New Mexico’s new legal recreational cannabis market is already making authorities in Texas nervous—even before the state officially opens the market for business.
In a recent interview with CBS4 in El Paso, Texas, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Division Kyle Williamson said New Mexico lawmakers have made a mistake that will end up costing the state more money than it will make.
“What’s happened in Colorado, for example, for every one dollar of tax revenue that they received from legal marijuana, there was a $4.50 health care cost to the state,” Williamson said. “In the long run, I don’t believe the scales are balanced there.”
This supposed cost cited by Williamson comes from a highly criticized 2018 study conducted privately by the Centennial Institute at the Colorado Christian University—a rabidly anti-cannabis Christian school. According to the study’s authors, it’s meant to examine the economic and social costs of legalizing recreational marijuana.
The report calculates the cost using a strange estimation that includes the amount that private companies pay for electricity, the personal costs to consumers who purchase cannabis, the economic burden on the state from high school dropouts, the societal cost of drivers under the influence of marijuana and a few other tenuously connected and sometimes questionable data points.
The flaws in the self-published report are immediately apparent. For instance, it says that cannabis causes people to be “less physically active,” an assumption that contradicts studies in the Frontiers in Public Health and American Journal of Epidemiology that found that pot users on average engaged in more minutes of aerobic and anaerobic exercise per week than non-users and have a lower prevalence of obesity, respectively. Despite being a bad data point, the report’s authors then use this to lay the health costs associated with obesity at the foot of the legal cannabis industry in Colorado, an especially egregious extrapolation.
The paper also fails to distinguish between correlation and causality or reverses causality altogether on a number of issues, the most glaring being the connection between high school dropouts and cannabis use. The report claims that loss of productivity due to lack of education is the largest cost to society caused by cannabis. While it avoids directly blaming the drug for dropouts, it estimates that $334,716.12 was spent on the welfare and jailing of cannabis users by taking a national figure provided by a 2012 report on the economic toll of high school dropouts over their lifetimes on taxpayers. The authors then adjust for inflation and blame the resulting number on Colorado cannabis users from 2016 through 2017. This number then makes up the majority of the “productivity cost” calculated by the authors. It’s so ridiculous that one has to assume that the authors were actively engaging in misinformation when they wrote it.
The authors are also clearly unable or unwilling to admit that there’s little evidence that using cannabis will increase a teen’s likelihood of dropping out, and a correlation between adult use of cannabis and failure to finish high school could be a result of the federal ban on cannabis and negative stereotypes associated with the drug. It’s very likely that the same type of person who would drop out of high school would also be willing to use substances that are still deemed unsavory by many in our culture.
To prove his sketchy point, Williamson had to draw on this complete failure of a report because there’s scant scientific evidence that supports his position. And it doesn’t help that people can see clearly with their own eyes how Colorado’s economy has benefited from legalization.
“Are you telling me that New Mexico just lost money instead of making money?” asked the reporter. “That’s what I just said, yes,” answered Williamson, without a hint of irony.
CCD Looking For a Few Good People
The freshly minted Cannabis Control Division is looking to fill the seats for a committee that will advise on regulatory policy.
The CCD began accepting applications for the Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee last week. When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Cannabis Regulation Act into law, it required the CCD to create the committee and build it to a specific set of specifications.
Members of the committee are not allowed to hold any ownership interest or investment in a cannabis company and are expected to be leaders in their respective fields. The law requires the committee spots to be filled by the chief public defender or an appointee, a district attorney appointed by the New Mexico District Attorney’s Association, a municipal police chief appointed by the New Mexico Association of Chiefs of Police and a county sheriff appointed by the New Mexico Association of Counties.
In addition the law requires the CCD to round out the roster with a member of a cannabis policy advocacy organization, a member of a labor organization, a qualified patient of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program, a public health expert, an expert in regulating adult-use intoxicating substances, an expert in cannabis lab science, an environmental expert, someone with previous experience in retail cannabis and a member of a Native nation, tribe or pueblo.
The agency has until Sept. 1 to form the committee.
Locals Support Cannabis Research
Leaders of New Mexico’s medical cannabis community are partnering with the University of New Mexico to fund clinical studies on the medical efficacy and safety of marijuana.
According to a UNM press release, researchers and industry leaders are working together on a project called “Rounding up the Research.” A handful of dispensaries will be allowing patients to round up their medical cannabis purchases to the nearest dollar and donating the difference to the UNM Medical Cannabis Research Fund. Ask your favorite dispensary if they are participating.
This event is a big departure from the usual ways researchers seek out funding. Instead of appealing to the government for grants, it relies on grassroots support from cannabis users.