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Letter: Omdahl's column about recreational marijuana was short on facts

Lloyd Omdahl's May 14th column, "Does North Dakota need another addiction?," is heavy on the rhetoric and light on numbers because, frankly, the facts are not on his side. Omdahl makes the claim that legalizing recreational marijuana will, "damage young lives, kill more drivers, create more addicts, and add to public costs."

Thankfully, we have several years worth of drug use data from the eight states that have already taken the legalization plunge. So instead of empty emotional appeals, what we have are testable hypotheses. Has legalization damaged young lives? Has it led to more driver deaths? Has it created more addicts? Has it led to increased public costs?

Omdahl begins by promoting a false equivalency between marijuana addiction and opioid, nicotine and alcohol addiction. In 2016, 54 people died of an opioid overdose in North Dakota and there were 161.5 opioid related hospitalizations per 100,000 people. Contrast that with marijuana use. The DEA reports that no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. That's because, per the National Institutes of Health, there is no lethal dose for cannabis use. There is no equivalency to be made between the two drugs and doing so is nothing more than fear-mongering and is intellectually dishonest.

Omdahl suggests that we will see a "...fresh supply of addicts" in North Dakota from legalization. Does he believe there is a demographic of non-drug users lounging around sipping iced tea on Friday nights, biding their time until weed is legalized so they can jump into the addiction game? Of course there isn't.

Has legalization actually increased the number of new drug users in other states? No. In fact, there is evidence that marijuana can actually replace hard drugs so that legalization will decrease opioid use and decrease hospitalizations associated with opioid use.

Although his anecdotes about fifth-graders selling weed are provocative and compelling, anecdotes aren't trends. In Colorado, teen use of marijuana has plummeted to its lowest point in decades, just a few years after legalization. This is happening in large part because revenue from drug sales are funneled into public health campaigns to reduce the use of drugs among youth populations.

Omdahl also seems to think that legal marijuana will "double the hazards of driving." Once again, his claim is not borne out by the data. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, stoned drivers are only marginally worse compared to sober drivers and far safer than drunk drivers. The impact of smoking weed before driving "is so small you can compare it to driving in darkness compared to driving in daylight," says University of Oslo political scientist Rune Elvik. I'm willing to bet Omdahl doesn't write many opinion articles about the dangers of driving at night. Compare that with alcohol, which even in small amounts increases the risk of a crash by 600 percent. Again, Omdahl is making claims with no supporting evidence.

Finally, far from "add[ing] to public costs," marijuana legalization is a revenue boon to the states that support it. In 2017, Colorado made $247 million from taxing the sale of marijuana. In Denver, a buyer pays an effective tax rate of 30.43 percent. A majority of those tax dollars are going into schools, substance abuse treatment programs, and public health and education programs. That's not even including the reduction in public costs associated with incarcerating individuals for marijuana abuse which make up half of all North Dakota drug arrests.

For drug users, marijuana represents a safer alternative to nicotine, alcohol and opioid drug use. For taxpayers, marijuana legalization represents a fiscally responsible way to increase tax revenue on a product that is already being consumed while reducing the tax burden associated with imprisoning individuals for marijuana related offenses.

Micatka lives in Perham, Minn.

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