By Rev. Mark H. Creech
Christian Action League
February 27, 2020
Bill Toole grew up in Winston-Salem. He studied at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Wake Forest University. His occupations have included being a journalist, a carpenter, a fisherman, and an environmental attorney for 27 years. In politics, he’s served as a Belmont City Councilman and been the Chair of the Gaston County Democratic Party. And now he’s running for the office of Lieutenant Governor in North Carolina.
Besides running on issues such as education, environment, and healthcare, a major plank in Toole’s platform is the legalization of marijuana. Toole refers to it as “Controlled Access,” and he argues that North Carolinians should have access to cannabis just as they do to liquor.
“For example, liquor is sold to persons 21 and older, after voters decide whether liquor can be sold in their community,” says Toole on his website. “Allowing normalized, taxed, and controlled access the same way we do for liquor sales, just makes sense.”
Toole adds that legalizing reefer smoking would be a money-maker for the state. Legalization, he contends, would likely generate $450 million of new revenues annually, based upon what’s been seen in other states where cannabis has been legalized.
Toole points out that this is about the same amount of money ($448 million) that was garnered from ABC sales in 2018. And at least $80 million of this money went to city and county governments. He believes additional funds from cannabis sales would provide even more money for counties and municipalities.
Of course, he employs all the other arguments for legalizing recreational marijuana – claims like Prohibition is too costly and doesn’t work. Admittedly, his arguments strike a responsive chord for many. But are Toole’s arguments really that compelling?
If Toole wants to use alcohol as a model for the way North Carolinians can benefit from marijuana sales, he made the wrong comparison.
From the beginning of the movement to repeal Alcohol Prohibition, citizens were promised that alcohol sales would be an economic boon for communities and state coffers. It has never worked out that way! Never!
The social costs of alcohol use and abuse have always far exceeded what state and local governments collect as tax revenue. That’s a fact! And to think the social costs of marijuana production and use would be any different is to be duped by pot-heads and cannabis profiteers.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has an interactive online dashboard that notes, “Excessive alcohol consumption cost North Carolina over $7 billion a year.” The dashboard also estimates the social cost of alcohol abuse for counties in the state, and the figures are phenomenally high for each one. For the individual, these figures translate into every North Carolinian paying about $2.11 for each drink sold and $738 per person every year (whether one drinks or not). Nearly forty percent of “the costs of excessive drinking are paid by North Carolina government entities, which includes federal, state, and local agencies that cover healthcare costs,” reports NCDHHS.
Hmmm??? A $448 million gain for the state from alcohol sales, but a $7 billion loss. Perhaps Toole believes if we use the fuzzy math George W. Bush used to talk about, marijuana legalization will provide different sums. Don’t count on it.
Alcohol taxes generate close to $15 billion annually for the country, but then the country loses more than $249 billion every year in healthcare, criminal justice, and other costs. None of these figures cover the inestimable tally of human suffering… broken marriages and homes, unrealized potential and premature deaths.
We’ve surely been down this road of unfulfilled promises before. Alcohol sales are going to help with funding this, and help with funding that, proponents have said. But at best, it’s just a trade-off, and a pitifully poor trade, to say the least.
Daniel Okrent addressed such false assurances in his book, Last Call, noting that one of the primary reasons Americans decided to repeal Alcohol Prohibition was because the public was led to believe alcohol taxes would make a federal income tax unnecessary. How did that work out?
Now there are Toole’s promises – pledges that marijuana legalization will help save North Carolina farming, place nurses, social workers, and psychologists in every public school, counteract the problems of hunger, homelessness, and in-home trauma that so many children face today.
Toole is selling snake oil. The oasis he touts is just a marijuana mirage. Marijuana legalization is “fool’s gold.”
Here are the facts in a nutshell. Marijuana is not harmless, and it is addictive with links to mental illness. Smoked or eaten, it is not medicine. Countless people aren’t behind bars for merely smoking a reefer. The legality of alcohol strengthens the case against legal marijuana. (This is not an argument for bringing back Alcohol Prohibition, but it is to say that legalizing cannabis will only exacerbate harms upon harms.) Like alcohol, the tax revenues garnered from legalization will be dwarfed by the much higher social costs. Legalizing marijuana will only make this dangerous drug more accessible and increase the prevalence of its use.
Toole is not the only candidate pushing for marijuana legalization in the Tar Heel state. Three of the Democratic candidates for Agriculture Commissioner (Walter Smith, Jenna Wadsworth, and Donovan Watson) have each expressed their support for marijuana legalization in some form. In fact, legalizing pot is part of the Democrat Party’s national platform.
I’ve always thought it was terribly inconsistent for Democrats, who typically oppose tobacco, to advocate for legalizing pot and thereby inadvertently morph big tobacco into big cannabis.
Toole is an accomplished professional, but that doesn’t make him wise. A wise person would understand that we can’t drink or smoke our way to prosperity.