The problem with the current Star Tribune poll (“Minnesota Poll: 51% support legalizing recreational pot,” Feb. 18) is that the terms “legalize” and “legalization” mean different things to different people.

These terms may mean decriminalization to some, or medical marijuana to others. But the Star Tribune and the Legislature want you to interpret this as 51% are in favor of commercialization.

In fact, a study released on Feb. 25, funded by Smart Approaches to Marijuana and done by Emerson College, found that among the residents of six districts on Long Island only 35% support commercialization. This follows a previous poll done nationally two years ago that found the same results.

It’s not clear if most Minnesotans are adequately updated about the potential outcomes of enacting commercial marijuana laws in Minnesota. Consider the following:

1. The typical potency of marijuana these days is conservatively estimated to be about five times stronger (14% to 16% THC) than in decades past. But the rise in vaping marijuana among teens is up 63% and that potency is 60% to 70% THC. The potential harmful effects of less potent THC on brain development have been cited by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The potential dangers of 60-70% THC on brain development is most disconcerting.

2. A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that rates of marijuana addiction among teens (12-17) in states that have legalized marijuana were 25% higher than in states that have not legalized the substance. Among adults (26 or older), past month use rates were 26% higher. What’s more, past-month frequent use and past-year problematic use among this age group increased by 23% and 37% respectively.

3. The highways will be less safe if commercialization is legalized. States that have legalized commercialization of marijuana are experiencing increased rates of traffic fatalities related to marijuana use. A new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the percentage of drivers in Washington State involved in fatal car crashes testing positive for marijuana has doubled since the state legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. What’s more, the study found that about 1 in 5 drivers involved in fatal car crashes in 2017 tested positive for marijuana.

4. Our state decriminalized possession of marijuana use years ago. Also, a recent report by the Department of Corrections indicated that, for 2018, only 3% of drug-offender incarcerations were for marijuana (52 individuals), and most of those individuals had parole violations. Yes, we need criminal justice reform to eradicate racial and ethnic injustice, but legalizing marijuana isn’t going to do that. Evidence from Colorado indicates there are still racial and ethnic inequities in the arrest rates of those violating public marijuana regulations.

5. States that have legalized commercial marijuana are discovering that the negative health and social costs will be far greater than any anticipated tax revenue. For instance in Colorado conservative estimates show that about $4.50 is being spent for every $1 of tax revenue. Similar statistics can be found for alcohol and tobacco products, providing evidence that we expect this to be a result of legalizing commercial marijuana.

6. In several states that have legalized commercial marijuana (Colorado, California, Massachusetts and Michigan are four such states), the majority of local jurisdictions ban commercial marijuana sales, making marijuana shops illegal in such states. (There are already two Minnesota cities that have passed ordinances banning any commercial marijuana businesses should there ever be state law commercializing marijuana.)

This last point, along with the results of Smart Approaches to Marijuana/Emerson College study, seem to provide significant insight into polling results of “legalizing marijuana.” It appears that while many voters may say they are “OK with legalizing marijuana,” as they did in states that have legalized commercial marijuana, they really don’t want marijuana businesses in their neighborhood, city or county.

So what are they really saying? We think they are saying they don’t want people using marijuana to be punished unjustly by the legal system. And we agree, and believe we can have decriminalization without commercializing marijuana, and that will better serve the citizens of Minnesota.


Judson Bemis is chair of Smart Approaches to Marijuana-Minnesota.