They weren’t responding. I always knew they’d do that stuff, but Mom made sure that I didn’t have to see them in that state. This time was different, however. My mom was yelling at them a bit louder than usual. I was a bit more anxious than usual. Time was going by a bit slower than usual. A relative of mine had just overdosed on a street drug.
As a kid, you don’t understand the nuances of what leads to someone overdosing. For a long time, I blamed it on the individuals themselves. “They just shouldn’t have done the drug,” I thought. But the reality is that the systems in place surrounding an individual play the largest role in everything from recreational drug use to addiction. I was reminded of this last week by an email sent to the entire Yale student body informing us of the recent hospitalizations caused by K2.
K2 is a synthetic cannabinoid. In other words, it’s artificial cannabis concocted for recreational use. It is often cheaper and more widely accessible than marijuana. Our strictly enforced cannabis prohibition leads to individuals resorting to using K2 as an alternative. This opens a Pandora’s box of dangerous outcomes for its users and their communities. We saw these dangers last week when nine residents in downtown New Haven overdosed on K2 in six hours. K2 is unregulated, so a bad batch could easily prove to be deadly shortly after distribution. Without legal cannabis sold in our state, many drug users turn to K2 or other synthetic forms of cannabis instead of marijuana. We have to then ask: If there were a regulated, legal market for cannabis, would residents ever knowingly choose a dangerous black market substitute with potentially life-threatening consequences? The answer is no.
Data from Colorado and Washington suggest that cannabis legalization can reverse overdose deaths dramatically. Since legalizing cannabis, these two states have seen a decrease in opioid overdoses; meanwhile, overdose deaths have continued to rise in the rest of the country. We know that residents in those states choose a legal, regulated market over the black market, keeping them safe from the violence associated with K2.
Moreover, note the financial aspects of cannabis prohibition. In Connecticut, arrests for drug offenses far outnumber those for murder, assault, rape and burglary. Nationally, over half of all drug arrests are made for cannabis-related crimes, and 88 percent of those arrests are for simple possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Cannabis prohibition leads to an enormous strain on policing resources, diverting attention from dangerous crimes and disproportionately punishing minority communities. The resources wasted on enforcing simple possession laws and incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders would be more effectively spent focusing on issues like homelessness, inequality and education.
Financially, regulating and taxing cannabis like alcohol and tobacco is projected to yield $180 million in yearly tax revenue for Connecticut, according to the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana. Our state is in a dire financial crisis, and cannabis regulation and taxation could begin to close our state’s deficit. Cannabis prohibition has resulted in overdoses, overstretched law enforcement resources, unequal sentencing practices and increased violence in our city.
This is not political and neither should it be controversial; this is common sense. Legalizing cannabis will end a black market that capitalizes on life-threatening synthetic cannabinoid substitutes.
To every legislator in Connecticut, Republican or Democrat, know this: If we do nothing, the next death from K2 or the thousands of other cannabis substitutes is on us. At our next full Board of Alders meeting, I, with support from the Yale Students for Sensible Drug Policy, will be introducing a resolution urging the Connecticut General Assembly to take long overdue action to address the crisis caused by cannabis prohibition. I encourage you all to reach out to your local representatives and urge them to support the legalization of cannabis in your home state as well.
Let’s get this done, guys.
Hacibey Catalbasoglu is a junior in Davenport College and the Ward 1 Alder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.