Our ally in the fight against the ravages of recreational marijuana, Dr. Jerry Collins , penned this open letter to the Joint Legislative Committee who has been tasked rules making and other regulatory details regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana. Please take time to read this, and if your legislator is serving on this committee, make sure they have a chance to read this.
Joint Select Committee on Marijuana
Senator Roger Katz & Representative Teresa Pierce
Dear Senator Katz and Representative Pierce:
This morning I read in the Portland Press Herald that you are leading a delegation of Maine legislators on a fact-finding study of some components of the Colorado Marijuana Program. You and the delegation are to be congratulated for undertaking such an investigation in order to dig more deeply into an operating program. Here in Maine, many voters have grave concerns about the design of a future Maine marijuana program, and, frankly, the reports we have heard-from many sources- about the Colorado program have made us uneasy.
Along with many others, I sincerely hope that your fact-finding visit exposes you to all sides of Colorado’s marijuana legalization. We question: What has worked; what doesn’t work; what would the Colorado people do differently, if they were to start over again- and “if they were able”? One of the highly troubling issues we heard about from Colorado is that “special interests” use powerful tactics and their full resources to block any legislative efforts to reform or change a marijuana-friendly ‘status quo’. We hear: “Once the “genie” is out of the bottle, it is nearly impossible to get the “genie” back in the bottle”! We also hope that your investigative interviews go beyond the Colorado “establishment” allowing you to converse with the opposition, the critics, and those who are feeling the damaging impact of legalization; especially, parents and children. We sincerely hope that your Colorado trip is not a visit to a Ptomkin Village, a display by local officials of a pretty, idealized (unreal) picture. Please, “lift up all the rocks”, and look at what’s crawling underneath!
While non-legislative voters will not be along for the trip to Colorado, we do have some questions about Colorado’s marijuana legalization for which we hope you might get answers.
1.) How much has youth and adult marijuana use increased since legalization in Colorado? What do education records show since legalization about school grades, school attendance, disciplinary action, school drop-out rates, advancement to the next grade, college acceptance? Is there a differential in the school functioning of children in Marijuana “dry” towns compared with those that are not? Are there any effective strategies to address these educational and other child-related concerns? What is the opinion of Colorado educators?
2.) Has freer marijuana use since Colorado legalization had undesirable social and community quality of life consequences? We are told that more than 2/3 of Colorado towns have banned recreational marijuana businesses. How do these towns compare with those who have not banned such businesses? What are these differences? Has the type of in-migration to Colorado changed? Are there statistics? What is grass-roots community sentiment about legalization now that it is operational?
3.) Impaired driving and other public safety issues are important issues being discussed here in Maine. Diagnosing marijuana “impairment” is technically difficult, if not impossible, due to the technical limitations of drug testing and time and search-protection issues. Does Colorado have procedural suggestions? Have they tried to change any laws that impede police “bodily search”? What is their legislative experience? Do marijuana “special interests”: come “out of the woodwork” when reform bills are proposed?
4.) Emergency Department Marijuana and hospital marijuana-related admissions. What are the changes in pre and post legalization? What do emergency workers have to say on this issue? How about the opinions of hospital administrators? Do they suggest ideas?
5.) Treatment for marijuana-related conditions? Marijuana poisonings of children, adult and adolescent overdoses- accidental and purposive? Psychoses, major depressions, suicides? Permanent vocational disability? What’s the data; what are the opinions of medical profession caregivers?
6.) Crime statistics- before and after legalization of marijuana? Types of crime and legal infractions related to marijuana? Has legalization been associated with more serious crime and criminals? What problems do police experience with marijuana-related crime in Colorado? What are the law enforcement challenges? Are these laws enforceable? Do police get “co-opted” by businesses?
7.) Impact of marijuana legalization of tourism and visitors to Colorado? Types of tourists- have the tourism demographics changed? Tourist expenditures on other than marijuana- is there growth? Maine is a summertime tourism state, and tourism is a major source of income for many. It would be of great interest to learn about the impact of the Colorado marijuana legalization experience on the economics of tourism in that state. Tourist numbers pre- and post-legalization?
8.) Has Colorado considered whether there is still a need for medical marijuana when marijuana can be obtained freely from sources other than “medical marijuana caregivers”? Does “medical marijuana” become redundant in this situation? Are tax-free issues involved in perpetuating “medical marijuana” even after it is market-available?
9.) Cost-benefit analysis: Who gets the taxes raised from marijuana: what is the distribution of revenues from taxes: State treasury, municipal government? Are there special problems (costs) associated with tax collection in “cash” businesses? Do municipalities receive enough in revenues to cover the full costs of “all marijuana-related expenses”? Have property taxes in Colorado gone up since legalization? How do towns compare regarding taxes: “dry” towns vs those with marijuana commerce?
10.) Insurance costs related to higher marijuana usage- higher populations at risk. What is the insurance experience for vehicle liability insurance, for business insurances, employee insurance, for workman’s comp, for medical insurance? One wonders about higher risk, associated with higher expenses, and, ultimately, higher premiums? Have individual premiums for these and other kinds of insurance gone up since marijuana legalization? Increased premiums to cover increased risks might be considered a less visible, kind of direct “tax” on citizens. What do insurance companies say about increased risk, about how to reduce risk, in order to control premiums? They share an interest with the public in keeping risks low.
Many of these questions (and the related Colorado data) you must have, in all probability, been considered in your committee room deliberations at the State House. But these issues go beyond the typical purview of a legislative committee; they will inevitably change the total character of Maine. An in-depth, Colorado, site visit should give you one important “reality check”. But … I also recognize that my list of questions may also pose more of a challenge than you can address in a brief visit of two days. However, with modern electronic communication, say, “Skype” interviews, you might go much deeper. You should be able to speak with with less available- but highly important- spokespersons in Colorado: ordinary citizens, members of families, educators, medical personnel, police, who might not be available face-to-face during your visit. I would also suggest that when you return to Maine, your committee seriously consider a series of state-wide “town hall meetings” with Maine citizens from Ft Kent to Kittery. We respect our legislators, but this marijuana legalization is a pivotal issue that will permanently transform our lives, our communities, our state, like no other issue. At the grass-roots we all need to speak and be heard. The conversation needs to broaden and deepen. Please, consider talking directly to us voters.
Good luck, safe journey and “happy hunting” on your trip to Colorado. We all hope it is a valuable extension of your legislative work. We await your return and reports about your perceptions. We want to give you our input too, as Maine voters and citizens
All Maine will be watching and waiting.
Jerome A Collins, MD