Marijuana and Casino Legalization Linked to Increases in Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Paul Krizek (D-Pamunkey Nation)

by James C. Sherlock

We know what is going to happen.

Dr. Daniel Carey M.D., Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, will soon apply to the federal government for funding for substance abuse prevention grants.

He knows.

He plans to tell the federal government that additional people, mostly poor and Black, are going to suffer and die from mental illness and substance abuse because we legalized marijuana, casinos and sports betting.

But apparently we did it for a good cause — equity — or so some say.

The opening statement of that draft application reads:

Statewide Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Behavioral Health and Substance Use

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health impact, uncertainty, social isolation, and economic distress are expected to substantially increase the behavioral health needs of Virginians. Increased alcohol, substance use, including increased overdose rates are key concerns, as well as COVID-19 impacts already evident in Virginia.

In addition to COVID-19 impacts, Virginia has recently passed legislation regarding marijuana legalization as well as gambling and casino regulations. Thus, there are additional environmental changes that must be considered when planning for substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery supports for Virginians in the aftermath of COVID-19.

National patterns in overdose spikes in 2020 were observed in Virginia, as well. Specifically, preliminary Virginia data indicates an increase of 47% in fatal opioid-related overdoses as compared to 2019. Looking at all drug deaths, 60% growth from 2019-2020 was observed. Virginia has also experienced significant increases in non-fatal overdose visits to the ER—increases were observed in every region and every age group from 2019 to 2020 (all substances). These noted increases are observed despite funding from SAMHSA through the State Opioid Response Grant.

Good for Dr. Carey for spelling it out.

Think about that when you consider the effects of public corruption on the government of Virginia.

The General Assembly leadership said it thought of marijuana legalization in equity terms. More Blacks than whites proportionally were being jailed. Now some Blacks may make more money, fewer will be jailed but yet additional people will find their way to substance abuse and other mental health issues.

That is an interesting concept of equity.

The casino initiative had no such veneer.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, the backers of Headwaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk, has spent $1.4 million on a political campaign in the past two years. The tribe is listed by VPAP as a “single issue donor.”  Others, of course, chipped in for casinos in four other cities.

It was spread around, but my personal favorite politician recipient was Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria. Mr. Krizek received $7500 in the past 2 years from the Pamunkey. Man has to get donations to win – right? Small detail. Krizek has out raised his opponent more than 100 – 1 – in the safest Democratic seat in the House.

You’ll be glad to know that mental health is one of Krizek’s top issues. How to know that? He’ll tell y0u.

God knows that people like Krizek don’t need any more campaign money. Remember, that was casino money  The Pamunkey don’t care about marijuana. So no equity issue — just cash.

Taxes? There is already more tax money — a $2.6 billion state surplus plus the billions in federal money sloshing around — than we know how to spend wisely.

Jobs? What kind of jobs do we think the regional poor will get in the casinos? Managers? Dealers? Or do those math and reading SOLs can tell us the jobs they won’t get.

The legalization of casinos and sports betting here is a morally bankrupt political act. We are putting the casinos in some of the poorest and Blackest cities in the state.

The governor and the General Assembly know exactly what will happen. The administration has acknowledged it to the feds.

We know it.

And so do Krizek and his kind.