California assemblyman Tom Ammiano recently introduced a bill that would legalize the open sale of marijuana to those 21 years or older. Although the bill will likely fail in the state legislature, the sheer fact it is being considered is a sign California lawmakers are headed in the right direction. California needs to legalize marijuana, and I’ll tell you why.
California spends about $170 million a year enforcing anti-marijuana laws. In addition to an array of expensive anti-marijuana programs, this includes the cost of arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating offenders. Many of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes are non-violent and otherwise law-abiding citizens. California prisons are already overloaded and the costs outweigh the benefits of enforcing anti-marijuana laws.
Legalizing marijuana would not only eliminate these costs, but also provide a hefty source of income for California’s empty coffers. With California’s deficit expected to hit the $40 billion mark sometime within the next year-and-a-half, this is a revenue source California can’t afford to ignore.
California would rake in nearly $1.2 billion every year from marijuana taxes and billions more from subsequent economic growth. Marijuana would be sold in cigarette-like packages at your local 7-Eleven and Amsterdam-style coffee houses would emerge to provide marijuana in safe, controlled environments, which would also attract tourists and their valuable out-of-state and foreign cash. Although legalizing marijuana wouldn’t single-handedly solve California’s economic problems, it would go a long way to helping to alleviate them.
The illegal drug industry is worth $320 billion a year in the United States and there are plenty of people eager to claim a slice of the pie. Although most who deal marijuana only sell marijuana, many are also happy to supply more serious drugs like cocaine and heroin. It naturally follows that because marijuana users can only get marijuana from dealers, they are more likely to come into contact with and purchase “hard” drugs.
This sums up one of the most popular counter-arguments to legalization; that marijuana is a “gateway” drug leading its users to try more dangerous substances. I won’t argue against this claim under the current system; however, legalization would eliminate or at least greatly reduce this threat.
Legalizing marijuana would put street dealers out of business because a well-regulated marijuana trade would ensure standardized quality and a stable pricing system street dealers couldn’t compete with. Think about it; if you could get your weed from inside the 7-Eleven, then why would you buy it from the sketchy guy loitering outside the 7-Eleven?
Just as it has in Amsterdam, legalizing marijuana and putting illegal drug dealers out of business would lead to a reduction in crime, as many criminal acts can be traced to the illegal drug trade. Gangs would be deprived of their primary income source, substantially weakening them and making inner-city streets safer.
Many also argue that legalizing marijuana would lead to increased substance abuse; however, this is a groundless claim because there is no evidence showing a correlation between drugs being legal and increased substance abuse. But there is plenty of evidence suggesting drug prohibition actually leads to increased abuse. For example, the U.S. and Britain have the strictest anti-drug laws and also have the highest abuse levels.
Legalization would remove the social taboo from buying marijuana and would allow California to make it a public health issue instead of a criminal issue. Rather than wasting millions trying to stop people from growing and buying marijuana, the state could invest in programs to educate the public on substance abuse and to help recovering addicts. Similar programs have worked wonders in stifling alcohol and tobacco addiction.
Even if California legalizes marijuana, it will need to form a coalition of states to convince the federal government to accommodate any drug policy changes.
But as they say: “As goes California, so goes the nation.“
If California takes the first step towards a more sensible drug policy by legalizing marijuana, then the rest of the nation will follow.
MIKE HOWER would like to add that he is not a pot-head on a cannabis crusade, nor does he even smoke weed. Tell him what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.