Editor’s note: This commentary is by Catherine Antley, MD, a community medical doctor, and Spencer Smith, a writer and retired Peace Corps volunteer. Both are from Burlington.
After decades fighting Big Tobacco, will the Vermont Legislature really invite Big Cannabis into our state? This is not about decriminalization. We already have that. This is about creating a hugely profitable industry which needs addiction to make those profits.
Have we really looked at results of commercialization of cannabis in other states? It has failed public health standards, environmental goals, failed to further goals of racial or social justice. Big Cannabis has failed regulatory standards to protect the health of citizens, especially the most vulnerable, our children.
States with commercial marijuana record higher teen use, higher child and teen ER visits for cannabis. They come to the ER with cannabis-induced psychosis, cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (vomiting), and toddlers eating cannabis, in some cases requiring intubation to survive life-threatening loss of their ability to breathe.
While 69% of medical cannabis shops in Colorado falsely claim that the drug is safe to treat nausea from pregnancy, a new August 2020 study in the prestigious journal NATURE shows a concerning marked increase of the rate of autistic children born to mothers who use cannabis. Their babies are also more likely to be low birth weight or preterm and to require admission to intensive care.
Legalized cannabis production does not end black market activity in commercialized states, because it can always charge less than the legalized price. In some areas the illegal market has grown. This all contributes to environmental damage. Wild animals are poisoned by pesticides applied to the continuing illegal farms. Waterway quality is degraded. Smells, allergens, and volatile organic pollutants (which residents of Winooski are already concerned about) compromise their standard of living. Ethnically diverse and low-income neighborhoods are targeted as places to sell and to produce product.
Who are the tireless pro-bono lawyers who will protect small Vermont towns against Big Cannabis’ armies of lawyers and lobbyists? They stand ready to help industry build a polluting marijuana processing facility, establish a shop near public parks or youth sports centers or near the high school. Big Cannibis has created products to target children and teens, using vaping, candies, cookies or even soda containing cannabis.
Will Vermont be able to raise taxes and license fees high enough to pay for these damages to local populations? Not likely. (Was allowing the lottery going to pay for education in Vermont?)
As for the promised regulations, in Oregon only 3% of the pot sold legally undergoes testing. California has not been able to effectively “regulate” or protect its citizens against pot with mold, heavy metals, or pesticides. Of sampled cannabis sold in shops in Denver last year 80% tested positive for mold, five years after “regulation” was implemented.
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Big Cannabis makes a false promise. It does not balance the budgets of states. It adds costs in increased health care while it extracts wealth from the poor and redistributes it to the wealthy, most of whom are living out of state, some even in foreign countries. It fails to cure unacceptable racial injustices, which persist or worsen after commercialization.
Eighty percent of commercial marijuana profits come from purchases by just 20% of marijuana consumers. This model of profitability comes from the history of Big Tobacco’s success. Without these heavy users, the industry cannot succeed as private or publicly traded enterprise; thus, the cornerstone of the industry’s profit model is the creation of dependence and addiction. To do this, they make the products more and more concentrated.
The Colorado Department of Health found that 93% of cannabis in Colorado shops have dangerous high THC concentrations; the industry appears to clearly need potent pot to addict and profit. But this concentration is dangerous. Frequent use of 10%-15% THC is found in half of ER patients seen for psychosis in Amsterdam. These patients would be well but for their marijuana use, according to one of the world’s leading authorities on schizophrenia, professor Sir Robin Murray, and others.
Setting a limit of 60% THC, as the Vermont Legislature proposes, is the same as setting a speed limit of 250 miles per hour and then boasting about the public health and safety gains of speed limits.
It also warns us that our legislators may not be willing to set appropriate limits with this industry, as seen in other states. Following this flawed model, we will have greater and more severe health problems, especially in our kids, if Big Cannabis is welcomed here. Commercializing pot will not pay or protect Vermonters.