The Truth About Marijuana Legalization

The state of Arizona has a measure on the ballot this year that would legalize and regulate marijuana in much the same way as they regulate alcohol now. Note how I worded that, because it’s important. The initiative isn’t intended to make marijuana available to everyone on every street corner, but to acknowledge that a lot of people smoke marijuana and there is no point to ruining people’s lives by arresting them, charging them with crimes and making it harder for them to make a living. Prohibition was a bad idea in the 1920s and it’s a really bad idea now.

I have no stake in this fight, really. I don’t do any drugs at all, except over-the-counter allergy meds. I don’t smoke tobacco or pot, I don’t drink, except for an occasional glass of wine with dinner or beer at a ball game (and my last one of either was about four years ago). But I realize that’s a personal choice and I don’t think it makes any sense to prosecute people for their personal decision-making unless it affects others negatively, and since someone else smoking pot has no effect on me in 99 percent of cases, I don’t see the point of laws against it. Yes, we should seriously study marijuana impairment and create realistic standards for driving under the influence., but that doesn’t mean we should throw anyone in jail who has even a trace of it in their systems, unless they demonstrate impairment and violate the standard. We’ve managed to survive as a society with legal alcohol without throwing people in jail; we can do the same. And when it comes to driving under the influence, we have managed to set some rules that seem to work most of the time. If you demonstrate impairment, the police pull you over. They test your breath or your blood to determine if alcohol or something else caused the impairment. They don’t just lock you up because you (gasp!) had a drink earlier in the day.

I’m not one of those who thinks marijuana is absolutely harmless, but then, nothing is absolutely harmless. I have known people who overdid it and the effects on the memory and basic brain function are not exactly positive. However, like I said, they overdid it. They were obsessively high, they didn’t just partake of it once in a while to take the edge off. People overdo alcohol, too, and we have managed to survive as a society by not throwing people in jail for merely having alcohol in their system or for carrying a can of beer. In other words, when you look at alcohol and cannabis side by side, it just makes no sense that one of them can be purchased at the 7-11 on a whim and the other is a Schedule 1 drug that could send you to jail. And while medical marijuana is a step forward from the old laws, we all know it’s kind of a joke. There’s no consistent standard for what constitutes a valid medical use, so whether or not you can use it legallyis based on a doctor’s whim. If the doctor thinks pot should be legal, you will get as much as you need; if not, you’l just have to look for a doctor who thinks it should be legal.

I lived in Colorado recently, after they legalized recreational marijuana. They spent a couple years setting up the regulatory basis, and they missed some things, but living there for two years when pot was legal, I can tell you, the pot lovers got a little silly, but the police I knew loved it because it freed them up to deal with actual criminal behavior and not have to spend many hours doing paperwork and process smokers through the system. The court system became less clogged and was able to deal with real crime because they didn’t have to deal with people who had a baggie with a few joints in it.

So, here I am in Arizona and the anti-pot legalization forces are running ad after ad, portraying Colorado as a hell hole. What is it about certain people, that they think the only way they can get their way, politically speaking, is by trying to scare people? More importantly, why do they have to lie so much? They run these commercials constantly and they are completely full of crap. First of all, they bring up irrelevancies. My favorite is how they lie about “more teens smoking pot.” You know, that’s important, because God knows, teens never ever get hold of their parents’ booze, do they?

Again, remember the purpose of the proposed Arizona law. They want to regulate marijuana like alcohol, which means parents will be responsible for their teens getting into their pot, just as they are now responsible for their kids’ drinking. However, the anti-pot forces also lie. They claim that more “teens” are using marijuana than before in Colorado and they cite a recent report that claims that more “young people”use marijuana than before. (Source) However, if you look closely, that definition includes people from 18-25. The percentage of marijuana usage has gone up from 21 percent in 2006, before it was legal for those over 21 to 31 percent in 2014, when it was legal, again, for those over 21. Note the age range in that study includes almost no teens, and yet, they use that to claim that teen use is up. Unfortunately, there has been another study (Source), one mandated by their marijuana legalization law, showing that teen use is actually down.

Not that it matters, really,. The purpose of legal marijuana is to reduce the legal consequences and to increase the freedom of the adults who want to use it. It’s up to parents to keep it away from their kids, not the police. And based on statistics, while a lot more people seem to be using marijuana (it’s too early to know for sure, since much of the increased reported usage may be due to the fact that it’s legal now and carries less of a stigma), the number of teens using it is actually down.

There are a couple of things in those anti-legalization ads that bother me greatly. First of all, they mention the packaging of the marijuana edibles. In Colorado, some of the edibles had unfortunate packaging, that made them appealing to young kids, and that did cause some problems. What they failed to mention, however, is that a lot of the manufacturers of edibles changed their packaging a while back, voluntarily, in response to market concerns, marijuana dispensaries stopped carrying some of the edibles in packaging that looked too much like something a child would want to eat and earlier this year, the state legislature addressed it by passing strict packaging regulations, complete with warnings. In other words, because marijuana was legal and heavily regulated, they were able to address the problem.

What the anti-legalization people fail to mention in their ads is that, while marijuana use has doubled, from 5 percent of Colorado adults over 26, from five percent in 2906 to 12 percent in 2014, that still means that 88 percent still don’t partake, so it’s not like everyone in Colorado is walking around in a marijuana-induced stupor. Meanwhile, the number of marijuana related arrests, which was already low in the medical marijuana days, has dropped in half.

There is one last lie in these ads that needs to be addressed; tax money for education. The ads say that Colorado schools were promised a lot of marijuana money but were stiffed, and they keep pointing out that “Denver schools got nothing.” It is an absolute lie to claim that Colorado schools got nothing. The first year, schools in Colorado received more than $27 million in tax money for capital improvements. That was a bit lower than expected, but in the first year, they spent more money on enforcement of the new regulations., which is understandable. But “Denver schools got nothing” because the Denver Public School district opted to not apply for marijuana funds. They decided to let the money go to rural school districts who traditionally have a hard time raising money for bonds. (Source) When things settle down and the legal marijuana trade settles down, schools will be looking at a lot of extra money.

The reason marijuana should be legalized is because the laws against it are silly and stupid. This idea that we can somehow make a law and solve a social problem should have gone the way of the first prohibition. Legalization let’s us control who sells it, it allows us to regulate what is sold and how, and it allows us to raise a whole lot of tax money, that we can use to do things we can’t do now. But more than that, it frees up police and stops ruining people’s lives. And that is why you legalize it. Prohibition never works.


The Truth About Marijuana Legalization — 2 Comments

  1. I have been preaching this for years. For all the speechifying, rhetorical BS that’s been thrown around for longer than that simple statement, all I can do is agree. PROHIBITION NEVER WORKS!