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The state of Michigan recently released the official rules and regulations under which the marijuana industry will operate in the state following the adoption of a ballot measure to legalize and commercialize the drug in November. Those who opposed legalization, like Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), were vastly outspent and defeated at the polls. While we cannot reverse the results of the ballot box, we can at least press for measures to protect vulnerable groups, particularly youth and low income and minority communities from the efforts at commercialization by Big Marijuana.

During the lead-up to the vote, the promoters of legalization spoke nonstop about how this was about social justice and vast promises of equity abounded. Interestingly, there is only one mention of social equity in all 64 pages of these so-called rules. To put it simply, the lip service these rules give to youth and minority and low-income communities is social injustice. What we will undoubtedly see as a result of these lax restrictions is a proliferation of marijuana shops taking root in minority and low-income areas that Big Marijuana sees as the golden pot at the end of the rainbow.  

Furthermore, these rules set no limit on the potency of the highly psychoactive element of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and are unclear on keeping marijuana away from young people. The research is clear, particularly on the dangers to the developing minds of teenagers and those in their early 20s. High potency marijuana is addicting, has adverse effects upon the adolescent brain, and is associated with psychiatric illnesses in this age class, a lowering of IQ scores, and negative social outcomes. 

The science is only beginning to catch up with the high potency THC products commonly produced and marketed in kid-friendly colors and flavors. The daily use of these products has been linked with a five-fold increase in instances of severe mental illness, such as psychosis. The allowance of so-called “consumption clubs,” also known as pot bars, is extremely concerning. Permitting public use of today’s super-strength marijuana can only logically lead to further increases in dangerous drugged driving and exposure of the drug to minors.

What is even more concerning is the fact that these rather lax regulations are only the starting point. As we have seen in states like Colorado, once the industry becomes entrenched and accepted, its managers slowly begin making contributions and lobbying to roll back regulations. Oregon recently admitted that is has been unable to regulate its industry and cannot certify that its marijuana is even safe for human consumption. California has likewise stated it has failed to regulate its market. Legalized states have proven time and time again that commercialization is a dangerous policy benefiting only the companies and investors in legal pot.

Thankfully, a large number of Michigan communities have begun the process of banning Big Pot from setting up shop. More than 500 communities have already formally stated they will ban marijuana businesses in their towns, and more Michiganians express their concern every day.

Limits on THC content and on the kid-friendly, purposely attractive products Big Marijuana will use to increase consumption must become law.

Keeping marijuana products away from vulnerable youth will require more vigilance and state and local intervention than when marijuana was banned.

Though it will be even more difficult with a now legal substance, primary and secondary schools should exert considerably more effort to educate students about the dangers to their health of marijuana consumption. Teacher training to accomplish this is certainly called for.

Finally, science-based public campaigns to discourage marijuana use and increased police efforts against drugged driving can at least mitigate the potential dangers of widespread marijuana abuse.

With legalization here, Michiganians must not simply roll over and accept legal pot as the new standard. We must remain vigilant and stand tall against this industry. The health and safety of future generations of Michiganians depends upon it. Michigan’s communities and civic organizations must resist the entreaties of Big Marijuana to invade their spaces.

Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky is professor of international policy and practice at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy of the University of Michigan and a former assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics Policy.

Kevin Sabet serves as president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and is a former senior drug policy adviser to the Obama Administration

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