Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill. Elected to his position in 2016, Hill is Indiana's chief legal officer.
So you think legalizing marijuana is the answer to our opioid crisis?
Maybe you haven’t seen the 2017 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showing marijuana users are more than twice as likely as the general population to abuse prescription opioids.
Or perhaps you’re unaware that in 2015 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people addicted to marijuana are three times more likely than the average person to become addicted to heroin.
If these studies don’t move you, just take a look at Colorado -- which many consider America’s “poster child” for legal dope.
Colorado fully legalized marijuana in 2014, and today pot continues to blossom into a big business. The Rocky Mountain State now has 513 “medical marijuana” centers, 491 recreational marijuana shops and approximately 700 cultivation facilities.
For context, consider this: That means there are far more marijuana businesses in Colorado than its 394 Starbucks locations and 208 McDonald’s restaurants combined.
In Denver alone, licensed “medical marijuana” centers outnumber pharmacies 210 to 108.
Concurrent with marijuana legalization, certain other trends have occurred.
In 2016 in Colorado, 147 driver/operators involved in fatal crashes tested positive for marijuana – more than double the total in 2013, when 71 tested positive.
Between 2013 and 2016, violent crime in Colorado increased 18.6 percent.
Correlation does not equal causation, but anyone who does not see a link between legalization and these disturbing trends must be smoking something.
And now Colorado is ranked first in the nation in marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-old adolescents. The usage rate for youth in this age group, in fact, is 55 percent higher than the national average.
On October 30th, I was pleased to sponsor the Attorney General's Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Symposium in Indianapolis. More than 700 attendees learned about the effects of legalization in Colorado from opening speaker Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA).
Gorman, who has worked in narcotics enforcement since 1968, has watched the unfolding of Colorado’s pot experiment perhaps more closely than anyone. Beyond the heart-wrenching stories of traffic fatalities and violent crime, Gorman shared quality-of-life issues that have arisen in Colorado’s urban centers.
“Homelessness has increased in Colorado tremendously,” Gorman said. “Young people come in without jobs or any intent of getting jobs. . . . They sit there and use dope. They’re homeless. There’s nothing good in what they do for our society.”
Gorman shared such stories not to lash out at young people who smoke weed. He actually has a soft spot in his heart for them. His voice quavered when he told about a successful high school student-athlete who made the mistake of smoking a joint before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. The young man struck and killed a little girl. Among the multiple lives ruined, Gorman observed, were those of the young driver and his family.
The symposium’s keynote speaker was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, chairman of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. While Governor Christie focused much of his talk on opioid addiction, he was passionate when discussing his work to keep legal pot out of New Jersey.
“We're the most medicated country in the world,” Christie said. “Do we really need to legalize another drug?”
The United States consumes 85 percent of the world’s opioid painkillers, Christie noted.
Kids who use marijuana are more likely to use other drugs, he added, citing a 2013 national survey on drug use. Those between 12 and 17 who smoke marijuana, Christie said, are 10 times more likely to use other illicit drugs than their peers who do not smoke marijuana. Further, they are five times more likely to use heroin, he said.
In Indiana, we would do well to pay heed to the experience of Colorado and other states stumbling into the same mistakes.
Legalizing marijuana is a road to nowhere good.
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