The signing of a recreational marijuana legalization bill is an important moment in Rhode Island’s history that is worth celebrating — indicative that state legislators have finally come …
The signing of a recreational marijuana legalization bill is an important moment in Rhode Island’s history that is worth celebrating — indicative that state legislators have finally come to their senses on an issue which has massive potential upside and creates, in our view, no more hazards than already existed in a world where marijuana was outlawed.
For far too long, opponents to recreational marijuana have relied on logically fallacious arguments to buoy their stance. They claimed it would cause massive increases in use among youth, that car crash fatalities would skyrocket, and that it would send a dangerous and harmful message regarding an endorsement of the use of recreational drugs.
In a world where alcohol remains for sale on nearly every corner of every Main Street in the state, and cigarettes are available at every gas station and convenience store imaginable, these arguments have only become more farcical with the passing of time.
The reality is much more boring, according to data collected by the Cato Institute on states that have legalized marijuana, beginning with Colorado and Washington in 2012. While they conclude that there is not ample data yet to make any big picture predictions about the future one way or another, data that has been collected has revealed that there simply has not been a drastic change in any of the major categories — marijuana use, crime, and road accidents, specifically — as a result of marijuana legalization. The only notable exception is the amount of tax revenue that has been collected, which has exceeded expectations on the whole.
This isn’t really surprising. The era of alcohol prohibition remains a good reference point for the fact that human beings who want to indulge in a mind-altering substance are going to do so, regardless of laws that proclaim they should not do so. It stands to reason that, especially in a world where you can drive 20 minutes away to Massachusetts and buy marijuana legally, that the same number of Rhode Islanders who wanted to smoke weed when it was illegal, will still want to smoke weed when it is legal here. All you’ve done, in effect, is slightly reduce the burden for them to obtain it, and captured more money for local communities and the state as a whole in the process.
Pearl clutching over “the children,” and the message they receive from marijuana being legalized is also a gross mischaracterization. Aside from the fact that the law will only sell to those above 21 years of age, younger children are increasingly aware of drug culture in our society (it has been a staple of movies and television shows aimed at their demographic for nearly 20 years), and they are simultaneously armed with more information about its potential negative consequences than ever before. The same kids who want to stay away from marijuana now will continue to avoid it whether or not the drug is legal. The same kids who have been able to easily access the drug, despite its illegality, will continue to access it — all the more reason to have proceeds from legal sales go into funding drug awareness campaigns and resources to address drug abuse.
One benefit to the legalization of marijuana that is not purely theoretical, however, is the fact that no more people will be saddled with the life-altering difficulty of having an arrest record for possessing a small amount of a drug that is, inarguably, less harmful than the aforementioned and normalized alcohol. Being able to expunge the records of those who have been wrongfully persecuted for such a crime is an enormous win for justice, particularly for minority populations who have been inordinately targeted and punished for low-level drug possession.
The concerns about police not being prepared to catch people driving stoned ignore the fact that driving while impaired has always been illegal, and will remain illegal. There is no data to back up the notion that more people will now be driving stoned than already were.
We commend Senate Majority Leader and Warwick’s own Michael McCaffrey for being a supporter of the bill. It wasn’t long ago that he visited the Beacon office with current House Speaker Joe Shekarchi voicing his hesitation about legalization. We are encouraged by his ability to learn from testimony and trust in the people of Rhode Island to make the right choices for themselves and their neighbors
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