The Beginning of the End of the Drug War?

Today marks a major milestone in American civilization, one that I hope spreads far and wide. Beginning as I write this, shops are opening all over the state of Colorado, dispensing marijuana legally. For the first time, this isn’t just about dispensing medical marijuana to people with special cards issued by a physician, either. Anyone over the age of 21 can walk into a licensed marijuana shop and buy up to an ounce for recreational use.

I’ll make a prediction. Some people will overdo it. Some will try to drive or do their job under the influence of marijuana, and will be arrested or fired as a result. But the world will not end, society will not fall into a spiral of despair, and it will actually end up being a net positive. The state will make a lot of money from business licenses and taxes, millions of dollars in commerce will boost economic fortunes, and law enforcement will save a ton of money on marijuana interdiction and enforcement of archaic laws that have no business in a free society. They might even have time to go after real criminals, for a change.

There’s only one problem, really. The federal government still has declared marijuana too dangerous to trust us with, which means the people in Colorado who are using it legally will have to tread a fine line. The feds have pretty much promised to keep their hands off, but when the presidency changes, who knows? The pot sold in Colorado shops is also grown in the shops and the state tracks and regulates every plant, so there is no interstate commerce issue to deal with. But as far as the federal government is concerned, marijuana shops cannot be seen as legitimate businesses for tax purposes.

This is the problem California had, and why he feds had to start raiding shops. It wasn’t to enforce federal marijuana laws, but rather, IRS rulings. Technically, making money from pot is fine, as long as you pay taxes, but you can’t take normal business deductions when you file. In California, the medical marijuana law allowed for small dispensaries only, but within a relatively short period of time, dispensaries were consolidating and networking and trying to run them as a very large business, and deducting business expenses, such as employee salaries and benefits, the costs of the plants, and depreciation for equipment used to grow it. The federal government wasn’t cracking down to enforce marijuana laws, but because the IRS issued a ruling, and they had to enforce it.

The thing is, that crackdown was a good thing in the long run. We can’t have the federal government picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which  not to enforce. If we don’t like a law, we should work to change it. Marijuana laws need to be changed at the federal level. The “drug war” is asinine. Even if you think marijuana isn’t all that safe, it’s far safer than alcohol, and we’ve learned to co-exist with that pretty well.

But while drunks get a night in jail to sober up, and they’re given free taxi and bus rides to accommodate them, and a hugely important, legitimate multi-billion-dollar-per-year business, pot smokers get tossed in jail, and those who are accused of selling it run the risk of everything they own being confiscated. And yes, I said accused. If you are suspected of being a marijuana dealer, law enforcement can legally confiscate every dime you have, and you have to sue to get it back. Of course, you don’t have any money, so how do you sue? (Yet, here we are whining about phone metadata. Isn’t that ironic?)

Not only that, but while the US government collects billions in taxes from alcohol sales every year, marijuana interdiction and law enforcement costs us almost three times as much as we make from alcohol. If marijuana was legalized, regulated and taxed nationally as it is in Colorado, the savings to law enforcement and the tax revenue collected would result in a windfall of about $20 billion per year. Add in the savings from leaving prison to actual dangerous offenders and the value of truly draconian civil rights violations that occur, and the value of legalizing marijuana is priceless.

The drug war needs to be over. What’s happening in Colorado today is hopefully the beginning of the end. Let’s hope so.

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