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Recreational pot still not right for CT

3/5/2018
Greg Bordonaro Editor
Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use are in full force in Connecticut, as at least two bills permitting the retail sale of weed have been raised in legislative committees.

This issue is a complicated one that plays to social, economic, health, moral and other issues, and support for recreational pot seems to be on the rise, especially after nearby states — including Massachusetts and Vermont — recently legalized it.

Public attitudes seem to be changing on the marijuana debate. A January Quinnipiac poll, for example, found that 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who previously voiced opposition to recreational marijuana, included legalization in his budget as a potential "alternative" revenue source to help fill the state's widening budget deficits.

Going down that path, however, is still the wrong direction for Connecticut.

Proponents, including outside industry forces, continue to push an economic argument for legalization.

The Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, for example, says legalization would yield $71 million in tax revenues in the first year and as much as $166 million in future years based on a 6.35 percent sales tax rate and other fees.

We should be wary of those numbers, especially coming from a group backed by an organization — the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project — pushing for legalization nationwide.

In fact, those are much higher estimates than the $30 million to $105 million in tax revenues projected last year by the state's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Of greater importance than an economic argument are the social and health effects legalizing weed would have on the populace, and whether or not we want to promote activities that foster laziness, dimwittedness and other potential harmful effects.

Another anti-marijuana group, for example, recently released a report that said embracing recreational weed would cost the state $216 million annually by 2020 to administer and enforce.

The report from the Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an Alexandria, Va., anti-marijuana legalization group, and its Connecticut chapter, CT-SAM, said legalization would lead to higher workplace costs, as a result of increased accidents and absenteeism; increased drugged-driving fatalities, injuries and property damage; short-term health costs; more emergency room visits for marijuana poisonings; and increased rates of homelessness.

To be fair, I don't take much stock in either group's numbers. Data can be manipulated to support any cause.

What's more alarming are the red flags raised by Dr. Deepak Cyril D'Souza, a psychiatry professor at the Yale University School of Medicine who has been doing cannabinoid research for more than two decades. At a recent anti-marijuana press conference, he said the drug is addictive, has a negative impact on the developing brain and impairs driving, according to the CT Mirror.

At a time when we are already dealing with the deadly effects of the opioid crisis, legalizing marijuana sends the wrong message to our youth.

Other marijuana supporters cling to a social-justice argument. They say minorities are more likely to be arrested and/or jailed for marijuana drug offenses. While that may be true, it's not a legit argument for legalizing the drug. A simple solution is to take steps to decriminalize weed, without sanctioning it, which Connecticut has done in recent years.

One of the newest, more laughable pro-marijuana arguments is that if Connecticut doesn't legalize weed it will hurt the state's tourism industry, because some vacationers will be more apt to visit nearby states that allow recreational pot use.

Connecticut should not allow peer pressure to force it to legalize recreational pot. Just because other nearby states are doing it, doesn't mean we must or should.

That's the same lesson parents teach their children to stay away from drugs in the first place. The health and social risks outweigh the economic benefits.