iStock_000001663447SmallHere’s an update on the fight for marijuana legalization, which takes a big step on Election Day with referendums in Arizona, Massachusetts, Nevada, Maine, and the big dog– California. Please note that the article appears in the business section rather than health or culture, suggesting legalization is mainly viewed as a financial opportunity.

There’s opposition from the liquor and pharmaceutical industries. That’s no surprise. Those two have long opposed any measure, including tax hikes, that might reduce use of their products (and their revenue).

A main point of opposition involves child safety. In Colorado, ER visits related to kids ingesting marijuana have doubled since legalization in July 2014. We should expect that trend to continue, although probably not at that super-accelerated rate. Of course, as advocates point out, the same has been true for prescription painkillers.

Not that one cancels out the other. We’re actually dealing with two fast-growing drug problems. Or more accurately, we’ve managed to avoid dealing with either.

Cannabis industry revenues are projected to reach $20 billion over the next 3-4 years. That’s a lot of cash. No doubt we’re witnessing the creation of a Big Pot to lobby alongside Big Pharma, Big Liquor, Big Tobacco, and the NRA.

The Drug Policy Alliance, which is unabashedly pro-legalization, has tried to reassure the liquor industry with news that Colorado alcohol sales have actually increased since legalization (if you think that’s a good thing). It appears that people are drinking more, smoking more pot, and presumably, still taking painkillers, if a few less. I have to wonder if in the midst of an epidemic, we’ve actually come up with a way to increase drug use. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Even if full legalization doesn’t come to pass, it could be that cannabis products will find a place on store shelves among the supplements and ‘natural’ wellness products that represent yet another huge growth industry.

From a government standpoint, revenue drives the move towards legalization. States need tax dollars. Of course once a popular drug is legal, competition increases and price falls, leading to diminished tax revenues. Still, that takes time, and meanwhile, empty coffers look full.

A percentage of the money will no doubt be directed towards treatment, but we’ll have to wait and see if it’s enough to offset the increase in people who need help.


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