Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Legalize It 4/15/09

Isn’t it time we legalize marijuana?
Now hold on. Don’t dismiss the idea so quickly, the way we’ve all been dismissing the idea for years, hell – decades.
When someone suggests it, we treat them like UFO nuts or ghost hunters, or, well, serious dope smokers. But even though I haven’t smoked it in decades and don’t have any desire to, we’re really only hurting ourselves by keeping it illegal.
Let’s at least admit that we’ve lost the war on drugs. And it wasn’t even close. We lost by a mile. Try as they may, both Nixon and Carter lost the War on Drugs. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton tried and lost the battle, too, as did both George Bush I and II. We’re still losing the War on Drugs.
They say you have to pick your battles carefully. Pick the ones you actually have a chance of winning. Accept defeat on the ones that are hopeless. Ironically, and at least in the short-term, that’s just what President Obama did when he refused to get drawn into the debate on legalizing marijuana when asked about it in an online town hall meeting a couple weeks ago. I suppose he’s already got too many battles to deal with.
But the fight we picked with pot is so similar to the fight our grandparents picked with alcohol, isn’t it time we accept reality and tried to turn pot smoking to our advantage?
Routinely, pot is estimated to be the No. 1 cash crop in both Hawaii and California. California, with an economy larger than that of France, produces an estimated $14 billion of illegal pot each year. Legalize and tax it at the approximate new 20% rate for cigarettes and you get $2.8 billion in revenue a year, just for California.
Legalized pot and give a huge boost to Indiana farmers. During WWII Indiana was a major grower of hemp for military rope production. Our climate is perfect.
We’re not just missing out on the opportunity to turn hidden illegal labor and revenue into legal jobs and taxable revenue, we’re wasting a fortune fruitlessly trying to stop it.
We spend $150 billion a year on policing and courts with nearly 48% of that marijuana-related. We spend another $68 billion per year housing people in prisons, with one in three serving time for non-violent drug crimes.
Those statistics only hint at the world of organized crime and drug lords made rich in large part by one simple reality: pot is illegal.
Think Prohibition. When our grandparents illegalized booze in the 1920s, drinking didn’t stop, it just went underground, heavily funding a criminal economy that turned two-bit street thugs like Al Capone into liquor lords. At the same time our nation spent millions trying to chase down regular citizens who were going to drink one way or another, whether it was legal or not.
When alcohol was legal again, it put a huge dent in organized crime and allowed law enforcement to focus on more pressing matters. What’s more, it accepted the reality that people are going to drink, so it was pulled back out in the open where its use could be regulated and taxed.
The lesson learned and often stated by that generation who tried to illegalize alcohol: You can’t legislate morality.
When I say legalize it, I’m not talking about crack or meth or heroin. I’m just talking about that leafy herb.
Is it bad for you? Yes. But no worse than alcohol, the most abused drug in American by far. And probably no more costly to our nation’s health than burgers and fries, deep-fried cheese and Oreo Blizzards. Should anybody be allowed to get it and smoke it? No. Should people be arrested if they smoke and drive? Yes.
Here’s the Contrarian’s proposed legislation: Legalize marijuana. Forbid additives that would make it more addictive or intoxicating. Make it available along-side alcohol in observance with each state’s alcohol sales and consumption laws. There is an introductory 5-year ban on imports to allow American farmers and industry time to organize growing, branding, and distribution systems. Tax it at a rate of 20%.
Perfect answer to the pot-smoking problem? No. Like most of life’s problems, perfect answers are not available; you only get to choose greater or lesser evils. Accepting that is part of being a grown-up.
In my youth I was told that marijuana was a gateway drug. Start there and you may become a heroin addict. But looking back at high school and college and all the pot smokers and beer drinkers I’ve known, it’s notable that I’m not aware of any pot smokers who became drug addicts, but I know many drinkers who became alcoholics.
Which makes it kinda hard to figure out why alcohol is legal, but marijuana isn’t.

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