Just Go Ahead and Legalize It.

20 04 2010

Happy 4/20, friends!  I don’t fancy myself a stoner, so it’s not really a holiday for me, but I’m sure it is for many of you.  (p.s. To read about the interesting history of 4/20, see Ryan Grim’s article here.)

With that said, I think it is an appropriate day to set forth my argument for legalizing marijuana.  My friend B. is probably laughing right now, because every time he makes a well-thought-out, impassioned case for the legalization of all recreational drugs, I play devil’s advocate and disagree with him.  I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say that heroin should be legal (and regulated), at this point, even though I have heard some really strong arguments for it.  The jury’s still out on that one.  But I can unequivocally say that I can’t see one reason why marijuana is illegal and alcohol is not.

I’m sure you’ve heard all these arguments before, so I’m going to spare you the diatribe, but I thought that I would at least throw a few bullet points out there to open up the debate.

1) The most obvious argument: Pot is a less dangerous drug than alcohol.  Drunk people start fights, knock things over, act generally belligerent, get in their cars and kill people.  Stoners play video games, listen to music and watch movies.  The answer is not to prohibit alcohol– we all know how that experiment turned out– but to legalize pot and regulate it.

2) Marijuana is, quite literally, a weed, which means it’s cheaper to grow than just about any other crop.  The reason why marijuana farmers here and in Mexico make so much money off of it is because its illegal status has jacked up the price.  If marijuana was legal, and anyone could grow it in his backyard, it would be less lucrative to grow than a garden full of tomatoes.  There wouldn’t be huge drug cartels smuggling pot across the border and blowing each other up, and local pot dealers would be obsolete.  You don’t see the people who own liquor distilleries having epic shootouts in Tijuana and running elaborate booze-trading rings in the ghettos of Baltimore, right?

3) Marijuana is already so easy to procure that legalizing it wouldn’t significantly change the amount that it’s used among adults or youth.  Teenagers already smoke pot as if it’s legal, so what’s the point of using so many of our resources trying to prohibit it?

4) Why are we wasting our jail space and police power on people who are simply making bad decisions about how to treat their own bodies?  We’re not arresting people for starving themselves, or for being obese, or for cutting themselves, but I recently read that over 50% of people in U.S. prisons are in there for drug possession/use/distribution.  Do you know how expensive that is for taxpayers?  Why don’t we just let them rot away on drugs if they choose, give them plenty of rehab options and resources, and save the prison space for rapists and murderers?

That is all from my soapbox.  I would now like to open this up for discussion– Do you think pot should be legal?  What about other drugs, like cocaine and heroin?  Why?  Why not?

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27 responses

20 04 2010
Timur

20 04 2010
cb

Thank you for that, Timur. I love reggae. Great song.

20 04 2010
bros

a lot of law enforcement types that I know are also in favor of legalizing it. it would obviously free up not only jail space, but the manpower and time and resources spent arresting, prosecuting, investigating, etc. most of the cops I know would love to be able to focus on more important things than ounces of weed, which is why many places are instituting amounts you can have legally for personal possession.

in a bit of sad news, Irwin Raven, the lawyer who argues successfully to the AK supreme court that people should have the right to have a certain amount for personal use died recently. he was this old hippie dude lawyer with super long hair who, after basically winning the case of his dreams, stopped being a lawyer and drove a cab in my town, and was probably high ALL the time. and he was a safe cab driver, proof that hippie stoners are probably the most peaceful of all substance users.

20 04 2010
BS

some more thoughts:

1. The US war on drugs is a nice backdoor way to put black men in jail. A great resource on this is Michelle Alexander: (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/11/legal_scholar_michelle_alexander_on_the)

The difference in sentencing guidelines for crack (Black, poor drug) and cocaine (white, rich drug) was until recently 100X more for crack (seems like a joke).

2. Drugs have been around for tens of thousands of years. The war on drugs is about 40 years old. Drug prohibition in general is probably only about a hundred years old.

3. There are SO many more harmful drugs that you can buy at a grocery store. You cannot die smoking weed, but in the words of Katt Williams, if you go and take 10 advils right now, it will be your last headache.

4. At some level, drug companies see a real threat from marijuana. If a plant you can grow in your backyard can treat pain, they are going to have a harder time selling you a 5 dollar pill.

