Be Wary of Efforts to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Commercializing pot will have a detrimental effect on our collective safety, health, economy and way of life

By Law Enforcement Leaders and County Attorneys

The quality of life valued by Montanans will be dramatically diminished if recreational marijuana becomes legal in our state. Collectively we value our safety, property, and health. Recreational marijuana will have negative impacts on all aspects of our lives. We urge you to think about both the intended and unintended consequences of recreational marijuana for our state and VOTE NO on I-190 and CI-118.

Marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I drug at the federal level and in the majority of states. Montana has made medical marijuana available for those suffering from illnesses and chronic pain, and we do not oppose efforts to help people live more comfortably in those situations; however, legalization of recreational marijuana is a completely different beast. Do not confuse medical marijuana with the recreational marijuana proposals on the ballot.

We do not need a crystal ball to know what will happen in our state if recreational marijuana becomes legal. We can look at what has occurred in other states that have recently passed similar initiatives to see what is likely awaiting Montana if these measures become law.

Contrary to what pot industry investors want everyone to believe, legalizing marijuana does not eliminate the illegal market nor does it reduce the amount of product being sold and purchased. The black market is thriving in states that have “legalized.” Additionally, despite promises that legalization will offer a much needed relief valve on the criminal justice system, reduced incarceration rates have failed to materialize. This will likely occur in Montana as well. The proponents have placed a 20% tax on the sale of marijuana, which the black market dealers certainly won’t be charging and remitting to the state. Illicit dealers will continue to target youth while the legal, Big Marijuana-backed businesses will aggressively push pot-laced candies and cookies marketed with kid-friendly packaging.

As peace officers, we have long raised significant public safety concerns about increased drugged driving and helped pass legislation to recognize drugged driving as a crime in Montana. Unfortunately, these initiatives fail to address drugged driving in any way. In Oregon, nearly 25% of drivers polled admitted to driving under the influence once marijuana was legalized. In Colorado, traffic fatalities linked to pot have more than doubled since legalization.

Crime around pot shops has also flourished in legalized states. Studies have shown that the density of marijuana shops is directly linked to increased rates of property crimes. In Denver, neighborhoods adjacent to pot businesses saw roughly 85 more property crimes each year than neighborhoods without a pot shop nearby. This should concern all parents and local business owners as there are no limitations in the proposed ballot initiatives on how many pot shops are allowed in each locality or where these pot shops are allowed to open their businesses.

Additionally, states that have legalized haven’t seen a reduction in arrest rates. In fact, in some states it’s been the opposite. While pro-pot lobbyists argue that commercially produced THC products improve social justice, criminal offense rates persist. Proponents of legalization argue that legalizing pot will lower incarceration rates, yet states that have legalized the drug have not seen a corresponding drop in prison populations.

Overall costs for local and state law enforcement are also likely to escalate with legalization. More officers will be needed, more training will be required, and new drug dogs and equipment will need to be purchased and implemented. A study from New York State found that costs to local taxpayers could reach hundreds of millions of dollars per year. In Montana none of the revenue from the 20% tax placed on the sale of marijuana in these initiatives goes to law enforcement to address these burdens.

The unquestionable negative societal costs of legalizing marijuana outweigh the potential tax revenue. There will be increased costs on our health care system, prevention outreach, addiction treatment and services, and law enforcement. We have no guarantee the promised revenue will come to fruition to cover the compounding costs of legalized marijuana.

Commercializing pot – particularly the industry’s new, high-potency products – will have a detrimental effect on our collective safety, health, economy and way of life, just to benefit another addiction-for-profit industry. Vote no on I-190 and CI-118 because legalizing recreational pot is not the right direction for Montana.

Signed by the Montana Narcotics Officers Association, Montana Troopers Association and dozens of Montana county attorneys and sheriffs.

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