Minnesota, we have a cannabis problem. Left and right, states all around us are embracing the future and legalizing this commonly grown plant. In the past few weeks, the U.S. House voted to decriminalize cannabis, while the United Nations voted to reclassify it as a less dangerous substance. In Minnesota, however, millions of dollars in taxpayer money is still being spent fighting a losing war on something polls show most people want to be legal anyway.
I recently returned home after nearly a decade living in California, where I saw the benefits of a legalized market firsthand as a small-business owner. From economic stimulus to criminal justice, when the effects of legalization are considered in total, it becomes clear that moving forward is both an economic and moral imperative for Minnesota.
First, a simple truth: Marijuana, despite what you may have heard, is no more dangerous to adults than alcohol. Just like beer or coffee, it has an effect on the body and mind. Many people enjoy these effects; many others do not. No one has ever died as a result of cannabis overdose (although the same cannot be said about alcohol). Attitudes about it change over time — like they have with alcohol (which, let's not forget, went through its own period of Prohibition). Although research in this country has been inhibited due to its illicit status, early results from studies out of Israel have shown numerous medicinal benefits of cannabis and, according to one study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, it even has the potential to mitigate depression and anxiety. If ever there was a time we could all use a little help with depression and anxiety. …
Going into the new year, we are facing an economic crisis. Legalization would bring stimulus, plain and simple. Taxing cannabis production and consumption in Minnesota, estimates suggest, would bring in an additional $300 million to the state. Beyond just the top-line tax revenue, thousands of jobs would be created in the production, manufacturing, distribution and retail sales of cannabis. All across the country, a booming cannabis industry is growing that will undoubtedly one day reach the shores of our lake houses. By acting now, we can empower homegrown businesses to become competitive and succeed in a national market that is projected to grow to a $35 billion industry within the next four years, according to estimates by New Frontier Data. The economic benefits extend beyond the net revenue generators. With legalization, law enforcement resources could be diverted away from victimless crimes to focus on more serious issues and public safety initiatives.
Opposition to legalization invariably includes fearmongering seemingly ripped straight from the 1930s propaganda film "Reefer Madness." It would lead to more crime! In fact, the illicit nature of the "black market" is the main driver of crime. Legalizing cannabis either brings all these would-be entrepreneurs above board or drives them out of business — sunlight is the best disinfectant, after all. It would increase juvenile drug use! Except it hasn't in any of the states where it's been legalized. This has been proved over and over again. It's a gateway drug! Again, there is no evidence to support this. Instead, early reports are beginning to suggest cannabis could be an exit ramp from dependence on more dangerous drugs. In states with more liberal access to medical cannabis, opioid and fentanyl prescriptions dropped nearly 20%, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Cannabis use is not illegal in Minnesota to benefit public safety. It is illegal because a centuries-old legacy of race-based policies led to a beneficial plant being outlawed. To this day, Black Minnesotans are arrested at far higher rates for nonviolent cannabis crimes than are their white counterparts, despite near equal usage. We're wasting taxpayer dollars criminalizing something the majority of people want to be legal. Every day our state legislators don't move on legalization is another day they fail to deliver desperately needed economic stimulus and stifle our state's competitiveness in a nationally growing industry. There is a cannabis problem in Minnesota. Hopefully our leaders can recognize this as an opportunity for growth.
Ben Koppel, of Minneapolis, is a writer. He's at email@example.com.