Let's get this marijuana thing over with, shall we? California took the next step toward decriminalization earlier this week in a 4-3 vote by the Assembly Public Safety Committee - the first legislative body in the nation supporting recreational pot use.
AB390 would overhaul of the state's marijuana laws and allow possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana for people over 21 while imposing a $50-an-ounce sales tax, much like taxes on tobacco and alcohol. The billions of dollars in revenue this would generate might be one way for the state to help solve its "chronic" budget problem.
Law enforcement is largely opposed. Claude Cook, regional director of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition, predicted downright disaster were the bill to pass. "Use by juveniles will increase," he warned, "Organized crime will flourish. The cartels will thrive."
Sorry, Claude, but what you're predicting is happening already. If you legalize it, you've decriminalized it, which means criminals will move on to something else, which is why similar warnings never materialized after Prohibition's repeal in 1933.
Think "free market." Organized crime traffics where the competition doesn't. It sells to whomever it wants, including juveniles, because no incentive exists to restrict sales to adults ( restrictions that a regulated market would impose ). Crooks can't compete in the free-market transaction of goods and services that are legal; otherwise they'd be legitimate businessmen, not lawbreaking thugs.
And, should organized crime try to duck the sales tax by selling bootleg buds, they'd face far more serious foes since, as we all know, the one thing more venomous than a drug cartel is the IRS. ( Just ask Al Capone ).
San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer said she was "disappointed" by the committee's action, claiming that the state's approach for handling marijuana has been effective. Really?
In 2007, California saw 74,000 pot busts - 80 percent for mere possession. That same year, over 166,000 violent crimes went unsolved in the state.
In 2007, California counties seized 1.9 million outdoor pot plants and 98,000 indoor ones. In 2009, the unofficial numbers were 7 million and 140,000, respectively.
Try Googling "largest pot bust in history" or "record pot bust." We get new ones every year, which raises two questions: If each year brings a new record pot bust, how can the war on drugs be working, and second, why haven't the Guinness Book people called?
The war on drugs, particularly the public policy of marijuana prohibition, is a total failure. Want a real war on drugs? Start raiding Mommy and Daddy's medicine cabinet. ( That is, if their kids aren't already doing it. )
Stop wasting money fighting recreational pot use and start making money by decriminalizing it. It's the state's largest cash crop. Let the private sector grow it, place the same restrictions on it we have for alcohol and cigarettes, let the government tax it, and let law enforcement police the abuse, rather than use, of it. In addition, you'll see:
. A reallocation of interdiction funding towards more serious drugs, like meth.
. Reduced prison costs by not sending pot smokers to jail.
. A new job sector as private industry hires people to grow, process, package and market the product ( just as tobacco companies do ).
. An additional billion dollars which, among other things, would ease police layoffs.
How many officers could Chief Manheimer hire with a billion dollars? More to the point, how many officers' jobs would be spared? How might such revenue be directed toward prevention, treatment and education, which has proven dramatically successful in reducing, not increasing, teen smoking?
Will usage increase with the passage of AB390? Probably, but probably because regular users who feared buying it illegally will buy it more frequently once it's legal. It certainly won't create a new crop of users since anyone who wants to try it already can, as any teen can tell you. Parents, not police, can deal with that issue. They already have, as they have with far more addictive legal drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. They'll continue to do so whether pot is decriminalized or not.
Policymakers must distinguish between ideas that sound good and good ideas that are sound.
The war on drugs is an idea that sounds good, but it is not a good idea that is sound.
Frankly, decriminalizing pot would require a level of honesty and pragmatism that is mostly lacking in our elected leaders. So no matter what you smoke ( or don't smoke ) don't hold your breath waiting for lawmakers to address this issue.
January 14, 2010