On March 9, Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld will introduce a measure to ban recreational marijuana dispensaries in the City of Fresno.
Proposition 64, also known as the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, not surprisingly passed statewide in November 2016 but wisely failed in Fresno County with 54% of the people voting against legalization.
Prop. 64 now allows individuals 21 years or older to legally smoke marijuana and to grow up to six plants in their home, even if they are next to elementary schools. What many people don’t know is that Prop. 64 also allows recreational marijuana dispensaries or businesses to be opened throughout the state unless a specific municipality officially prohibits or bans them.
If they are not banned, these dispensaries can begin opening up for business January 1, 2018. Additionally, Prop. 64 allows these dispensaries to advertise and promote marijuana on television though commercials promoting smoking have been banned for decades. Now, these dispensaries will be able to advertise on programs that millions of children and teens watch.
While I support medicinal marijuana for people who are truly ill, my focus is on banning these recreational dispensaries for recreational use. As a clinical psychologist and someone who has worked with many substance abusers and addicts for over 30 years, I know that without question, marijuana has numerous negative and profound effects on adolescents and young people who use it. In fairness, for many (though not all) marijuana can also be a gateway drug.
YOUTH AND MARIJUANA
Adolescents clearly go through many biological, development, and social changes as they grow. We know from numerous clinical studies that smoking marijuana affects their memory, ability to learn and focus, and can decrease neuropsychological functioning. Kids who are smoking marijuana also have poor school performance, higher rates of absenteeism, and increased mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. We also know that on-going usage of marijuana with any user can pose risks for immune system damage, birth defects, cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory problems and lung cancer.
The legalization of marijuana has sent the terrible message to young people that getting high is not a problem and is, in fact, sanctioned by the State. Since the legalization of marijuana in numerous states, the National Institute of Drug Abuse has found that marijuana use has climbed among 10th and 12 graders across the nation. Following Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, there’s been a rise in youth arrests, disciplinary problems in school, and numerous medical problems associated with its usage. By allowing these recreational dispensaries and the ease of acquiring this drug, we would be contributing to the destruction of so many young people in our city.
SEEKING DRUG REVENUE IS DESTRUCTIVE AND FAILED PUBLIC POLICY
Many in government who are for Prop 64 cite all the revenue it will generate. There are two specific taxes—a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves in addition to a 15 percent tax on the retail price of the marijuana. Local governments can also add additional taxes. While they cite revenue from these taxes would be used for “drug research, treatment, and enforcement,” it is clear that allowing these dispensaries to open would be terrible public policy and detrimental to our youth, community, and the entire region. Some foolishly believe that this revenue, “drug money” as I refer to it, would be beneficial to pay for municipal services. What they fail to understand is that by allowing these dispensaries and the promotion of marijuana usage only brings with it numerous added costs, burdens, and consequences that will offset any drug money revenues.
With the increase of marijuana usage, there will be increased drugged driving and fatal car accidents. You only need look at states that have approved legalization. In an official argument against Prop 64, “The AAA Foundation for Highway Safety reports that deaths in marijuana-related car crashes have doubled since the State of Washington approved legalization.” Despite this, there is no specific protocol for determining if a driver is impaired due to marijuana usage. There will clearly be need for greater law enforcement, which has major and significant costs. There will be increased need for medical care and drug treatment programs. There has been a rise in emergency room visits due to increased marijuana usage.
All too often, the rise in drug usage is seen in poorer neighborhoods. Another official argument against Prop 64 was that it was believed to be “an all-out assault on underprivileged neighborhoods already reeling from alcohol and drug addiction problems.” One of the official arguments against Prop 64 was made by Bishop Ron Allen of the International Faith Based Coalition which represents 5,000 inner-city churches. Bishop Allen called Proposition 64 an “attack on minorities” and asked “Why are there no limits on the number of pot shops that can be opened in poor neighborhoods? We will now have a string of pot shops to go with the two liquor stores on every block, but we still can’t get a grocery store. Proposition 64 will make every parent’s job tougher.”
The term “cash is king” accurately reflects the marijuana sales business. Federal law prohibits everyone, including banks, from dealing with controlled substances or the proceeds from them, which includes cash used to buy and sell marijuana. The sales from marijuana ultimately is a cash business and banks will not allow this “drug money” to be deposited. These dispensaries already have and will always be a prime target for robberies and increased criminal behavior which will further increase demands on law enforcement and make the neighborhoods unsafe where these dispensaries exist.
It has been demonstrated in other states with legalized marijuana that relying on marijuana revenues is bad public policy for local governments. In addition to the terrible consequences I’ve already outlined, what happens if a local government has increased municipal services, hired more police officers only later to have the federal government enforce federal law banning recreational sales and usage, which has been promised by the current administration? How are those services or police officers then paid for? They won’t be. We don’t want to rely on sales from a drug that is still illegal throughout the country and more than half of the population in Fresno County don’t approve of.
It’s obvious that no community or society is better off when large numbers of its people use drugs. When this occurs, employers and businesses will be adversely affected. There will be a real potential for employees being the under the influence of marijuana, and a significant decrease in productivity due to employee turnover, workplace injuries, absenteeism and illness. One only has to ask, why is that companies throughout the country have had the long-standing policy of testing their employees for drug use, often specifically for marijuana? The answer is clear and indisputable. Whether you drive a truck, work in a warehouse, are a roofer, work in construction, or are a doctor or nurse, if you’re under the influence of marijuana, your work will be adversely and negatively affected. Businesses know any employee under the influence of marijuana is a liability and poses a risk/hazard to performing their job effectively, efficiently, and safely.
WE MUST STOP THE SLIPPERY SLOPE AND FURTHER SOCIETAL DECLINE
If the Fresno City Council were to allow these recreational marijuana dispensaries to sprout up throughout our community, where does it end? One can reasonably ask, if marijuana is now legal and we can generate government money for that drug, why not legalize prostitution or cocaine and make a lot of money? One can be dismissive of this possibility but the fact is before Prop 64 passed last year, legalized marijuana had been on the ballot in California twice, in 1972 and 2010, and both failed. That did not stop the proponents from continuing their efforts to ultimately get marijuana legalized. The same could happen with any other illegal drug or prostitution.
The weakening of our drug laws that now allow marijuana to be used and sold recreationally in conjunction with the weakening of our criminal laws such as Prop 57, 47, and AB 109 have continued to make our communities unsafe. We have just seen a police officer killed in Whittier by a known gang member and multiple felon. Adding to this slippery slope of further societal decay is the legalizing of marijuana which we know will only cause tremendous damage to our youth, problems in our schools and workplaces, increased crime and traffic accidents/fatalities, and make our neighborhoods unsafe.
It’s time to stop the decline.
We need to stop these recreational marijuana dispensaries from invading our communities and we need to do it now! Fresno must be the leader in California and send the clear and healthy message—“Not in our city because we care about our kids, our communities, and our future!”