by Brad Matthews ‘11
In California, a new debate on marijuana is going on, raging like a forest fire. Proposition 19 is a referendum that proposes allowing anyone 21 and older to cultivate a small amount of marijuana and permit adult consumption in private so long as minors are not present. It also permits cities to regulate and tax sales. State economists estimate that this legalization would generate 1.4 billion in annual tax revenue.
This debate, however, begs the question; should cannabis be legal? Should the toke and the bong leave the realm of the illegal and finally enter accepted mainstream society? In a word, yes. Marijuana illegalization costs corrections facilities and the government a lot of money. The government spends $68 billion every year on prisoner corrections; one-third of prisoners come from nonviolent drug crimes. It’s estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual pot revenues approaching a $14 billion 10-percent tax would yield 1.4 billion dollars alone. The product sold on the streets presents a lot of danger- pot can be laced with other drugs, thereby altering the psychotropic experience and posing much more danger than pure marijuana. If the government legalized marijuana and regulated production of cannabis as part of the FDA, government stores and private dispensaries with legal licenses to sell the product could sell a much safer product at a much safer location from less disreputable individuals. In short, the use of government stores, private licensed dispensaries and licensed growers could cut out the middleman dealers and illegal growers entirely, ruining the illegal marijuana market.
As for the moral issue, let us consider history. Other substances, with disruptive effects on people, specifically alcohol, have been banned. When alcohol was prohibited, organized crime skyrocketed, and gangs from New York to Chicago made a lot of money bootlegging booze. The so-called “war on drugs” has been going on since the late 1970s. Despite punishments for even minute amounts of dope, people still buy and smoke marijuana. In countries with legal marijuana consumption, such as Portugal, which allows all drugs, the prophesied chaos has not occurred. According to the Cato Institute, Portugal has the lowest rate of lifetime pot use amongst people over the age of 15 in the European Union at 10 percent. The European countries with liberal drug laws, such as the Netherlands and Portugal, have less cocaine and marijuana use than the United States, which, despite its severe drug penalties, has the highest use of cocaine and marijuana in the world.
Illegalization has failed completely. Our jails are overcrowded with drug offenders. People still buy and smoke pot, and pot culture has been popularized by movies and TV. If, at 18 and 21, people are allowed to vote, drink, smoke, drive, own property and die for their country, then people should be allowed to get high. We should use bongs with abandon, toke without trouble, and purchase pot without peril. The moral crusade against marijuana has lingered far too long; continued illegalization is one missed toke over the line.