GUEST OPINION: Legalize it!

By on August 13, 2013


JACKSON HOLE, WYO – It may come as a surprise to some that a conservative like me supports the legalization of marijuana. After all, I am a law-abiding champagne drinker and, like most of my kind, have very little personal knowledge of the use, and users, of illegal substances. (This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

Still, I believe that the prohibition on marijuana has failed, just like the prohibition on alcohol did. For me to take such a seemingly liberal position is a bit disconcerting. Have I been living in town a little too long? Are Captain Bob’s radio messages a new form of mind control?

I was relieved to find, after dedicating an exhaustive 30 minutes to researching the subject, that supporting legalization was an economically and socially conservative thing to do.

For those of who are not Google-level experts on the economics of marijuana, the benefits of legalization include increased income and decreased expense at both the federal and state level. It is estimated that taxes on cannabis could generate $3 billion annually for use by the states. There are also distinct benefits to all areas of law enforcement. NORML reports that in 2010 there were over 700,000 marijuana-related arrests. Only 90,000 of these were for more than low-level possession and less than 10 percent of these resulted in incarceration for longer than a month.

Enforcement costs for these arrests are estimated in the billions. I don’t feel billions of dollars safer having “Tony Toker” in jail. “Casey Crackhead” and “Molly Meth” are another matter entirely, but I digress.

Legalization also means U.S. jobs. This is a $30 billion a year business, according to most estimates. It also is estimated that 30 percent of U.S. citizens aged 60 and younger have used marijuana at least once. (President Clinton would count as a half person given that he didn’t inhale). Consumers would also benefit from the price reductions and improved quality associated with increased competition. In the state of Washington, there has been a 50 percent reduction in the price of marijuana. (A side benefit is that legalization takes revenue out of the hands of drug cartels and their minions.)

I dislike cartels. They have a nasty habit of branching out. Like so many others, I watched with horror the recent story on the nationwide child prostitution ring in which gangs figured so prominently. I do not want to fund these people and their perversions. I do want the full attention of our law enforcement personnel focused on sending these people to the deepest levels of hell.

Those who are against legalization seem to focus on the perception of cannabis as being bad for you and addictive. While I respect the positions of people on both sides of this issue, the science doesn’t appear to support these particular conclusions.

My research found that while there are superficial similarities in the smoke from tobacco, which is legal, and cannabis, which is not, the nicotine in tobacco creates a different reaction in our systems than the THC in cannabis. Nicotine increases carcinogenic effects, while the THC in cannabis protects our bodies from pro-carcinogens that require activation.

Robert Melamede did a great job summarizing the results of several studies in a 2005 article. On an aside, alcohol also is more damaging to our bodies than cannabis, just in a different way. Even though it is not a carcinogen, alcohol consumption has been cited as a contributing factor for several kinds of cancers, and is the direct cause of damage to internal organs from the stomach to the liver. Compared to tobacco and alcohol, cannabis is not very deadly.

This brings us to addiction. A 2010 article in Psychology Today summarized the likelihood of addiction for several legal and illegal substances. The bad news is that, overall, about 10 percent of recreational marijuana users will develop problems severe enough to impair their work and relationships. Many more will come to depend on pot for relaxation and social purposes. The worse news is that it is estimated that 32 percent of tobacco users, 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users, and 15 percent of alcohol users will become addicted. These statistics appear to be born out in countries like the Netherlands that have a long and storied history of legal marijuana use. Compared to other substances, marijuana is not very addicting.

So why can’t we move forward? Our legislators.

State legislators appear more open to change than their federal counterparts, but not overwhelmingly so. According to a January 2013 article in Barron’s, possession of small amounts of marijuana will result in a fine (not jail) in 15 of our states. (This is commonly referred to as decriminalization.) Eighteen states have legalized medical marijuana.

Since that article ran, Vermont decriminalized and Illinois allowed medical uses changing the numbers slightly. Only Colorado and Washington State have taken that extra step. This half-in half-out approach achieves very little.

I think that the real problem for legislators is the difficulty of implementing full-scale legalization. It’s complicated, and even the smallest failure will be held up as the rule rather than the exception. I’ve concluded that successful legalization requires meaningful accountability, something sadly missing from the oversight of alcohol. Personal freedom carries a heavy price and if you choose to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana and you harm another person, or their property, while under the influence, you should not be able to excuse that behavior. Slaps on the wrist for first and second offenses need to be a thing of the past.

I doubt that our national leaders have the fortitude to achieve legalization. Not surprisingly, they also seem to lack the dedication to stop the states that have legalized (even with a Supreme Court ruling saying they have a right to) marijuana. The situation really is a bit stagnant despite all the blustering. We may see some small arrests and largely meaningless statements of intent, like those recently made by Eric Holder, but it is the sound and fury.

All that I ask is that I get a heads up should cannabis prohibition be repealed so I can buy a bunch of fast food joints and maybe a late night Cheetos-mobile.

About Kelly Egan

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