Gov. Jay Inslee
State of Washington
Gov. John Hickenlooper
State of Colorado
You are the governors of the first two states in modern times to legalize, for recreational purposes, the use of marijuana. More than 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, already allow some form of medicinal marijuana use. This was the first Super Bowl played between two teams representing recreational pot states; we are writing to urge that Minnesota join you (in the Super Bowl too).
Cultural mores change over time and democratic societies ultimately reflect the habits and will of their people. Colorado won’t be the only state that is “high,” nor will Washington remain its only companion for very long.
As far back as 1972, President Nixon’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (the Shafer Commission) concluded that marijuana use was no more injurious to the public than alcohol and tobacco. It further concluded that the mounting cost of incarceration and misdirection of police resources was not justified by any societal benefit. Just a few weeks ago, this same point was made by President Barack Obama when he discussed decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana. And, following the president’s lead, the United States attorney general, Eric Holder, has stated that there will be no prosecution for violation of federal controlled substance laws of those who possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use in states where that has been legalized. And in fact, recent public opinion polls continue to show that a majority of people in Minnesota, and also nationally, favor the legalization of recreational marijuana.
In spite of this growing political consensus, the Wall Street Journal has reported that those individuals and companies involved in the legal sale of marijuana—both medical and recreational—have been forced to become part of the “unbanked” economy. Banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions are very cautious about having normal banking relationships with these kinds of companies because such commerce may be illegal under federal law. With the growth of strict regulations directed at the financial community, additional caution has resulted in many legal marijuana companies dealing only in cash.
For many years, gambling was illegal in almost all of its aspects. Minnesota, along with many states, allowed so-called charitable gambling, which was poorly regulated and lightly taxed. In part for financial reasons, and in part as the result of the Indian Gaming Act, almost all states (with the exception of Hawaii and Utah) have many forms of legalized gambling—casinos, lotteries, and other games. Pari-mutuel betting was sold to the electorate on the grounds that the resultant tax revenue would reduce everyone’s taxes. The truth of the matter is that states have started to rely upon the millions of dollars of tax revenue generated every year by legal gambling. The same would be true if we legalized recreational pot—taxes would become a mainstay of each state fisc.
The beneficial impact on each state fisc would occur for a second reason as well. It has been estimated that approximately $150 million is spent in Minnesota alone on arrests for marijuana possession and sales. Various reports have indicated that possession alone is approximately two-thirds of that amount. While each state is somewhat different, the fact of the matter remains that tens of millions of dollars are spent on the arrest and incarceration of people for illegally possessing recreational pot. Those police resources could be better directed toward more serious crimes.
Legalized pot is often claimed to have additional benefits. It is without question true that for certain individuals who experience pain, marijuana is a recognized palliative. Letters to the editor of our largest metropolitan newspaper have contained testimonials to that effect.
One of the editorial writers for our largest local newspaper, Lori Sturdevant, recently wrote in support of legalizing recreational marijuana while noting that she herself had never used the drug. The author of this letter witnessed the “flower power” era. While Bill Clinton once claimed to have smoked but not to have inhaled, I can make the truthful claim that I neither smoked nor inhaled. In fact, I didn’t have to; I had alcohol. And isn’t that the point? This society has long tolerated alcohol and tobacco—and there can just be no question that marijuana is not as serious a health risk as those substances that we already tolerate. It is well past the time for us to regulate and tax the recreational use of marijuana. And oh, by the way, maybe that will get the Vikings into the Super Bowl. Lord knows nothing else has worked in recent years.
Vance K. Opperman
Still Not a Smoker