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Rebutting “Why America Will Regret Legalizing Marijuana”

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Rebutting “Why America Will Regret Legalizing Marijuana”

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Very Serious People are now weighing in on the legalization of marijuana. Sure, it’s been going on for five years for all adults and twenty-one years for sick people and nothing terrible has happened. Sure, three-in-five Americans live where medical marijuana is legal and two-in-five live where adult-use marijuana is legal and they seem to be doing just fine. Sure, marijuana has been the third-most popular drug in America since the 1950s and nobody has ever died from overdosing on it.

But now that it is legal, terrible things will happen that haven’t yet happened! Be very afraid!

The writer of “Why America Will Regret Legalizing Marijuana” notes proponents like me saying “the sky didn’t fall” under legalization in Colorado, saying that’s a low bar to clear.

Is empyrean collapse the only thing that might move Colorado to reconsider a decision that has filled the state with dispensariespot tourists, and rising numbers of homeless addicts?

Ooh, there are more dispensaries (all purveyors of pot) in Denver than McDonald’s (one purveyor of hamburgers) and Starbucks (one purveyor of coffee) combined! Have you ever noticed nobody ever compares, say, The Green Solution (one purveyor of pot) to fast food joints and restaurants and truck stops and food carts (all purveyors of hamburgers) and coffee shops and diners and rest stops and roadside stands (all purveyors of coffee) combined? The point, of course, is that the mere existence of buildings for purchasing inspected and labeled marijuana where adults whose IDs are checked is a Very Bad Thing.

Ditto for the existence of “pot tourists,” those ne’er-do-wells who travel to Colorado, buying gasoline or airline tickets, renting cars or buying bus passes, eating at restaurants and purchasing goods, paying a 7.65 percent sales tax on those items, then paying another 10 percent tax on the marijuana they came to buy. Damn you, people who come into a state and spend money!

As for the homelessness, much of that (as the linked article explains) owes to the aforementioned “pot tourists,” who end up taking some of the available rental space, as well as the increase in the economy that leads people to move to Colorado seeking jobs, but also causes property values to increase, squeezing the poor out onto the streets. If the argument is “don’t legalize marijuana; it’ll improve your economy and raise your property values,” it’s not a very compelling one.

Will it seem to [our grandchildren] that 2018 was the right time to throw open the gates to yet another recreational drug?

Way back when marijuana had yet to be prohibited, the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J, Anslinger, testified that there were “100,000 total marijuana smokers in the United States…” By the time President Nixon codified prohibition into law with the Controlled Substances Act, there were millions of people smoking pot. By the end of the 1970s, 60 percent of high school seniors had tried marijuana. Before Colorado and Washington legalized in 2012, there were roughly 25 million pot smokers in the United States.

What the hell difference does an open gate make on a broken fence? This is that confounded “Third Drug on the Menu” argument, as if legalization would invent pot smoking. People already are pot smokers, have been, and will continue to be – the question isn’t what drug is on the menu, but what punishment is in the sentencing guidelines.

It’s understandable that the public would be eager to dial back the War on Drugs, with its (somewhat deserved) associations with police brutality and mass incarceration.

“Somewhat deserved?” Only inside the Beltway could someone consider a policy that leads to SWAT teams kicking down doors, shooting pets, terrifying children, and incarcerating adults over a houseplant just barely deserving of association with police brutality and mass incarceration.

I mean, it’s not something with a compelling causal relationship, like, say, imagining that an increase in homeless population owes not to compelling panoply of reasons from globalization to trickle-down economics but rather to five years of marijuana legalization.

This much at least is clear: When states legalize marijuana, people consume more of it. The data suggest that frequent users are the main driving force behind those rosy markets.

Again, with the assumption that more marijuana consumption is a Very Bad Thing. The writer follows up with a link farm of marijuana’s alleged harms, which I won’t bother to rebut because you’ve heard them all before and they are the same harms that could have befallen the 25 million who’ve been smoking before legalization, but didn’t seem to.

Besides, the debate about marijuana’s harms isn’t fair if we’re not also debating marijuana’s benefits. How many opioid addicts manage to stay alive using marijuana instead? How many drunk drivers didn’t kill people because they switched to pot? How many marriages didn’t collapse because weed rekindled old flames? Sure, legal marijuana may mean more people using it, and there are good things that will come out of that, too.

Speaking of opioids, the writer made sure to incorporate the latest talking point from the Project SAM rhetoric factory. If the “Big Marijuana’s the next Big Tobacco!” line didn’t scare you, get ready (especially after Dr. Gupta’s “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills”) for a few months of “Big Marijuana’s the next Purdue Pharma!”

But if it took thousands of corpses to persuade authorities that OxyContin was a problem, how much havoc would marijuana have to wreak on indigent citizens and families before anyone would bother to reconsider the wisdom of legalization? How many kids will have to be removed from their families because their addicted parents can’t quite get around to feeding them or taking them to school? How many young adults will watch social lives and career plans disappear into the vortex of addiction, while their parents watch despondently?

Sounds like a story problem. I love story problems!

If OxyContin times 68,000 drug overdose deaths annually equals recognizing a crisis, and marijuana times x equals recognizing a crisis; solve for x. Now, since marijuana is a bajillion times less toxic than OxyContin, I think it works out to 68 bajillion marijuana overdose deaths.

But we don’t get to measure the marijuana side in deaths. It’s measured in havoc caused by addicted people starving their kids and abandoning their careers. Not as much havoc as dying, you see. Now, since marijuana is umpteen times less addictive than OxyContin, I think it works out to 68 umpteen bajillion addicted parents starving their kids and abandoning their careers before we’d recognize a marijuana overdose crisis in America.

The most troubling part of the whole essay is that in its zeal to imagine a harm from legalized marijuana, it all but glosses over the real (“somewhat deserved”) harms from prohibited marijuana. If we will come to regret legalizing marijuana, it could only be from the result being worse than the prohibition it came to replace.

There is a better case to be made that we may come to regret the free-market capitalist legalization of marijuana. Better-educated Very Serious People make the case that co-operatives or non-profits or grow-your-own-and-share models would be a better way of handling marijuana distribution than treating marijuana as another for-profit drug. In the absence of such arguments, though, this writer seems to call for a return to prohibition, which nobody can rightfully argue is a Very Good Thing.

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