Saturday, July 25, 2009

I - To Pot or not to Pot...

Drive to legalize marijuana rolls on in California

This topic has been floating around for the last 40 years or so and isn't going away any time soon. A CNN poll that accompanied the article above shows that about 65% of the roughly 150,000 people responding believe that marijuana should be "decriminalized" - a percentage that should get the attention of lawmakers pretty easily.

The unfortunate challenge is that those lawmakers are unwilling to take that step because of the remaining part of the voters who just might vote them out of office for it. The article, and most like it, focuses on medical marijuana use, but that isn't what most of those 65% are thinking of. For them it is about the freedom to smoke a doob after work without worries. It is that demographic that should really be considered. I have a proposal, but I want to dispose of at least one other political position first, because politicians want to treat pot (I'm tired of trying to spell marij...) as a potential revenue stream. They have this idea that there are x billion dollars worth of illegal pot flowing through the country and they ought to be able to grab off a nice little tax on all of it. Unfortunately they miss at least two significant points.

First of all, if pot were "decriminalized" (whatever that means exactly) the price would drop dramatically. If there is no criminal risk then there is no reason to keep the price so high. As the price drops the tax revenue would as well. For any large-scale grower it would be far easier and cheaper to jump through whatever government hoops are set up to pay the taxes and legally distribute than to do what they do now or even to try to circumvent those taxes. So the price drops, the tax revenue disappears and the politicians get voted out.

Second, pot is easy to grow. If it were decriminalized you can bet that there will be a zillion and two (nearly a plethora) small-scale growers who would undercut the market, further depressing the price. The net result is the same as above.

Currently we spend a disproportionate amount of criminal justice money on locating, arresting, trying and incarcerating people for drug crimes. We have created the same criminal structure that sprang up during prohibition and there doesn't seem to be an end to it. The first part of my proposal is that we need to stop trying find a new revenue stream in licensing pot and recognize that decriminalizing it will release a huge amount of money from existing programs. That should be enough revenue boosting to get most politicians at least partly on the pro side.

The second part of the proposal is that we need to break the grip of the big drug importers. These gangs not only bring in pot and other drugs, they also bring in a lot of extra violence and surround themselves with violence in Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. Decriminalizing pot will only break their distribution network if it includes the freedom for anybody, anywhere, to grow pot. I am of two slightly different minds here, but what I think I favor is that anyone can grow any amount of pot as long as they either use it themselves or give it away without cost. Couple that with a license and tax approach for anyone who wants to actually sell for a profit and you will take a huge bite out of the drug cartels. We can make that bite even bigger by allowing domestic growing but banning imports - no drug dealer would want to have to deal with an illegal supply when he could get just as much legally. We'll talk about some of the other products the cartels deal with later.

Now that anyone who wants to smoke a bit can just grow it on their window-ledge or in the garden, we need to look at some of the potential problems. Just about anyone will agree that drugs and driving don't mix. So part three of the proposal has to involve major penalties for driving under the influence. We really need to ramp up the penalties for drunk driving as well, so we can throw the two in together. A small problem with enforcing a driving while stoned law is that there is no quick and easy test for being stoned like there is for booze. Most blood tests not only take a couple days to get results back, they will show pot use over days or weeks, not just at the time of arrest. It would be absolutely imperative to have some way of determining impairment at the time of arrest. That might even extend to something like a skill & coordination test rather than a test for a specific drug.

Basically what this boils down to is this: Grow and possess all you want, give it away wherever you want. If you want to sell it, register and pay taxes on it. If you drive while under the influence be prepared to take a serious hit (no pun intended).

Another objection is that we would just turn into a nation of total stoner slackers if pot were legal. Hey, that pretty well described my High School and most of them have grown up and learned self-control. The simple truth is that those who don't want to be stoned won't get stoned. Legal pot won't make everyone a stoner any more than legal beer makes everyone an alcoholic.

The biggest remaining issue is the belief that pot is a gateway drug to harder stuff. This is a claim that has been floating around for years, but without any real substantiation. The problem, as I see it, is that the fact that you are doing something illegal forces you to deal with people who are doing things that are illegal and also puts you into a mindset that the laws are unfair and can be ignored. Those social factors are possibly more significant in drug escalation than anything else. If pot is legal you don't have to find some guy on a sleazy street corner to score some. You just pluck a few buds off the plant on back porch. It changes the entire mentality of the normal pot smoker. They don't have to be a rebel. They aren't breaking any laws, so why would they want to? The sociological perspective can be seen in the fact that beer is a gateway to pot and other drugs when it is consumed by minors in an environment where it is illegal. It stops being a gateway when it is legal and without penalty. There are always likely to be those who will go on to harder drugs, but I suspect that legalizing pot would actually reduce those numbers rather than increase them.

Which leads us back to that whole cartel thing and the other stuff they are importing. First, legal pot will produce lower demand. Second, not spending money on eradicating pot frees up money to go after harder stuff. And third, taking a bite out of their profits will reduce their power.

I really don't see any reason not to legalize marijuana under this sort of plan. I think it would actually benefit the nation and reduce crime and serious drug problems. To make it more interesting, I support legalizing pot, but would probably not use it myself at all, even if it were legal.

No comments: