Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Gripe With Legalization

Marijuana is still illegal to possess without a prescription in California as voters rejected Proposition 19 by a 54% to 46% margin.  Maybe the potheads just forgot to vote.  I can just see a bunch of people with "anxiety disorders" sitting around, partaking in "herbal therapy" watching TV and saying..."Dude, Prop 19 didn't pass...uh...dude, did you vote?"

Proposition 19 was California’s ballot initiative to legalize marijuana possession and use for adults over the age of 21.  It would allow people over 21 to produce and sell marijuana “in small amounts” (whatever that means).  In Hawaii, marijuana is decriminalized.  Here is a brief explanation of Hawaii’s policy.  If you want to look up your State, here is a State by State index

Advocates of legalization believe that legalization will generate a major budgetary windfall and unleash an economic boom in marijuana-related industries while reducing crime, corruption and Mexican drug violence.  Legalization would be a significant change in that marijuana production and sale would move above ground. State and local governments could then tax it. California is expecting $1.4 billion in additional tax revenue from legalization, along with reduced criminal justice expenditure.  Opponents argue that legalization will increase marijuana and other drug use via the gateway effect and spur the alleged negatives of use, such as crime or diminished health.

Look, if you wanna get high, who am I to stop you?  On one hand, there is some validity to the legalization movement (the hippie advocates aside).  Yes, there is no question that legalization of marijuana would allow States to tax it.  Yes, it would reduce burdens on the courts and prosecutors who go after dealers or users with small amounts of pot.  Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers an estimated $10 billion annually and results in the arrest of more than 847,000 individuals per year.  Yes, marijuana is probably less dangerous than two other, more popular drugs - tobacco and alcohol.  Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to cigarette smoking.

My problem with the legalization movement has less to do with legalization in principal and more to do with the practical effects and unintended consequences that seem to be too easily dismissed by its advocates.  First, if I choose to grow a small amount of marijuana in my room at home, how in the world is the government going to tax that?  Currently, I am a beginner homebrewer.  The government doesn’t tax the beer I make.  Second, what about industrial suppliers.  Where do people think marijuana is going to be grown?  I don’t foresee a burgeoning farming operation developing in the U.S.  Rather, suppliers will come from Mexico where operations currently exist in vast quantities.  Additionally, how will Mexican drug cartels react to legalization in America?  Will they simply charge less than legal U.S. suppliers creating a more attractive black market?  If it's legal to possess, how can anyone be upset how you obtain it?  I suppose one upside would be that all the illegal Mexicans currently in the U.S. might stay in their own country with so many new, legal jobs being created, right?  The ability to regulate this new market seems poorly thought out.  It seems more like a bunch of hippies who just want to be able to smoke themselves stupid while California is just looking for a quick fix to its budget crisis without thinking through the consequences.  Third, marijuana use impairs a person’s ability to drive a car, just like alcohol.  However, there is currently no effective way for police officers to test for marijuana impairment at traffic stops.  How can police officers effectively stop stoners from causing accidents on the road and putting people’s lives at risk if they can't test for it?  Fourth, has anyone considered the costs of rehab?  The U.S. currently spends millions of dollars in alcohol abuse rehabilitation.  Logically speaking, won’t the same be necessary for marijuana abuse?

While I certainly appreciate the legalization movement’s purported commitment to helping the country with its budget crisis, I am not convinced that it is anything more than an effort to get the cops off the backs of hippie patchouli wearers.

1 comment:

  1. "First, if I choose to grow a small amount of marijuana in my room at home, how in the world is the government going to tax that?"

    I think the answer is simple: they won't. Just like they don't tax the tomatoes you grow in your home garden, but they do tax the tomatoes you purchase at the grocery store. "But Vishesh," you might say, "then where will they get this much-touted tax revenue?" Well, not everyone will grow marijuana at home. Some (most) users will just go buy it. Even those that grow it at home will need to buy the seeds (buds? what are they called?) to start their homegrown operation. And that purchase will be taxed.

    "Second, what about industrial suppliers. Where do people think marijuana is going to be grown?"

    I think it will initially be all imported. But eventually, once the regulations are in place and the risks seem less, domestic producers will enter the market. A couple seasons in, they'll be experts, have high yields, and will be able to produce at costs competitive with those of their Mexican counterparts, driving down prices. The drug cartels will act like any profit-interested enterprise: they'll continue producing, accepting lower revenue (but note: their costs will also be far less), until it is no longer worthwhile for them. At that point, they'll exhibit the business.

    "Third, marijuana use impairs a person’s ability to drive a car, just like alcohol."

    True, so we implement zero-tolerance rules for "driving while high." I'm sure that technology exists to test for the influence of marijuana. The reason why police officers today aren't equipped with it is because it's illegal even to possess marijuana, let alone use it. Right now we prohibit possession and distribution, so why do we need to monitor use? When we legalize possession and distribution, we'll need to monitor and regulate use more carefully.