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OPINION — Marijuana legislation makes little sense

The reconvened session was held last week with few surprises.

Most Republican proposed legislation had already been killed. For this reason, we mostly considered technical changes on bills that needed to be adjusted.

Marijuana legislation was the exception. The original bill was a convoluted mess, written to try to appease all interested parties and interest groups. To accomplish their goal, it was more than 250 pages long. Those who wrote it had little business sense and even less common sense. The only good thing in the legislation was that it would take three years to roll out. It was expected that it could be adjusted to make it somewhat better.

Gov. Ralph Northam, however, decided that it was an important part of his legacy to have it go into effect this July rather than after he leaves office. I will remind you that, as a doctor, he believes smoke from tobacco is not healthy but concerned that smoke from marijuana must be available quickly.

As the legislation left the General Assembly a month ago, it was 264 pages. Considering most bills are only a few pages long, that was enormous. However, the governor decided to add 19 pages, making it a 283-page substitute.

Few took the time to read and digest what the bill now does, yet on a party-line vote they supported it. Not even the most ardent supporters of legalization should have supported the bill without understanding the complex issues involved. However, only one Democrat opposed the governor.

Creating a new bureaucracy

Ignoring for now the question of the wisdom of legalizing pot, the bill calls for establishing a state-controlled industry to distribute and tax marijuana for recreational use. This comes less than a year after the decision to decriminalize pot and simply make possession a fine. Likewise, it comes on the heels of legislation from a couple of years ago when licenses were awarded to a handful of businesses to market marijuana for medical usage. Those businesses are only now coming online.

In their rush, there has been no chance for law enforcement to determine when someone is too high to drive nor how to test and at what level someone is dangerous until after an accident.

Union driven

The debate, for the most part, focused on the governor’s desire to intermingle the issue of labor unions in the equation.

He chose to add language that would promote union political goals through a back door. Future state marijuana licensees may be in danger of losing their ability to sell pot if they fail to live up to various union-driven labor law requirements. Inserting these labor law provisions into the licensing requirement appears to be a test for a greater power play by the unions.

If the General Assembly can do this to one class of state licensee, expect it to move on to every other form of state licensee, from hair dressers and auto dealers to every type of small contractor.

The idea that a bunch of state committee patronage appointees mainly interested in dealing drugs are going to take on the task of policing union elections, prevailing wage debates, and independent contractor status should scare every small business. Every other licensee must assume they are next.

Lack of understanding of business

Looking past the stunt that Governor Northam pulled, one needs to also focus on the bill as it passed the General Assembly.

It now allows, with the governor’s substitute, for anyone to grow a couple of plants. It assumes that those currently illegally selling pot will apply for a license and sell taxed pot. In the real world, few would make such a leap of faith.

Who really believes that someone operating outside the law now and that has a base of customers for their product will give up that business? Would they do this knowing that if they get a license, they will then have to split their profit with the state? Trust me, many will continue as they have.

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.