Let’s not pour gasoline on the marijuana legalization dumpster fire
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In the coming weeks, Congress will vote on an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2019 Financial Services Appropriations Act that sets a dangerous precedent in giving federally illegal businesses access to the United States banking industry. We urge Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenTrump endorses Republican candidate in key NJ House race On The Money: Lawmakers get deal to avoid shutdown | House panel approves 'tax cuts 2.0' bill | Jobless claims hold steady near 49-year low Congress sends first spending package to Trump in push to avert shutdown MORE (R-N.J.) to reject this reckless provision in his role as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

At a time when the black market is flourishing in states with legalized marijuana, the proposed banking amendment would enable the rapid expansion of businesses that grow, market, and distribute high-potency pot products in kid-friendly forms, like candies, gummies, and sodas. One of the side effects of the amendment would be to enable money laundering for international drug cartels who are already using the cover of legalization to grow their illegal businesses. Canada’s experience can also shed light on this reckless policy. Anonymous offshore firms, possibly with links to organized crime, have already invested heavily into Canada’s marijuana industry. 

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We must not forget that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level because the black market does not honor state lines. Legalized states like Colorado, California, and Oregon grow many times the amount of marijuana than they can consume and ship the excess all over the country. That behavior should not be rewarded by further growing the very businesses that are routinely flouting federal law.

Congress should not allow illegal businesses to have access to our federally regulated banks. And granting marijuana businesses access to banks represents a slippery slope as some states, like Oregon, are already looking at legalizing drugs other than marijuana.

Here in New Jersey, our state is engaged in a vigorous debate over the merits of legalizing recreational marijuana, with dozens of towns and cities passing ordinances to ban the sale of marijuana in their municipalities. Despite Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign promises to legalize pot, he’s having difficulty getting a bill through the Democratic-controlled Legislature in his first year in office. At legislative hearings throughout the state, lawmakers have heard hours of testimony from medical groups, parents, law enforcement officers, and many others who’ve talked about the consequences of widespread recreational marijuana use.

Public health data from legalized states strongly indicate that we should be pumping the brakes on legalization: we have seen increased stoned driving fatalities, increased emergency room visits and poison control calls, and increased worker accidents and absenteeism. Granting access to banking would put pedal to the metal on marijuana commercialization and its public health harms. Currently, there is a lot of Wall Street money sitting on the sidelines because it is difficult to realize gains from an investment in the marijuana industry. But if hedge funds can easily invest in marijuana companies, the industry will metastasize into Big Tobacco within a matter of months.

As we are seeing in legalized states, the safety and economic consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana far outweigh the perceived benefits. Cost studies show a net loss for states considering legalization. Increased marijuana use leads to increased instances of mental illness, including schizophrenia. And with the nation in the grips of an opioid crisis, we cannot ignore the scientific studies showing marijuana users are more than twice as likely to abuse prescription opioids or initiate non-prescription use.

Congress should not be adding fuel to the fire of our national addiction crisis by giving marijuana growers and drug cartels greater access to financial resources. At a time when legalizing recreational marijuana remains a contentious issue of debate throughout the country, our federal representatives should not be accelerating the proliferation of a Big Marijuana industry. We urge Frelinghuysen and his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to put a stop to this reckless amendment that allows pot shops and cartels to profit at the expense of our children and families.  

Jon Talcott is Chairman of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). Kevin Sabet is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).