(Editors note: A few months ago I wrote an entry concerning the pure economics of marijuana legalization, which I have advocated for thirty years. However, I must admit I was a bit suprised to receive this entry from our resident Republican Ray Link, as I know Ray is a man who truly does not enhale, does not enjoy Cheech and Chong movies, and would have no agenda towards legalization if it just didn’t make sense. Perhaps this is indicative of a changing social mood towards the subject. Though Propostion 19 to legalize marijuana was defeated in California, it garnered enough support to show that the tide is turning. )
Recently there were three mass murders in Mexico where over 50 mostly innocent people were killed, including 15 standing by a car wash, due to warring factions within the Mexican drug cartels. Surely I thought it must involve cocaine or heroin but to my surprise the disputes involve the seizure of large amounts of marijuana by the Mexican government largely bound to the U.S. Today I read an entire police force in a Mexican town quit their jobs due to fear for their lives.
My brother works as an officer in the Florida prison system and says that roughly half the inmates are in for low level drug offenses, mostly marijuana possession. A fact check indicates 22% of all inmates in the U.S. are in jail for drug-related crimes and we have the largest amount in numbers and highest percentage of our population in jail of any country in the world! We are number 1 – more than oppressive countries such as China, Russia, and all Middle Eastern countries.
There are many scientific studies on whether marijuana is addictive and the answers vary depending on who conducted the study. But most agree it is less addictive and harmful than cigarettes or alcohol and that it has many uses as a medicine. In fact states like Oregon and California allow physicians to prescribe it and for patients to legally use it. Many people decry marijuana as a “gateway” drug to cocaine or other truly addictive hard drugs. I do not buy that argument. That would be like saying that coffee is the gateway drug to cigarettes as 95% of cigarette users drink coffee.
The government collects over $26 billion in cigarette taxes annually. We seem to have no issue with taxing a substance whose use is proven to kill people because we need the revenue. We have the infrastructure in place to monitor, control and tax cigarettes so adding one more item would not be too burdensome.
So looking at these facts begs the question – why are we continuing to treat marijuana as an illegal drug? Would we, like The Netherlands has demonstrated (and where the World Health Organization estimates the usage of marijuana to be half that of the U.S.) be better off as a society if we were to allow responsible use of it just as we do alcohol and tobacco? If the Government were to control use and distribution just like alcohol and tobacco would not the drug cartels of Mexico largely cease to exist? Would we not be better off with over 500,000 mostly young males being set free from jails and on the path to becoming productive citizens? Would we not save billions in court time, jail costs, and law enforcement? Would we not raise billions in tax revenue which are so desperately needed? Would not sick people be better off by being able to receive marijuana for medical purposes?
For the record I do not use marijuana and last puffed a joint back in 1972 and I do not encourage anyone to use it. But I see no benefit in the current system of punishment and encourage a repeal of state and Federal laws around marijuana just as we did in the 1930’s with prohibition. We simply cannot afford the human toll or the financial drag on our economy any longer.