I just had a case of “What he said.”

I was thumbing through articles on the Internet and ran into a recent piece by Jerry Large, a Seattle Times columnist.  I think he summed up so well just what I was thinking all along.

I am not a real fan of marijuana.  Sure, I tried it on about three different occasions in my early 20’s.  So has almost a third of all Americans.  However, for a number of reasons, I believe that we spend way too many resources on banning it and making its mere possession a much greater crime than it deserves to be.  It needs to be legal, but controlled in much the same way we control alcohol or tobacco in this country.

In fact, by imposing a prohibition on marijuana, we are actually causing ourselves more grief than if we just sold it at the liquor store.  The main problem here is that most mainstream politicians and media don’t want to be the first to say that “the Emperor has no clothes” and challenge our drug laws.  We also have a lot of “law and order” folks in our society who are more than willing to demonize marijuana users with arguments that are just ridiculous.

Is pot smoking good for you?  Of course not.  Neither is alcohol drinking or cigarette smoking.  But some of us do those things all the time, albeit with some age and other limitations.  One issue is that by saying that marijuana use deserves the same level of penalties as possession and use of clearly more harmful drugs, we are undermining the effectiveness of all of our drug laws.  A typical pot user is much more likely to be a drinker or a tobacco user than a user of, say, cocaine or heroin.

Some marijuana opponents will argue that legalizing marijuana use will encourage some people to use the drug, and that it would also serve as a “gateway drug” to the more serious substances.  I think that anyone who really wants to get some pot is figuring out how to do it.  If we want to send a message to these users, saying that it is a horrible drug that will do many harmful things to you, when a great many of us have tried it with no lasting ill effects, is to cause people to distrust anything our government leaders might say.  Besides, if someone does try pot smoking and finds it to not kill them or cause serious effects, that is as big a message as any to then that the same government might be lying to us about the other drugs, too.

What to we really want to accomplish with our law enforcement resources?  We are having a difficult time keeping our streets clear of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other scourges.  In this day and age where we want to limit our expenditures, wouldn’t it truly be better to concentrate on those substances which truly pose a threat to us?  If we could concentrate our “drug war” resources on stopping the import and sale of these more vicious drugs, we would be much better off.

So what if we did start selling marijuana cigarettes behind the counter at the liquor store?  What kind of things would happen?

  • We could control who could purchase pot, much in the same way we restrict the sale of alcohol to minors.  Does that mean a child would never get their hands on the stuff?  Of course not, but a lot of our kids somehow find liquor to drink, too.  In fact, kids find a way to get pot now.  But this would help parents and police to keep it away from kids, without demonizing the parents for having it in their possession.  I would propose setting the level at whatever the drinking age is.
  • Want to raise some money to help law enforcement stop the bigger drug problem?  Or perhaps raise some money for drug use rehabilitation, which we need to do anyway?  Then just tax the stuff the same way we tax liquor or tobacco.
  • Want to stop people from smuggling marijuana over the Mexican or Canadian borders?  Grow the stuff here?  As an extra added bonus, we eliminate the issues of the pot being laced with poisons or other drugs if we can control the purity of the supply.
  • Legalization would cut way down on those “street deals” that we all don’t want in our neighborhood.  There’s something more dignified about buying it in a store than on the sidewalk in front of your kid’s school, and if something does happen on the street, we know it is something more serious that we need to stop.

Finally, I know someone is going to say that if we legalize marijuana, then more people are going to be driving under the influence of this drug.  We already have laws to prohibit this in the books, and there are already folks driving around under the influence of pot anyway.  If your only issue is that of driving while a person is high, rest assured, it is already happening.  There is a big difference between “drinking” and “driving while drinking or drunk.”  Likewise, there is a difference between “smoking pot” and “driving under the influence of pot.”  I understand the difference, most of us understand this difference, the spokesperson from MADD will throw a fit in public and not understand.  Even if legalization slightly increases the number of pot smokers, it will not necessarily increase the number of those choosing to drive under the influence.

During the 1930’s our US Constitution prohibited the possession, sale, transport, or use of alcohol.  That period was famous for the rise in crime and alcohol-related problems that it caused for people.  This prohibition is not working any better.

I believe we will take some pressure off of law enforcement and save ourselves some tax dollars if we legalize pot.  Many people believe that.  But it is doubtful that any amount of writing your congressperson will get the issue into the mainstream radar in the next year or so.  However, now is the time to start discussing the issue civilly in public so that our legislators are not afraid to bring the subject forward in the future.  More information is available at Marijuana Conversation.org and at more and more places online.

If marijuana were legal tomorrow, it’s highly unlikely that I would go out and start using it anytime soon.  However, I am pro-legalization because it will free up our resources for more important problems, and sends a message that our government only passes laws it expects can and will be obeyed by reasonable people.