April 20 may have just seemed like a lovely and warm spring day around these parts, but in the counterculture community the date 4-20 has significance. Those who smoke the ‘ganja’ tend to attach a little more importance to today than others.
So perhaps this is a good time to question our approach to the war on drugs and marijuana legalization. (No, I’m not a charter member of NORML, but hear me out.)
Over the years, I’ve began to wonder what the point was in being so harsh on a certain substance when other addictive compounds are legal and even produce revenue for the state. Alcohol will soon be counted on to assist in making a dent in Maryland’s budget deficit thanks to a 50% increase in its sales tax, while tobacco is an annual target for increasing state income.
Meanwhile, support has been growing (no pun intended) for relaxing the state’s marijuana laws when it comes to the use of medical marijuana, which some claim is the only method which works for easing their pain. Obviously that system can be abused (Michigan may be one example) but this is a step toward a little more sensibility in marijuana statutes.
The way I look at it, I don’t see growing marijuana for one’s personal use as any different than home brewing or, if the climate allowed it locally, growing your own tobacco for rolling your own cigars. Certainly there should be penalties on the books for overindulgence in pot just as there are for drunkenness (since both marijuana and alcohol have adverse effects with overuse) but I fail to see the problem if someone wants to grow a few pot (as opposed to potted) plants in their house. In fact, I think the government cracks down on the sale of the stuff so harshly because they don’t get a cut – watch their attitudes change if Mary Jane ever becomes legal and taxable. (Then they can broaden the scope of their frequent anti-smoking screeds to include marijuana as well as tobacco. What a bunch of hypocrites.)
Now, before you start wondering, I don’t smoke the stuff nor have I had the desire to do so. But I have friends and family members who do or did at some period in their lives, and they haven’t had any long-term issues insofar as I can tell with society at large. This just goes with the libertarian streak I have about ‘live and let live’ and likely sets me apart from the average Republican who supports a robust war on drugs. (In reality, ‘just say no’ was simple enough as it was and didn’t really need millions of tax dollars behind it.)
The other argument regarding legalization centers around the situation in Mexico, where a significant portion of their internal strife stems from the fact that a number of crime families make their fortunes feeding America’s hunger for illicit drugs. Perhaps, the argument goes, legalizing marijuana would reduce the influence and cashflow of those crime families.
Well, the Eighteenth Amendment certainly fueled the rise of organized crime in America, but mobsters didn’t dry up and blow away once that ill-considered addition to the Constitution was nullified by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933. Mexican crime families will have several other drugs which will (and probably should) remain illegal to push across our border. So I can’t see that aspect of the argument carrying a great deal of weight.
I suppose the question comes down to this: is marijuana a ‘gateway’ drug? For some, it certainly was – but many thousands of others never graduated to the harder stuff because they only smoked weed on an occasional, recreational basis.
Maybe the solution comes down to this: why not a trial legalization? For a period of ten years, wipe out the federal laws against pot and see what the effects are. After a decade, it will be apparent whether those who fret legalization will bring about a nation of stoners would be correct, or whether those who feel marijuana is essentially harmless will be vindicated. True, it could be difficult to put the genie back into the bottle but I tend to favor fewer laws over more restrictions and this would be a good test case for a number of theories.
My bet is that the drive for recriminalization will be inversely proportional to the amount of money government would make through marijuana’s taxation. As always with government, it’s all about the Benjamins.