Thank You Washington

The State of Washington did something smart on Election Day 2012, it ended the prohibition of marijuana.  And if Obama is smart he will instruct the Feds to deal with the problems in Washington, DC, and nose out of Washington State’s repeal of marijuana prohibition.

We learned during Prohibition that prohibiting alcohol consumption does not work.  It doesn’t make society better, but it just fosters and encourages a criminal element.

The so-called War on Drugs has been a colossal failure. Eduardo Porter earlier this year [July 3, 2012] in the NEW YORK TIMES writes . . .

The only dimension along which the war on drugs might be conceived as a success is political. If you ask Americans how concerned they are about drugs, they will give you roughly the same answer they have given for years: not so much.

In a Gallup poll, only 31 percent of Americans said they thought the government was making much progress dealing with illegal drugs, the lowest share since 1997. But fewer people say they worry about drug abuse than 10 years ago. Only 29 percent of Americans think it is an extremely or very serious problem where they live, the lowest share in the last decade.

But the government has spent $20 billion to $25 billion a year on counternarcotics efforts over the last decade. That is a pretty high price tag for political cover, to stop drugs from becoming a prominent issue on voters’ radar screen. It becomes unacceptably high if you add in the real costs of the drug wars. That includes more than 55,000 Mexicans and tens of thousands of Central Americans killed by drug-fueled violence since Mexico’s departing president, Felipe Calderón, declared war six years ago against the traffickers ferrying drugs across the border.

And the domestic costs are enormous, too. Almost one in five inmates in state prisons and half of those in federal prisons are serving time for drug offenses. In 2010, 1.64 million people were arrested for drug violations. Four out of five arrests were for possession. Nearly half were for possession of often-tiny amounts of marijuana.

Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College of the City University of New York, told me that processing each of the roughly 85,000 arrests for drug misdemeanors in New York City last year cost the city $1,500 to $2,000. And that is just the cost to the budget. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly black and poor, are unable to get a job, a credit card or even an apartment to rent because of the lasting stigma of a criminal record for carrying an ounce of marijuana.

Cracking down hard on drug users may sound great on the stump. But Americans who inject drugs are four times as likely to have H.I.V. as British addicts and seven times as likely as drug-injecting Swiss, mainly because the United States has been much slower in introducing needle exchanges and other measures to address the impact of drug abuse on public health.

The Obama administration acknowledges the limitations of the drug wars, and has shifted its priorities, focusing more on drug abuse prevention and treatment of addicts, and less on enforcement.

Still, many critics of the current policy believe the solution is to legalize — to bring illegal drugs out of the shadows where they are controlled by criminal gangs, into the light of the legal market where they can be regulated and taxed by the government.

Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard who studies drug policy closely, has suggested that legalizing all illicit drugs would produce net benefits to the United States of some $65 billion a year, mostly by cutting public spending on enforcement as well as through reduced crime and corruption.

A study by analysts at the RAND Corporation, a California research organization, suggested that if marijuana were legalized in California and the drug spilled from there to other states, Mexican drug cartels would lose about a fifth of their annual income of some $6.5 billion from illegal exports to the United States. Read the entire article

According to the Department of Justice Central Valley California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Drug Market Analysis …

An an estimated 77,697 acres (121 square miles) is used throughout California to grow cannabis. The City of Sacramento is 97 square miles in size and the amount of area used for growing marijuana exceeds the size of the state’s Capital city.

California Marijuana Plant Seizures Exceeded Canada’s Production and U.S. Mexican Border Seizures.

Does any rational person really think that a state as bankrupt as California shouldn’t be taxing that kind of marijuana production . . . to say nothing of saving all of the money spent on attempting to eradicate production, operating the criminal justice production line and warehousing pot offenders in prison?

So along comes the State of Washington introducing an element of sanity.

CNN contributor Roger A. Roffman, a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Washington, and a sponsor of the Washington State pot initiative, says . . .

The historic measure to regulate and tax marijuana in Washington State deserves to be looked at closely as a model of how legalization ought to be designed and implemented elsewhere in America.

We’ve turned a significant corner with the approval of Initiative 502, which purposefully offers a true public health alternative to the criminal prohibition of pot.

For the first time in a very long time, the well-intended but failed criminal penalties to protect public health and safety will be set aside. Adults who choose to use marijuana and obtain it through legal outlets will no longer be faced with the threat of criminal sanctions. People of color will no longer face the egregious inequities in how marijuana criminal penalties are imposed. Parents, as they help prepare their children for the choices they face concerning marijuana, will no longer be hobbled by misinformation about the drug and the absence of effective supports to encourage abstinence.

“The great experiment” of alcohol prohibition became the national law in 1920. Its intentions were good, but it failed in a number of vitally important ways. In 1923, the state of New York repealed its alcohol prohibition law. Ten other states soon followed, and in 1933 national Prohibition ended.
I believe Washington state has just played that pivotal role with regard to marijuana. Moreover, by borrowing from public health model principles known to be effective, the state has offered the most compelling replacement to prohibition considered to date.

What is a public health model? In brief, it’s an approach that acknowledges use of marijuana can present harms to the user and to public safety, and includes provisions to prevent or ameliorate those harms.  Read the full article

And by the way, in the interests of full disclosure, I am not a pot head!  I’ve never smoked cigarettes (which WILL kill you) so I don’t know how to inhale.  I once had a friend in St Thomas who made fantastic brownies.  Tom was an excellent cook, but the “secret ingredient” in his brownies made them a one-time memorable dessert.  And I know something about drug addicts, having run a drug rehabilitation program in the South Bronx for four years in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

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