March 17, 2011

Balancing the books

Everyone is talking budget cuts. Even though polling shows statewide and nationwide support for some tax increases, everybody wants to cut government spending. Nobody can agree on what needs cutting but, in our dysfunctional world, we all agree that something needs to be done.

Let's start by repealing Prohibition. It didn't work in the 1920's (except for Al Capone, Joe Kennedy and the Purple Gang). It still doesn't work.

We can save tens-of-billions of dollars by simply legalizing marijuana. Pot laws are like speed limits: many people take great pleasure in ignoring the law, and most get away with it.

Even so, a lot of people actually get caught and punished for doing what so many others are doing every day.

A recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance stated that in New York City alone, there were 50,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2010 which cost taxpayers $75-million. That's just one city!

I'm willing to wager that a secret poll of Congress would show that a majority of members have, at some point in their lives, used marijuana. Our last three Presidents have all admitted that they partook of the vile weed (yeah, I know ... Clinton didn't inhale).

Taking pot out of the criminal justice system brings huge immediate benefits:
* Law enforcement could spend more time on crimes that actually constitute a clear-and-present danger to society, like drunk driving and white-collar offenses
* Same goes for prison, prosecutors and the courts
* We'd relieve a lot of the pressure along the Mexico border (illegal marijuana fuels border crime; legal marijuana creates a job-producing industry)
* We would eliminate a major source of revenue for organized crime
* Regulating and taxing marijuana in a manner identical to our regulation of liquor would raise billions that could rescue our education system and maybe even help balance the budget

I have heard the arguments against legalization and I just don't buy them:
* "Marijuana is a gateway drug to the opiates and meth." No, that would be alcohol.
* "Marijuana abuse will increase other criminal activity." Have you ever seen someone who is stoned? I'd rather deal with a stoner than a drunk any day.
* "Smoking marijuana simply isn't healthy." Probably true, but the same can be said of smoking cigarettes, getting drunk or eating at McDonalds. The libertarian in me says pot should be a matter of personal choice, not government edict.

To me the most important reason to legalize, though, isn't about money. It is about hypocrisy.

Alcohol and nicotine are the two most destructive addictive drugs in our society, the two major causes of preventable deaths, and major drivers of healthcare costs. They are legal and even glamorized by popular media.

Marijuana is no worse than alcohol or nicotine, but we sometimes put people in jail for simply possessing it, even as many of us wink at its use just as we giggle when Charlie Sheen talks about using cocaine. Marijuana is today's version of 1920's bootleg liquor.

I have no problem jailing people for anti-social behavior resulting from marijuana abuse (such as impaired driving), but the double-standard has to end. What message do we send to our kids with such a transparent hypocrisy?

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