Legal marijuana will not help the US compete with China

A few weeks ago, Big Marijuana took a thrashing from arguably the most powerful Senate party leader in recent history, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In his floor remarks on the America COMPETES Act, a bill to help the United States become more competitive in response to China’s growing power, McConnell threw down the gauntlet on a marijuana banking provision tucked into the bill.

“China has been steadily building up its military and economic might, and the Democrats’ answer is to help Americans get high?” he argued.

His point is validated by science. States legalizing marijuana have expectedly seen large increases in people using the drug, including young people. A landmark study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a 25% increase in youth addiction to marijuana in legal states.

When we are talking about creating a stronger workforce to maintain America’s economic standing, policymakers should be worried when top construction employers in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational use of cannabis, say they cannot find applicants who can pass a drug test. Even former California Gov. Jerry Brown predicted this would happen when his state was on the brink of legalizing marijuana.

“The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive,” Brown said. “I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Studies show marijuana users are more likely to be involved in workplace accidents, be absent from work, and suffer from short-term memory loss. Marijuana results in decreased productivity — exactly the opposite of what our nation needs to compete with China.

Another fact employers and families alike should be worried about: States with legal marijuana are seeing sizable increases in people dying at the hands of stoned drivers. In Washington state, this number doubled. Colorado has seen more than a 100% increase since legalization.

China has no tolerance for lax drug policies but ships marijuana and fentanyl to our country. Perhaps this is our canary in the coal mine.

As the industry expands in the dozen or so states that have allowed it to prosper, the black market has grown. Just last month, California reported 80% of all marijuana sales continue to occur illegally. So people are still buying from the drug dealers whom legalization was supposed to eliminate. San Francisco went so far as to suspend marijuana taxes to help legal sellers compete with the cartels’ products.

Finally, our country faces an unprecedented crime wave, compounded by an opioid epidemic killing more than 75,000 Americans each year. Politicians on the Left and Right are presenting solutions and positioning themselves to be “law and order” candidates for the midterm elections. If they care about the law, they should respect federal law and stop the rampant drug promotion of the marijuana industry before it fans further flames of this crisis.

While McConnell is right about marijuana, others in his party are not on the same page. Republican congresswoman Nancy Mace — who is from South Carolina, where there is no legal marijuana — has spent considerable time stumping for legalization. She and others tempted by the industry’s deep pockets should heed the facts and put children and communities first amid the crime wave and overdose epidemic. Policymakers must also work to keep our nation competitive on the global stage. Greater marijuana use is unlikely to advance either of these goals.

We’d have to be high to want to expand the marijuana industry now.

Luke Niforatos is the executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

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