Finally, the drug legalization argument is often framed around how harmful or not harmful a drug is. While that is relevant in some cases, I would make the argument that the MORE harmful a drug is, the stronger the case that we should legalize it. A heroin addict has to physically get heroin or they can die. Do you want him to be able to get heroin from a safe place, with clean needles, and support services that could help him quit?

Or do you want him stealing your purse in the parking lot at 3 AM?

Moreover, everyone probably has known someone in their life with a problem with addiction, whether it be alcohol, oxycontin, weed, or even gambling. i’m sure most people would agree that that person would not be well served by being in jail. If that holds true for you, then it holds true for the inner city crack addict as well.

20 04 2010
bros

withdrawal from heroin cannot cause death. only alcohol and one other barbiturate. which bolsters the case the alcohol is the most dangerous drug out there and it is legal which goes to show that controlled substances are really all about politics and not much else.

20 04 2010
geof

Agreed. Legalize marijuana and tax it. Decriminalize heroin and fund treatment programs. My sister is a recovering addict and she, like many people, began using it to self-medicate for depression and anxiety. It’s a public health issue, not a criminal one.

20 04 2010
OKinAK

I think that the issue with minorities being incarcerated at much higher rates than whites is more of an issue of resources than discrimination. Minorities are convicted of all crimes (including murder) at higher rates than whites, and their sentences tend to be harsher as well. But I think it has a little more to do with how much legal representation they can afford than what minority group they represent. Having said that, I would not want to be black and facing a judge in the south.

I think that “recreational drugs” can be divided into two groups. There are mood altering drugs and mind altering drugs. I think marijuana certainly falls into the mood altering category. I don’t think I should be arrested for using a substance that mellows me out and makes me want to listen to music.

I feel that our money would be better spent treating “mind altering drug” addictions rather than incarcerating addicts. However, there has to be a limit. We can’t keep treating addicts over and over. Something like a three strikes law for addicts might work. The third time you’re headed to jail. Realistically, most addicts would end up striking out so we would be back in the same situation we’re in now.

I too live in Alaska in the same town as Irwin Raven. His argument to the Alaska Supreme Court was simple. Marijuana is an innocuous substance and our right to privacy outweighs the government’s right to criminalize it. I could not agree more. May he rest in peace.

21 04 2010
BS

1. I have a sibling in law school who makes the same case but I don’t buy that. You have to look at the system as a whole and see what kind of output and justice it is creating. Very clearly, we can see that that justice is heavily skewed against minorities. By that logic, we could argue that the literacy requirements that were put in place during the jim crowe era were not discriminatory, but rather, the minorities involved didn’t have the resources or education to help them pass the literacy tests.

Also– the crack/cocaine sentencing guidelines (http://www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform/aclu-urges-end-discriminatory-crack-vs-powder-cocaine-sentencing-disparity-restore-r ) are very specifically racist and were enacted during the war on drug 80’s and the threat of crack babies.

2. Why the distinction between mood altering and mind altering? What does that solve? By your own admission, most heavy drugs would fall under the second category and we’d be in the same position we are now.

21 04 2010
OKinAK

You make a good point but where do you draw the line? Do you just legalize everything and keep paying to treat people endlessly? Also, I doubt you will ever convince a majority in this country that legalizing crack, pcp, heroin, lsd etc. is a good idea. So the point I am trying to make about distinguishing between mood altering and mind altering substances is to differentiate the level of criminality. There is a chance you could gain popular support for that. One step at a time.

21 04 2010
districtramblings

Haha– sorry OKinAK, this argument will be lost on BS. His political views rarely take into account the reality of politics in America.

21 04 2010
geof

OKinAK: What is the difference in cost between “treating people endlessly” and incarcerating them endlessly? Addiction of any form is a health issue, not a moral one. Treating it as a criminal issue will not reduce it, it will just push it underground and fill prisons.

21 04 2010
OKinAK

Ok geof, you have me pinned to the mat. So I will just say that I don’t think that pcp, crack and lsd should be legal substances. People lose touch with reality in a dangerous way on those drugs and I feel that it’s justified to criminalize them. Maybe if you had seen some of the shit that I have seen over the years, you could see it my way. But I still feel your point is valid. Just a difference of opinion about whether certain drugs should always be considered harmful and therefore illegal. I wouldn’t have a problem legalizing heroin, which I don’t put in the “dangerous” class.

23 04 2010
BS

Chomsky accurately describes “Political Reality” as code word in the US for something that neither the Republicans and Democrats support. Anything that doesn’t fall under this category is not reality, and anyone that supports it becomes either a crazy radical or unrealistic.

