County Executive David Crowley
Op Ed

We Must Legalize Marijuana

It will combat opioid epidemic and boost state economy.

By - Jul 21st, 2017 11:04 am
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Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

America’s opioid epidemic is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. From 2000 to 2015, over half-a-million Americans died of opioid abuse and overdose. Ninety-one Americans die every single day for the same reasons.

While illegal drugs like heroin have contributed greatly to this epidemic, prescription opioids are the leading cause of overdose and death for Americans suffering from opioid addiction.

Since 1999, the amount of prescribed opioids in the United States has nearly quadrupled without a meaningful change in the actual amount of pain that Americans report to their doctors. In Wisconsin, the rate of opioid-related deaths has nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015, from 5.9 deaths per 100,000 residents to 10.7 deaths per 100,000.

This is a crisis. Not only for the people of Wisconsin, but for the country at large. Thankfully, the opioid crisis is being taken seriously by politicians from both sides of the aisle and steps are being taken to address the problem. However, many government officials and advocates are not considering all possibilities for solutions to this problem.

I believe that in order to best combat the rising death toll and human costs associated with the opioid crisis, we must fully legalize marijuana use. While many states have legalized medical marijuana, Wisconsin and other states should move toward full legalization in order to best combat the opioid epidemic. In Wisconsin, Rep. Melissa Sargent recently introduced legislation that would fully legalize and regulate marijuana, and I fully support her efforts moving forward.

Marijuana use has been linked to a reduction in reported pain and a reduction in addictive opioid prescriptions across the country. According to an extensive study performed by University of California Public Health Professor Yuyan Shi and published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence report, states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen a significant drop in opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations. The study showed that between 1997 and 2014, states that legalized medical marijuana experienced, on average, a 23% drop in opioid-related hospitalizations. The data is clear: medical marijuana works as an effective alternative to addictive opioid painkillers.

However, legalization of medical marijuana does not address another problem: large pharmaceutical companies selling addictive opioid pain relievers, which are then prescribed to communities of color that are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses. Full legalization of marijuana would not only help fight prescription drug abuse but also drastically decrease incarcerations in black communities. Consequently, it would provide benefits to the people of Wisconsin rather than to drug company CEOs.

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug — on the same level as heroin. This, despite the fact that marijuana use is provably safer, not addictive and provides pain relief for suffering Wisconsinites. We know that medical marijuana has decreased hospitalizations and deaths related to opioid abuse. More than 33,000 U.S. citizens died in 2015 from opioid-related overdoses, but marijuana has not been linked to a single fatal overdose.

In states such as Colorado, legal, regulated marijuana dispensaries have contributed greatly to the economic health of the state. In 2016, Colorado made upwards of $1 billion in legal marijuana sales. The state government collected nearly $150 million in taxes, a third of which were earmarked for school projects across the state. Think of what Wisconsin could do for its children, its schools and its communities with that much extra money. If marijuana were to be legalized in Wisconsin, I would support putting that extra revenue toward community projects, school funding and a statewide fund that would provide monetary support to various projects across all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties.

Every single day, 1,000 people are treated in hospitals around the country for improper use of prescription opioids. This is a problem that requires immediate action. Will legalizing marijuana solve the opioid crisis by itself? Of course not. There is no “one size fits all” solution to such a wide-reaching problem. However, the health and economic benefits of legalized marijuana have been made clear in states that have legalized it. Not taking these first steps to effectively combat the problem of opioid addiction now will only make it worse in the future.

For the good of Wisconsin, we must legalize marijuana. To do otherwise in the face of in-depth research and data would be a disservice to Wisconsinites and a betrayal of our promise to work for the health and safety of our constituents.

This column was originally published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Rep. David Crowley represents the 17th Assembly District in the city of Milwaukee.

14 thoughts on “Op Ed: We Must Legalize Marijuana”

  1. Jimmy says:

    Everyone in the state agrees, except the old, white, angry Republican men. Scott Walker and his Republican monsters love their rot gut liquor and the Tavern League way too much to ever support ending the utter failure of cannabis Prohibition. How else could they lock up black people for cannabis at a10-1 rate as white people in
    Wisconsin yet use rates are the same! Legalize it. use the money to fund roads and schools$ write and call your representatives.

  2. MKE kid says:

    Legalize it, regulate it, and tax it, fer God’s sake already.

  3. Al Lindro says:

    This IS a life-changing issue in our case, and probably in others as well. A senior couple in my family will be moving from their current Milwaukee residence within the next 1-2 years. Planning is already underway, downsizing of possessions is happening, finances are being lined up, etc. The goal is to move to a “senior living” environment because of needed medical attention being more at hand.

    One would think they’d already decided where to move, but not so. All of us want them to stay here, lifelong Cheeseheads, living close to family and friends, but it’s not a “given”. There is a severe pain issue (central nervous system disorder) that’s getting worse, and the normal prescriptions for it are not tolerated; several have been tried, some with very severe reactions. Opioids have helped, but only on the margins and temporarily; tolerance to them has probably increased as they become less effective over time (per the doctors involved).

    The science says that medical marijuana would likely make life more bearable for our relative who is suffering every single day. It’s used routinely in Israel for nursing home patients, for example. I’m not suggesting suicide is an imminent threat, but I’m aware that it does come up sometimes when the pain is unbearable. We have no family ties in Minnesota, Colorado, Michigan or the other states where medical marijuana is legal. But if Wisconsin does not get its act together on medical marijuana, it’s becoming more and more attractive for them to move there so that the pain can be countered. The family would be devastated by an out-of-state move, but having seen a loved one in tears and knowing that the answer may have to be found elsewhere, we will understand — as we curse the backward thinking of our state’s lawmakers.

