While Pro-Marijuana Forces in NC Prepare to Push for Legalization, State Lawmakers Should Look at Colorado’s Huge Costs

By L.A. Williams, Christian Action League

Even as pro-marijuana forces in North Carolina are preparing to push for local-option legalization, officials in Colorado are being forced to face the high cost of their state’s embrace of cannabis.

Colorado approved medical marijuana in 2000. The substance became legal for recreational use in 2014 with, pardon the pun, high hopes for big revenues.

While the money has come in — $247 million in tax revenue for 2017 — it has gone out even more quickly.

According to a Centennial Institute report issued late last year, for every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization, with healthcare costs and those related to high school drop-outs among the largest price tags.

Car accidents involving impaired drivers cost the state nearly $84 million, the report shows. Driving Under the Influence court costs for those who tested positive for marijuana approached $19 million, and treatment for cannabis use disorder set the state back another $31 million. Even more importantly, 139 people lost their lives on Colorado highways as a result of accidents caused by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-using drivers. Another 180 residents had THC in their systems when they committed suicide.

“If there were ever a time to heed the Biblical admonition to ‘count the cost,’ this is it,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Certainly, legalizing marijuana is not paying off in Colorado, nor would it benefit us in North Carolina.”

Nonetheless, he expects pro-pot proposals to come before lawmakers this session. The Legislature is set to convene Wednesday.

“Every year for the last ten years, legislation was introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly to make pot legal in some manner,” Dr. Creech said. “This past year there were three measures, HB 185 – Legalize Medical Marijuana, SB 648 – Legalize Medical Marijuana, and SB 579 – the Catherine A. Zanga Medical Marijuana Bill. Although the three bills filed in 2018 didn’t receive a hearing in committee, others in previous years were heard but failed.”

Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) has been floating the idea of creating a local-option framework for marijuana sales similar to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system.

“The statute is going to be patterned after the way North Carolina legalized liquor after Prohibition,” Alexander told the Daily Tar Heel last month. “And if we’re able to get it through, what you would have is a situation where, let’s say Orange County decided that it wanted to liberalize. Well, you could do it either by a vote of the town council, or the county commission, or a petition from the citizens that would create a referendum.”

Abner Brown, executive director of North Carolina NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has vowed to hold public meetings from Wilmington to Asheville to drum up support for legalization. The NORML website lists chapters of the group in Raleigh, Charlotte, the Triad, and the Catawba Valley, and supporters are being urged to contact their lawmakers with a pro-pot message.

While many cite a 2017 Elon University poll showing 80 percent of North Carolinians support legalizing marijuana for medical use and 45 percent are OK with recreational use, the Rev. Creech points out that the poll involved only about 500 respondents.

“Census estimates for 2016 show that there are over 10 million people in North Carolina. The Elon Poll barely represents .05% of the population. It would be reckless to believe its conclusions are characteristic of North Carolina sentiment,” he said, adding that the poll’s broad questions also failed to drill down on the issue.

On the contrary, the statistics from the Colorado study are based, not on opinion or conjecture, but on findings following three years of experience with legalized pot.

“The bad news is that the costs associated with commercial marijuana are only going to go up as the long-term health consequences have not been fully determined,” wrote Jeff Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute, in the report summary. “Like tobacco, commercial marijuana is likely to have health consequences that we won’t be able to determine for decades. Those costs are not configured in this report.”

Even so, Creech said there is plenty of evidence showing marijuana’s ill effects and the dangers it poses. “The interesting thing to me is that while there has been a momentum nationally to legalize, the science is progressively showing us that marijuana is indeed hazardous. It’s becoming more obvious with each passing year that states which have legalized were premature in their judgment,” he said.

To read and download the full report, click here.