In light of the toll that marijuana prohibition takes on the lives of our neighbors, can we justly say "that's the price you pay?"
While our current economic climate has prompted many Californians to look toward legalized marijuana as a solution to our near-legendary budget woes, there are those for whom the potential revenue from marijuana is no compensation for the further erosion of our morals. In their eyes, the prohibition of marijuana must continue, lest our society drown in a tidal wave of vice. But what about the morality of prohibition?
While a conceivably inexhaustible stream of revenue could be generated through the regulation of all currently illicit goods and services, few, if any, of these prohibitions has caused our society more harm in return for less good than the marijuana ban.
In 2007, California law enforcement made over 74,000 marijuana arrests, 78 percent of which were for simple possession. Of those arrested, more than 16,000 were minors.
Despite the powerful deterrent of arrest and prosecution, this expenditure of state resources has had little effect. In 2008, 23 percent of teenagers still report that it is easier to procure marijuana than either beer or prescription drugs.
Approximately 100 million Americans, nearly one-third of the entire population and a greater proportion of adults, have consumed marijuana. Marijuana remains the No. 1 cash crop in California, surpassing all fruits and vegetables combined.
Before you accuse me of cowardly surrendering a noble fight, consider what all of these arrests have succeeded in doing:
* Precious law enforcement resources are diverted from investigating and preventing violent crime.
* Adults who are arrested face the threat of losing their jobs, thereby depriving their families of income and security.
* Our youth face the threat of expulsion from school and ineligibility for student loans.
* Families are torn apart as children are removed from their homes and placed into foster care.
Can a policy that perpetuates such tragedy truly be considered morally right? In light of the toll that marijuana prohibition takes on the lives of our neighbors, can we justly say "that's the price you pay?"
An analysis of the goals of marijuana prohibition further erodes its tenuous moral foundation. For many, the goal of marijuana prohibition is simple: to keep people from consuming the plant.
Although prohibition seems to be the clearest way to achieve this goal, this simple plan is fatally flawed. In practice, total prohibition is the total abandonment of control. Prohibition has given rise to a clandestine marketplace completely out of the government's reach, thereby increasing youth access. Drug dealers don't ask young buyers for ID.
By banning distribution of marijuana anywhere, we have given up control of distribution everywhere. By limiting our responses to marijuana distribution to criminal punishment, we have failed to protect the consumer's safety through regulating the product's quality and encouraging responsible use.
Most important of all, by failing to maintain a legitimate, regulated market we have given incentive to violent criminal enterprises motivated by the lucrative, unfettered profits, thereby jeopardizing the safety of all.
Can such an overly simplistic policy that so frustrates important law enforcement and public concerns be morally just?
The regulated legalization of marijuana should not be viewed as acquiescence to a depraved subculture, but the reclamation of control. Through regulated legalization we can control distribution. We can control its quality and potency. We can address the harms caused by its abuse through constructive treatment, rather than destructive punishment. We can usurp the power of the black market by eliminating their profits. And for those who consider marijuana consumption an immoral personal choice, we can ensure that society's response is a moral one.
By Ryan Patterson
July 16, 2009