"Marijuana and Minnesota: State is falling out of step" (Dec. 15) focused on the economic stimulus incentive argument for commercializing marijuana. It seems Minnesota has a problem, and the solution is plain and simple.
I have come to stop and take a deep breath whenever a solution is presented as such.
There are several common myths brought forward in that opinion piece.
Myth No. 1: Minnesota is spending millions of dollars in taxpayer money fighting a losing drug war.
Is that the war against illicit opioids like fentanyl? The 765 deaths from opioid overdose in the last two years is the reality. Do we willingly withdraw from that war? Or do we move the battle line to prevention, early access to effective treatment and, in keeping with addiction as a chronic disease, providing extended compassionate and ecologically sensitive care — but not legalizing another addictive drug?
Are we waging an expensive "war" against marijuana? Marijuana possession up to 42.5 grams (1.5 ounces) has been decriminalized in Minnesota since 1976. A first offense is a petty misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $200 fine and possible drug education.
Does that sound like a war to you?
Myth No. 2: Minnesotans want marijuana to be legal. There is a good point to be made for further efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession and improving the state's medical marijuana program. But how many Minnesotans would like a marijuana dispensary in their neighborhood? How many want to add additional vehicular deaths as experienced in Colorado, Washington and other states with commercialized marijuana? How many want their young adult to experience a psychotic reaction to high potency marijuana?
Myth No. 3: There is a moral imperative to legalize marijuana. The injustice to Black Americans who have been incarcerated though criminalization of the disease of addiction is abhorrent. But will racial injustice be eradicated by liberalizing the availability of marijuana? Or will the wealthy corporations behind legalization, such as Big Tobacco, again have a tool to incarcerate the will of minorities and others though addiction?
In other states, the entrepreneurs of marijuana shops are not Black people. It is possible to achieve decriminalization and mitigate the damage done by racial injustice to communities of color without having to commercialize marijuana.
Myth No. 4: Marijuana is not more harmful than alcohol. What is the basis of comparing the harms of two addictive drugs? The reality is that marijuana is harmful. Marijuana has a different but hazardous effect on the developing brain extending to age 25. Grade-point averages are decreased. IQ is decreased. Motivation to succeed is decreased. The rate of pregnant woman using marijuana has doubled in the past 10 years. Their children have behavioral and cognitive deficits seen clearly in middle school.
Myth No. 5: We're missing out on marijuana's medicinal properties. Minnesota has a program for medical marijuana that has identified numerous disorders for which possession, use and treatment are authorized. We are already there.
Myth No. 6: Taxing the sale of marijuana could be a boon for state government when we are facing a massive budget deficit. Studies on the revenue gained compared to costs incurred are startling. For every dollar in tax gained, five dollars are spent addressing harms such as traffic accidents and the cost of treatment for addiction.
Myth No. 7: There is no increase in juvenile drug use where there is recreational marijuana. As a psychiatrist, I saw adolescents who lost their way as they consumed what started as experimentation, then regular use. Outcomes included dropping out of college and for some, an extended hospital stay for many months with symptoms that were initiated by marijuana use but mimicked schizophrenia. Adolescents told me that it was safe because it was legal.
Simplicity is not a helpful mind-set when discussing commercialization of marijuana in Minnesota. Plain logic has no nobility when it ignores the tragedy left in the wake of marijuana use.
George Realmuto is professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.