Monday, April 12, 2010
Attention potheads: in case you haven't heard—and you might not have, I know many of you do not follow the news—weed may shortly become full-on legal in California. A lot of people, including basically everyone I know, basically think that that's totally awesome, and agree with the pro-pot advocate in the article who said, "Banning marijuana outright has been a disaster, fueling a massive, increasingly brutal underground economy, wasting billions in scarce law enforcement resources and making criminals out of countless law-abiding citizens."
I agree with that last point especially, and I've written about how the drug laws can turn teenagers into criminals before. But the main reason marijuana legalization is on the table has nothing to do with Libertarian principles or anti-drug war talking points. California, you see, is as broke as a stoner in his mom's basement and taxing weed could raise bushels of money the state could spend on things like schools and ad campaigns telling kids how bad marijuana is.
Emphasis on the “could raise money” part. The people who want pot to stay illegal aren't arguing it leads to psychosis or killing your parents or any of those Reefer Madness arguments. They say that once pot is legalized, more people will use it, and that will lead to more “drugged driving” accidents, arrests, treatment centers, etc. They claim that alcohol costs us money because the tax dollars we take in from booze don't make up for the dollars we spend policing alcohol law violations and alcohol-related crime, not to mention the strain on the health care system that drunks represent. The same thing will happen, they say, with pot.
R. Gil Kerlikowske, whose “Drug Czar” title sounds a lot cooler than it really is, made these points and more in a speech to a bunch of cops. (Gil used to be the police chief in Seattle when I lived there, which is the only thing he has in common with this guy.) The speech is pretty persuasive, especially when you're stoned and can't think all that clearly, but it's fundamentally similar to the arguments the weeders—I'm calling them that now—are making. Gil claims that legalization will have a net negative effect on the economy, the weeders claim the effect will be positive, and neither side has any idea what will actually happen.
Will legalization force dealers out of a job and into the ranks of the unemployed? Will taxes on weed mean that the black market will still do great business and still result in crime and police involvement? How much money will taxes actually bring in? Will legalization mean that large corporations get involved directly in the drug trade and force out the home-growing small businessmen who are apparently the lifeblood of our economy? Will more people smoke pot if it's legal? Will it still be cool to get high if the cops aren't after you?
We have no idea what the answers to these questions are, which is why it's important to legalize weed in California. The best argument against Prohibition was Prohibition itself—after a few years of the mob dominating a major industry and a set of laws that turned most of Americans into criminals, we decided to go back to the way it was. Maybe legalizing weed is a terrible fucking idea and everyone will be high all the time and driving their cars when they're high and committing crimes when they're high and no taxes will be collected at all because we're all fucking stoned all the fucking time. But maybe all that will happen and it'll be totally awesome. Either way, we might as well test it out on California because no one will really notice if California degenerates into a drug-fueled orgy or a post-apocalypitc wasteland or a combination of the two.
Right now though, all the arguments for and against legalization are speculation. And as any Seattle Mariners fan who read one of those optimistic preseason predictions that were all over the internet can tell you, sometimes speculation is horribly, horribly wrong.