Landers column: Let's not follow Illinois

Landers column: Let's not follow Illinois

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It’s a lot of money to make, $ 3.2 million — especially for your first day in business. Illinois boasts its first day in the legalized marijuana business made $3.2 million. Of course, as time goes on, that number will continue to climb. As time goes on, those numbers will also be key talking points to those who want to see marijuana legalized in Wisconsin as well.

The debate over legalized marijuana in Wisconsin is growing. Proponents will argue that the drug is recreational and even holistic in nature that does not have the dangerous stigma and side effects as other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. They will encourage that the business part of it will mean safer drugs, tax revenue, and money set aside for educational and treatment purposes. Opponents will argue that marijuana is a gateway drug that will only promote drug use and will add to the already overcrowded jails, treatment facilities, and hospitals from those who will drive high, become addicted, or commit dangerous acts under its influence. Add to measure the good old-fashioned theory that we would be sending the wrong message to kids and teens, and the debate comes down to personal perspectives of what is right and wrong in 2020.

There are legitimate arguments for each side. While marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin, there are many prosecutors and police agencies who will no longer arrest and charge a person with criminal possession. There are simply bigger fish to fry in the criminal justice system these days. There are popular movies, songs, and TV shows that flaunt marijuana use, Major League Baseball no longer routinely tests its athletes for THC, and the legalization of CBD as therapeutic and medicinal purposes has seen an explosion of sales and stores as a cure from everything from sleep disorders to aching joints. In full disclosure, we use a CBD-based supplement for one of our dogs with joint issues and it seems to have worked wonders for him. Marijuana, and its close cousins, has become more socially acceptable than ever before.

Colorado, who legalized marijuana in 2013, just released a comprehensive study of the impact of its legalization for the first five years. Crime has remained relatively unchanged. The use rate of marijuana for teens actually decreased, and traffic citations for marijuana impairment remained the same. However, traffic-related fatalities of driving under marijuana influence increased by 10% and hospitalization of marijuana-related issues has increased slightly each year. Five years might be a small sample size, but it is interesting to note that some of the fears by marijuana opponents have not materialized there.

In the State of Washington, which legalized marijuana in 2012, traffic-related incidents involving marijuana have decreased. Crime rates involving drug use have been fairly unchanged, and the use rate of teens in their state saw only 12th graders seeing any increase in recreational marijuana use. By all accounts, it appears that in at least two of the states that allow recreational marijuana, things haven’t spiraled out of control by any means.

But do these stats tend to support the legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin? Our state struggles with heroin, alcoholism and mental illness. We have a serious shortage of facilities and providers who are willing to accept those with mental illness and drug issues already. Our local police have to travel hours in order to find and place those under a mental commitment or who are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. We see headlines in our local papers of overdoses caused by our opioid epidemic as our death rate by heroin is higher than the national average, and in a five-year period, prescription drug overdose deaths rose in Wisconsin by over 30%. Half of the drunkest cities in the U.S., meaning those with the highest adult binge drinkers, are in Wisconsin. And if that wasn’t enough, suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for our state’s teens. This doesn’t sound like a state ready to take on legalized marijuana.

The simple fact is that we shouldn’t look to other states to support the legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin, we should look at what our state has failed to do thus far in trying to keep up with the concerns we already have and realize that now may not be the best time to add something more to our crowded plate of social issues. Perhaps Wisconsin can show other states how to do it right if the time ever arises. I highly doubt California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and Washington made any significant advances in any of their issues before legalizing recreational marijuana. It appears political pressures and promise of tax revenues was all they needed to get their laws passed. At what cost still remains to be seen. Wisconsin needs to be stronger and smarter. Let’s get a better handle on mental illness and addiction before we entertain any debate on the legalization of marijuana. Let’s hope our Legislatures can find ways to work together in 2020 and beyond to tackle the current issues of Wisconsin before they follow Illinois into the unknown.

Opinions expressed by Brian do not necessarily reflect those of the Dells Events or associations Brian may have. Brian can be reached at brianlanders@charter.net

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