminal. Every year hundreds of thousands of Americans get swept up in the justice system for possession of minor quantities of marijuana. The American Civil Liberties Union reported that marijuana related offenses make up over half of all drug related crimes in the United States. The ACLU also reported that minorities are arrested more often than whites even though minorities have about the same usage rates. Blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites according to the ACLU. Last December, the FBI released data recording almost 620,000 arrests nationwide for the offense of possession of marijuana, which worked out to be about one arrest every minute over the year.
Local TV news reported that sales were so good that inventory designated for recreational use was rapidly depleting. That didn’t surprise me. During a taxi ride later that day, we rode by a different dispensary that had a waiting line about a half-block long. About $3 million in marijuana sales and about $500,000 in tax revenue was reported for the period July 1-4.
Marijuana generated tax revenue has been a relief for cash-strapped states loathe to burden their citizens with tax increases. Those states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana haven’t reported any increase in crime due to its legalization. Moreover, medical research has documented the many positive benefits of marijuana, particularly in seizure relief and pain relief. In a time of record opiate addiction rates across America, marijuana is a much safer pain relief alternative than opiates.
During this special session, our Legislature ought to get to work on decriminalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol and tobacco. At a minimum it ought to authorize it for medical use. Unfortunately, what we were going to get is some law about who has to use what restroom.