Author’s note: This piece was written in November of 2012, just after President Barack Obama won re-election, but obviously before Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. At the time of this update (7/26/2014), Colorado’s recreational weed sales have amounted to $90 million in sales, and at a 25% tax rate, it’s safe to say roads and schools in the state will be singing the praises of Rocky Mountain High for years to come. Oh yeah, and violent crime is down in the state too. This clearly bolsters my argument, and proves that what reformers have said all along — that sensible marijuana laws can lead to a better and more open society, as well as provide a new tax revenue stream that is just stupid to not tap into. –James
I admit to having a couple of “pet” issues that get an extra amount of my attention, at least in terms of political issues that I feel need to be addressed, and as quickly as possible. One is marriage equality. In my mind, the true promise of this nation is that we strive to treat everyone equally. We’re failing on that front pretty badly in terms of gay marriage, and it’s time for that to be fixed. The next pet issue of mine is the war on drugs, and more specifically the insane war on marijuana. The rapidly emerging science of cannabis shows that American rushed to a hasty decision decades ago about the leafy green weed, and in the process created an obscene number of pointless arrests and incarnations of individuals. We bought into the hype of reefer madness and gateway drugs and all that nonsense that’s mostly just designed to keep us afraid of a vice that is far less dangerous that tobacco or alcohol, and yet is treated like heroin or meth.
The legalization of marijuana in this country could be one of the few social issues that both progressives and conservatives should both be able to theoretically agree upon. Conservatives claim to be in favor of the individual making decisions on how to live their lives for themselves, without government intrusion. Progressives see the number of African-American and minority men who are imprisoned every year for minor drug offenses. And both sides should be upset by the waste of money on what are essentially prohibition laws that have never worked in society. Both sides of the aisle should want marijuana to be fully decriminalized.
So legalize it. Tax it at the same rate you tax cigarettes and alcohol. Set the same stringent laws about driving under the influence of cannabis as you do for driving under the influence of any other drug or chemical. Make it age-restricted to adults only, or even make the legal weed-smoking age 21. But whatever we do, we cannot continue to pretend that pot is the reason that crime exists, or that pot is why we have to keep our borders secure.
In today’s political climate, any compromise is a good compromise. More than a battle of ideologies, what Americans are desperate for now is forward momentum in Washington, D.C. One way to accomplish that is to decriminalize and then heavily regulate and tax a new vice. The amount of revenue that can then be generated and pumped into state and local coffers is astounding. If the availability of alcohol and tobacco, two substances that directly lead to thousands of deaths a year, can be regulated by government agencies, there is no reason that marijuana cannot be as well.
If Republicans were smart, they would actually lead the charge on this issue. Nothing was more evident from the election a couple of weeks back than the fact that the GOP has an image problem. Namely, they look and sound like they are at least two generations behind on every single social and economic issue. As times goes on, public sentiment towards marijuana evolves more and more. We just had two states actually legalize cannabis not just for medical consumption, but for recreational consumption as well. Washington and Colorado are now poised to take on the Federal government in a states’ rights case that should make every conservative pundit and politician salivate at the idea of being part of a new movement that could help make them look more attractive to young, non-white voters.
This subject is one that you’ll find my harsh and stinging critique of President Obama. When campaigning in 2008 and upon entering office, he had indicated that his instructions to the Department of Justice would be to defer to the laws in the states and to not harass or target those who are operating within state-sanctioned and regulated auspices in the medical marijuana industry. That of course changed, and Obama’s administration has been viewed as being far more aggressive in their pursuit of large-scale growers, distributors and dispensaries of medical marijuana. But I think in April Obama might have tipped his hand in regards to what his true wishes on the legality of pot are.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the President said, “I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law.” Granted, as the article from Politico that I cited pointed out, Obama also told Jimmy Fallon on his late night talk show that he didn’t foresee legalizing pot any time soon. However, it’s clear that if Congress did actually work together and produce a bill that would decriminalize marijuana, even if for not it has to be under the guise of medicinal purposes, that President Obama would sign that bill.
And well he should.
Look, even strong supporters of the president know the stories of his pot use. His “Choom Gang” has been reported on numerous times, so the concept that our sitting president was a moderate to frequent smoker of weed isn’t a new one. Then again, thanks to Dubya the idea of a sitting president with a penchant for booger sugar isn’t all that new either. But that’s sort of the underlying hypocritical point of it all, isn’t it? We will never in our lifetimes again elect a man or woman who hasn’t at least experimented with drugs. It’s a lie we tell ourselves that very few people in this country actually try drugs at one point in their lives. The bottom line is that drugs are prevalent and widely available, and whether it’s grown in the ground or produced in a factory and dropped into little bottles, drugs are everywhere.
The time is perfect to have a real, adult discussion about new revenue streams that are just sitting untapped. Medical pot dispensaries are all over the country as we speak, and you have to assume that they reside in cities and towns that are very amenable to the injection of tax revenue they’ll see. You have to imagine that landlords would be anxious in this economy to have a business rent one of their locations, knowing there is a high demand for their services and therefore the rent should come in on time every month.
We are living in an age where we can no longer afford to look at compromise among our political leaders as being an idealistic fantasy. If we as a society ever hope to truly evolve, we have to take the blinders off, and at times we have to rip them away from our eyes. This is one of those times. We’re putting too many people in jail, we’re leaving too much revenue on the table, and we’re frankly ignoring scientific research that tells us just how little we have to fear about our green, leafy friends. A compromise on the war on drugs is more feasible than a compromise on taxes at this point.
In the end, it’s up to us to force the issue though. Now that Washington and Colorado have taken the legalization fight to a new level, states like California and New York need to follow suit. States like Nevada where you can already gamble and legally buy the services of a prostitute in some parts would be a no-brainer for looser pot laws. If enough states take the fight to Congress by way of voter-backed initiatives, then we have a chance of compelling the White House, Department of Justice, DEA, Congress and the Supreme Court to collectively pull their heads out of their asses and do our bidding for a change. And there’s one other key factor to consider…
The spike in Grateful Dead album sales alone would cause a forty-year economic boom.