    To put this in harsh economical terms, Wisconsin will lose and so will Milwaukee, property and income taxes being in the five-figures for this couple.

    Stupidity is so intolerable.

  4. Bill says:

    Jimmy…You should research who is funding the opposition to legalization groups. You might be surprised. But do you have some evidence its the tavern league.
    You might also be surprised to learn that the hippies of the 60’s are old white haired men and women now. Why not legalize all drugs?

  5. Rita says:

    Figure out how to keep drivers from driving high first. We can’t even keep drunk drivers off the roads. As far as THC preventing opiate addiction, it’s disappointing, but not surprising, to see a legislator making such a ridiculous and irresponsible argument.

  6. Brewer says:

    @ Al Lindo
    Spot on, guy. I am curious where Big Pharma falls on this issue.

  7. MJ says:

    Rita – The same people are currently driving around on legal opioids. The people that can’t get the opioids turn to illegal heroin. This is evident by the number of reports you see of people overdosing in their cars, many times with children present. I would gladly trade that for people driving around under the influence of THC. The fact is we will never get to a point in this country that there is not a single person driving around under the influence of something. Out of all the things people could be on I will take the THC any day. I am not saying it is acceptable, just the lesser evil.

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    Rita it isn’t just legislators who argue that medical marijuana can prevent opiate addiction. Medical professionals have been making that argument.

  9. Peter says:

    @Bill, Let the dead bury the dead. Why not bring back alcohol Prohibition? Pour out the rot gut liquor and your poison opioids. Legalize the healing herb. It is the healing of nation. You Prohibitionists are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of righteousness.

  10. Always Outspoken says:

    Just take a good look at Colorado. Since legalizing pot:

    1. They have not seen any noticable increase in traffic accidents due to folks “driving high”.
    2. Street crime has not gone up – in fact, it’s actually gone down due to the lack of arrests for simple possession of THC or paraphernalia.
    3. State tax revenues have skyrocketed from the taxation of THC products.

    Please tell me where the downside is.

  11. Paul Zerzan says:

    Marijuana is called dope because it makes people stupid. The “healing herb”? Not hardly. Bob Marley died of cancer at the age of 38. Do you think he didn’t smoke enough marijuana? Places where marijuana is smoked a log (Jamaica, Nepal etc.) are messed up bad. Places where marijuana is not tolerated (Singapore, Hong Kong etc.) are fine places. Marijuana is not a medicine it is a poison. Specifically it poisons the brain and makes people stupid. That is why it is illegal. Making it legal will not make it less poisonous. Why should I care that you want to poison yourself? Because it affects me and society in general. In Florida recently 5 teenagers filmed and laughed at a drowning man. They watched him die and they thought it was funny. They were smoking marijuana at the time. In Michigan a baby died. It had been left in a car for 12 hours while they baby’s mother smoked weed with her friends. The news is full of such stories.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    A pseudonym for Jeff Sessions? Correlation is not causation in those examples. I could find examples of people eating pasta the day they committed a heinous crime and claim there’s a direct relationship. Hardly makes it so. And seriously you don’t think Singapore and Hong Kong have any problems? That’s just insanely ignorant. How about looking at the places in America where it’s legal.

  13. MKE kid says:

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Wisconsin’s recently passed law that makes CBD oil legal (but only with a physician’s Rx) the oil that is extracted from hemp as opposed to marijuana? From the bit of reading I’ve done, this CBD oil from hemp is less effective in treating pain than CBD oil obtained from marijuana. Other states have hemp CBD oil available without a Rx, and have long ago legalized marijuana CBD, but then Wisconsin is so pathetically behind so much of the US since the Walker cabal have been at the helm.

    Paul: Far more people have been killed and injured by misuse of alcohol than marijuana. I’m a retired cop and I’ve never met an angry or violent pot smoker if pot was all he/she was using. They just act stupid and happy. I have met plenty of angry and violent drunks.

    Also, marijuana obtained from street sales can be laced with opioids and other substances. If you want weed in Wisconsin and don’t grow your own, you have to buy it from unregulated and untested sources. In other words, you don’t know what the hell you’re getting. If it is legalized, it is government regulated and controlled. In other words, you know what you’re getting.

    Legalize it, regulate it, and tax it.

  14. Tom says:

    Every state surrounding Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and now even Iowa as well as all of Canada has a medical cannabis program, some 35 states have either medical or fully legal adult use markets, everybody except Wisconsin, despite the fact that over 60% of Wisconsinites support full legalization and 90% support medical. Why is that? There is only one reason and one reason alone. REPUBLICANS. Anyone who has been paying attention over the years knows that Republicans have blocked each and every attempt to legalize cannabis. Vukmir and Kleefisch wouldn’t even let the Democrat’s bills out of committee! That’s right. Walker and Republicans hate Democrat’s so much they let their partisan hatred stop people from getting the safe, effective medicine they need, oftentimes to survive. There is a reason so many people are fleeing Walker’s crazy right-wing version of Wisconsin. We must vote Walker and all Republicans out of office in November. Once we finally get them out of office, we can finally move Wisconsin forward on this issue and many, many others. It’s simple, once Walker and Republicans are out, cannabis is in.

    So get out and vote DEMOCRAT Wisconsin and let’s LEGALIZE IT!!

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