Editor’s note: The following position paper opposing the legalization of recreational marijuana was written by Dakota County Attorney James C. Backstrom and Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie.

    Polk County Sheriff James Tadman, Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth, Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese, Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier, and East Grand Forks Police Chief Michael Hedlund also oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana as do the Pine to Prairie Drug Task Force, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, the Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. This position paper was submitted to the Times by Polk County Commissioner Warren Strandell.

James C. Backstrom and Tim Leslie

    Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana would not be good for Minnesota.

    Restricting marijuana use to just those ages 21 or older will not keep underage youth safe. In fact, one in four 12th-graders report that they would try marijuana, or that their use would increase, if the drug were legalized.

    Chemical addiction and illegal drug use are the largest contributor to crime. The proponents of legalization don’t want to acknowledge that marijuana is an addictive substance. Unfortunately, most people in America are unaware of this, but it is a fact that cannot be ignored. The marijuana available today is much more potent (and consequently more addictive) than the marijuana smoked in the 1960s.

    Marijuana can directly worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. A recent marijuana study has also linked its use to higher risk of stroke and heart failure.

    Marijuana is a gateway drug for many to the use of other illegal drugs… methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. Studies have confirmed that the use of marijuana lowers inhibitions about drug use and exposes users to a culture that encourages the use of other illegal drugs.

    While some initial studies in the scientific literature concluded that marijuana legalization reduces opioid use, subsequent studies have exposed flaws in those prior studies debunking these findings. These more recent reports in fact show the opposite trend… that recreational marijuana will increase opioid abuse.

    America’s prisons are NOT filled with low-level, nonviolent marijuana users. Pro-marijuana advocates have spread this misinformation, but that is a fallacy. The actual statistics are:

    • Less than half of one percent of individuals in Minnesota prisons are there for a marijuana offense – and 70 percent of those individuals had prior felony convictions.

    The reality is that you don’t go to prison for a marijuana offense unless you are in possession of or dealing large quantities of this controlled substance.

    Many prosecutors regularly refer non-violent drug offenders to drug courts and diversion programs for low-level drugs, allowing them to obtain dismissals of their criminal charge if they complete treatment, attend counseling and stay sober. These types of common-sense efforts are designed to keep drug offenders out of jail and prison and help address their drug addictions, which are destroying their lives and adversely impacting public safety.

    Lowering the criminal penalties for marijuana use is a completely different topic from legalization of this substance. The Minnesota Legislature reduced criminal penalties for low-level drug offenders, including marijuana users, four years ago.

    Legalization would not reduce the burden of the criminal justice system, nor would it curb drug-related violence.

    It is a complete fallacy to believe that legalizing marijuana will eliminate black market sales of this controlled substance by drug dealers and cartels. Black market activity has increased, not decreased, in states where recreational use of marijuana is legal. Black market sales of marijuana in Colorado have never been higher. Highway seizures of illegal marijuana in that state have increased by 39 percent since recreational marijuana was legalized.

    One of the most serious and fastest growing crime problems in states that have legalized marijuana use is vehicle crashes. Since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2013, marijuana-related traffic deaths have increased 151 percent — an increase of 83 traffic deaths every year. And the number of persons seriously injured in marijuana-related crashes far exceeds that number.

    In the state of Washington, drivers involved in fatal car crashes who tested positive for marijuana doubled in the five-year period after legalization. One in five drivers involved in fatal car crashes in 2017 tested positive for marijuana. Recent research study shows that frequent marijuana users are dangerous drivers even when sober. Legalization of marijuana in Minnesota will result in more traffic deaths and injuries than occur from impaired driving today.

    Commercializing marijuana increases public health and public safety costs beyond any economic tax benefits projected to be gained from legalization of the substance. The negative social and health costs of marijuana use far outweigh any anticipated tax revenues from commercialization. For every dollar gained in tax revenue from legalized sales of marijuana in Colorado, it is estimated that over $4.50 was spent to mitigate the social costs of legalization.

    Legalizing marijuana in Minnesota would likely increase its use among teens, lead to more addiction, cause more traffic deaths and injuries, lead to more mental health problems, and increase the use of other illegal drugs.

    We should not be legalizing this dangerous and addictive substance and encouraging more people to use it.