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Researchers Warn Legal Marijuana
Could Be Next Big Tobacco
 
University of California, San Francisco researchers Rachel Barry, MA, and Stanton Glantz, PhD, analyzed the two most prominent ballot initiatives that are working their way towards California’s 2016 ballot. Both initiatives would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
 
The researchers released a 66-page report this week warning that a marijuana industry that will result from legalization could either become as powerful as the tobacco industry, or be overtaken by it. They conclude that either initiative will replace a crime problem with a public-health problem in California.
 
They note that the initiatives are written primarily to create a new business. “Without a strong public-health framework,” they say, “a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public-health efforts to reduce use and profits.”
 
The state’s legislative analyst office failed to consider the impact of legalization on increasing health costs, they add. And marijuana taxes are not likely to cover the regulatory and public health costs of legalization, leaving it to taxpayers to pick up the tab as happens with tobacco and alcohol.  
 
The authorities the initiatives assign to regulate legal pot are mandated to create competitive marketplaces rather than protect public health. And the advisory committees the initiatives call for contain industry representatives who are “unlikely to prioritize public health over maximizing business potential.”
 
The authors say their report is “based on the premise that treating marijuana like tobacco—legal but unwanted—under a public-health framework is an appropriate response to the social inequities and large public costs of the failed War on Drugs.” They add that a comprehensive prevention and control program can de-normalize marijuana use and counter industry activity at the local and state level, similar to what has been done with tobacco.
 
But the history of tobacco has at least two significant advantages that made de-normalization possible:
  • The Tobacco Settlement of 1998 reimburses the states in perpetuity for their Medicaid costs of caring for people made sick from tobacco, and
  • No one claims tobacco is medicine.
A failure to see that marijuana proponents and the marijuana industry they have spawned are writing the legalization laws means any hope that pot can be de-normalized is a hope not grounded in reality. That train left the station in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use.
 
Read Sacramento Bee story about the new report here. Read A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry here.
 
Recreational Marijuana Sales Are Up 184%.
Is That A Good Thing?
 
As if to underscore the public-health concerns raised in the story above, ArcView Group, a marijuana investment firm, and New Frontier, a marijuana analytics firm, issued this week the 4th edition of "The State of Legal Marijuana Markets." 
 
This report says recreational marijuana sales skyrocketed from $351 million in 2014 to $998 million in 2015, a 184 percent increase. The report also estimates that the entire marijuana industry, including recreational sales in 4 states and the District of Columbia and medical sales in 23 states was worth $5.4 billion in 2015.
 
The report predicts staggering sales increases (shown in the chart above) in Colorado and Washington state between 2014 and 2020.
 
Sales in Colorado were approximately $350 million in 2014 according to the chart. Some 15 percent of Coloradans ages 12 and older were past-month marijuana users that year according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. If sales meet ArcView’s predictions of $2 billion by 2020, a 570 percent increase in sales over 6 years, how many Coloradans will be using marijuana in 2020?
 
The 2014 survey shows Colorado’s adolescents (ages 12-17) had the highest rates of past-month marijuana use in the nation at 15 percent in 2014, even though legal sales are theoretically restricted to those age 21 or older. How many of Colorado’s kids will be using pot in 2020?
 
ArcView’s predictions for Washington state are even higher: $2,266,000,000 in marijuana sales by 2020, up from approximately $150 million in 2014 when 13 percent of the state’s residents age 12 and older and 10 percent of Washington’s teenagers used marijuana in the past month. The predicted sales in 2020 are 15 times higher than the 2014 sales. How many Washingtonians will be buying all that pot? How many of them will be teenagers?
 
Read the International Business Times story here. Read the 55-page executive summary of the ArcView/New Frontier report here.
The Marijuana Report is a weekly e-newsletter produced by National Families in Action in partnership with SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). Subscribe to The Marijuana Report and visit our website, The Marijuana Report.Org, to learn more about the marijuana story unfolding across the nation.

About National Families in Action (NFIA)
NFIA consists of families, scientists, business leaders, physicians, addiction specialists, policymakers, and others committed to protecting children from addictive drugs. Our vision is:
  • Healthy, drug-free kids
  • Nurturing, addiction-free families
  • Scientifically accurate information and education
  • A nation free of Big Marijuana
  • Smart, safe, FDA-approved medicines developed from the cannabis plant (and other plants) 
  • Expanded access to medicines in FDA clinical trials for children with epilepsy

About SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) 

SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of "incarceration versus legalization" when discussing marijuana use and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy. 

SAM has four main goals: 
  • To inform public policy with the science of today's marijuana.
  • To reduce the unintended consequences of current marijuana policies, such as lifelong stigma due to arrest.
  • To prevent the establishment of "Big Marijuana" - and a 21st-Century tobacco industry that would market marijuana to children.
  • To promote research of marijuana's medical properties and produce, non-smoked, non-psychoactive pharmacy-attainable medications.
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