Moreover, even if something is not politically viable NOW, does not mean that it should not be discussed and debated. Marijuana legalization was not reality 10 years ago, but now it is. And that is in large part due to the public being educated on the reality of marijuana reform.

Understanding drugs as a social health issue and not a criminal issue is something that needs to be discussed honestly and openly.

20 04 2010
BS

In interesting and relevant celebrity news, Michael Douglas is now trying to keep his son out of jail for drug charges:

http://www.popeater.com/2010/04/20/cameron-douglas-sentenced-prison/

People will remember Michael Douglas as the US drug czar in the movie Traffic who has a daughter addicted to heroin. In the climax of the movie, Douglas is at a press conference after he had just rescued his daughter from a heroin dealer. As he’s fighting back tears, he eventually interrupts the script and before walking out, says:

“If there is a war on drugs, then many of our family members are the enemy. And I don’t know how you wage war on your own family”.

Clip begins at 1:00 minute in:

20 04 2010
luke

good post. i would add one point that I’m baffled isn’t raised more often. every common-sense argument seems to lead towards legalization (especially criminal justice system-related), and i’m in favor of that. but it seems to me it wouldn’t be as simple as others imagine. marijuana is an enormous (albeit illegal) industry as it is, and one could picture it growing some if it were legalized. and maybe it really would usher in a utopia where everyone just has a little plant in their backyard and it’s cheap and easy and no one tries to exploit it. but that’s not the way it works with alcohol, or tobacco. in other words, you don’t hear about many people making bathtub gin or growing their own tobacco, even though that’s legal and often a cheaper option. my point is, you can bet your ass that Altria, R.J. Reynolds and the like will lie, cheat and lobby to get their hands on as much of that enormous new market as they can. there might be less drug violence, sure, but the end result for the actual average user of marijuana could well be the widespread availability of a more expensive, less potent product regulated to all hell by the powers that be at every level of government. i think if i were a smoker and purely self-interested i would be pretty ambivalent about that prospect.

21 04 2010
BS

Ideally speaking, yes, we would want it as a nationalized industry. However, in the mean time, having a heavily regulated industry (that may be privately owned) will have some immediate benefits:

1. Safer product (not as big of a deal with marijuana but it is with other drugs that can be easily manipulated or tainted)

2. Higher quality product (when you buy a bottle of absolut, it has 40% alcohol in it every time. I much rather buy from that company than the guy making it in his bathtub)

3. Reduction of the blackmarket economy for that specific drug

21 04 2010
luke

BS i agree with your first and third points, and those are part of the reason i’m overall in favor of legalization. it would indeed be a safer, uniform product, and you’d hope that at least some of the drug violence around this country and in Mexico, especially, would dissipate.

however saying that it would be a ‘higher quality’ product puts quite a bit of faith in corporations seeking to maximize their profits. i think the demand for weed would be so enormous and consistent that corporations in control of the market could manipulate both the price and potency of the product easily, even without colluding with each other, and not suffer any real consequence. the government’s own profit interest would also make it less likely to effectively police this sort of thing, not that you’d expect it to anyway.

i think your point about vodka is right on. instead of making your own, which could be cheaper and net you more higher-proof alcohol, you buy it from absolut because it’s more convenient and reliable, though considerably less efficient. so sure, if smokers want to trade quality and cost for safety and convenience, it looks like a good deal. but it’s still a trade for the average smoker, not a windfall.

21 04 2010
BS

Looking at your example, the quality of vodka is not solely in its alcohol content. High quality vodka is much more complex of a process that is very difficult for a regular person to achieve doing it themselves. Very specifically:

1. I can get a gallon of high proof (90%) low quality moonshine type alcohol from the store right now at probably the same cost as it would take me to make it in my bathtub.

2. The distillation and filtering required to make High quality vodka is not something 99% of people have the capability to do efficiently or properly.

In our current alcohol system, I have greater access and greater quality to alcohol than what I can make on my own.

Let’s say cost of producing a drug is X, market price of said drug is Y, and X-Y = Z (profit)

If we assume that Z remains the same from blackmarket to regulated model, then in the regulated model X should be lower because it no longer includes the black market operating costs (security, legal fees, etc.).

Our goal needs to be to make sure Z is kept down.

