By Laura Wilkinson
The Board of Supervisors is being asked by the people of San Diego County to take a step towards permitting and regulating cannabis businesses. Gov. Gavin Newsom has deemed cannabis businesses as “essential” businesses, and the supervisors can encourage economic opportunity by voting yes — as numerous other counties in California have already done successfully.
First, let’s update the facts.
According to no less an authority than the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, no deaths due to an overdose of cannabis have ever been reported. Zero. According to the NIH and Centers for Disease Control, this year 458 people will die from a Tylenol overdose and over 88,000 from alcohol abuse. Some 130 people will die today — and every day this year — from an opioid overdose. Those substances are readily available all over our city and country and pose much greater risks.
UC San Diego runs a state-funded medical cannabis research facility conducting peer-reviewed medical studies on cannabis. Cannabis has saved the lives of children with severe seizures and helped cancer patients and many others who cope with daily pain. Even the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued directive 1315 for VA health care providers to discuss the use of cannabis relief with veterans suffering from PTSD and other maladies and assuring veterans that using cannabis will not put their VA benefits at risk.
Thirty-three states have legalized cannabis and eleven have allowed “adult use.” Seven more have ballot measures this November (including Mississippi and Nebraska). It is evident that San Diego County is falling behind the nation in allowing legal cannabis enterprises.
We use the term “cannabis,” because the name “marijuana” (originally spelled “marihuana”) is a pejorative term coined in 1933 by the then-head of the FDA (then the Federal Bureau of Narcotics), an avowed racist, Harry Aslinger, who thought it sounded “foreign and scary” because Mexican-Americans used that term. It paved the way for decades of laws allowing people of color to be disproportionately targeted and jailed.
According to Business Insider Magazine, “in the first full year after the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act was passed, black people were about three times more likely to be arrested for violating narcotic drug laws than whites. And Mexican-Americans were nearly nine times more likely to be arrested for the same charge.” Most of us know someone who was affected by the failed “War on Drugs” that has destroyed families through the mass-incarceration of so many Americans–mostly minorities. California’s Proposition 64 was passed partially to correct this injustice. Developing genuine, workable social equity solutions is critical for the county to truly serve it’s citizens equitably.
According to BDS Analytics, there is evidence that sales of both prescription and over-the-counter pain killers are down in states where cannabis products, which include tinctures, transdermal patches, beverage and edible forms of the plant, are legally sold — all of it in state-mandated child-proof packaging. Property values have risen in neighborhoods that permit and allow cannabis retail dispensary storefronts, according to an initial study conducted in collaboration by several university business schools. Surprisingly, several studies show teen use is trending down in markets where adult-use of cannabis is legal.
The economic opportunity is enormous. Legal cannabis jobs are projected to grow 250% over the next ten years (four times the number of home health aides and solar tech installers) by 2024. And still, San Diego County bears the cost of prohibition by battling illegal market operators and putting law enforcement needlessly at risk.
The Santa Maria Times reported on July 19 that Santa Barbara County cannabis taxes have increased 89% from 2019 to 2020, enough to fully cover the cost of cannabis enforcement, backfill the loss of Proposition 172 funds, and cover the shortfall due to COVID-19 impacts. Supervisor Steve Lavagnino was quoted saying of cannabis legalization, “It’s been controversial, it’s been messy, but this budget without cannabis revenue would have been an unmitigated disaster”.
San Diego County is facing unprecedented fiscal pain during this public health crisis. Our supervisors can help prevent the same “unmitigated disaster.” We urge the supervisors to move the cannabis regulation and permitting process forward as other forward-looking counties throughout California have, to help eliminate the illegal market costs and embrace the legal industry to help legal small cannabis businesses thrive and contribute to our economy. It is an idea whose time has come.
Laura Wilkinson is the founder and CEO of AFC Products/Caligrown. She serves on the board of the South County Economic Development Council and is active in the National Cannabis Industry Association.
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