So our #1 goal should a be a nationalized industry that is non profit ad #1 highly regulated industry where profits are capped (a public utility [i.e. Washington Grass])

21 04 2010
luke

right, except there’s absolutely no reason to assume that Y remains constant with private ownership of marijuana production. in fact, there’s plenty of reason to think that producers would ramp up Y while simultaneously flattening out P (potency) in order to benefit Z (profit). i mean, why wouldn’t they? why wouldn’t Altria try to sell you a watered-down pack of joints for a jacked-up price when they know the vast majority of the market will buy it anyway, and where there’s no political will for meaningful regulation because 1) the government is making bank on the taxes and 2) regulation of that sort is usually unpopular and hard to explain?

the way i see it, you’re stuck in this situation until you get to the options you suggest: a nationalized, non-profit marijuana distribution system, or a private system with price or profit controls. neither of which will ever become a reality, as you know. so the upshot of legalization is just exchanging one dealer who’s ripping you off for another, who has all the means and incentive to rip you off even worse.

20 04 2010
G

You didn’t even mention the financial element: If the US gov’t were to legalize and regulate the multi-billion dollar ganja industry they would reap 10’s of millions of dollars a year.
How can a government that can’t afford to pay teachers “just say No” to a process that would (probably) 1) erase the national debt in 10 years, 2) dramatically decrease the number of useless incarcerations and court costs and 3) all but dismantle the violent and destructive illicit drug trade that destroys communities and corrupts American society on so many levels.

I heard recently that, for the first time in US survey history (which, admittedly, doesn’t mean much) that over 50% of Americans support the regulation and legalization of marijuana.
These are turbulent times, and it is often stress and conflict that serves as catalysts for change. Who knows…

20 04 2010
G

ugghh…i hate finding so many typos/grammatical mistakes only AFTER i post something. (Maybe I shouldn’t have smoked so much for so long…)

20 04 2010
graber

you would want to legalize it. hippie.

21 04 2010
Vjane

I dont know from A to Z – yes, legalize the dope. This conversation reminds me of a new smoker my husband bought at Home Depot and couldnt wait to use it. One Sunday, he put a turkey in and got it going. Sat and watched it for awhile. Then went in the house to take a nap. A real estate agent came to appraise out house and I asked him not to go in the bedroom because my husband was taking a nap. He’s been outside smoking a turkey and is tired. The agent looked at me and said smoking what ?? I said a turkey. He shook his head and said I never heard of one of those. It must be strong. Oh well – anyway – smoke a turkey or a joint – dont let the government get involved. Just grow it in your backyard. Can you imagine the nightmare if the government controled it ??? Home grown is the best, like a tomato plant.

21 04 2010
grover

I think the two of you talking about a regulated distribution model have some very serious flaws in your assumptions.

1.) Competition would keep prices (and thus profits) down.
2.) There would be many options for consumers, and you would get what you pay for, e.g. Amsterdam.
3.) People will grow their own if 1 and/or 2 does not hold (and even if they do). Further, people will continue to grow even if it is slightly more costly for the fun of it, e.g. homebrewing beer, wine, or liquor.

Saying that there have to be price and profit (!) controls is just silly. You guys are over-thinking this and giving little credit to knowledgeable, existing consumers. Sure, tons of n00bs will be scooping up the green equivalent of Marlboro Ultra Lights, but people also seem to buying up ultra-light beer, e.g. MGD 60, even though it’s less potent than ‘near-beer’ (3.2% ABV). No one is proposing to regulate MillerCoors because they are flooding the market with less potent, inferior quality, alcohol products.

Excessive regulation would just impose unnecessary costs on the market. That being said, it would be wise to tax it heavily, particularly while it is still a novelty, before everyone figures out they can grow it in their backyard for next to nothing.

21 04 2010
Vjane

P.S. I think I spelled controled wrong -is it controlled ???

5 05 2010
katie

who is vjane? i think i love her.

9 06 2010
luke

just wanted to point anyone still interested in this topic to this NPR article:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127542758

In Colorado, at least, police are already finding a 100%-plus mark up between the black market ($150 for an ounce of marijuana) and the legal dispensaries ($270-$400 for an ounce of marijuana).

Despite this, people are patronizing dispensaries more and more, and buying off the black market less and less. Which is good. The only point I was making is that all that extra security and (supposed) quality isn’t coming for free. Marijuana users are paying a hell of a lot for it already, and may very well be paying even more if the drug is legalized entirely.

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