Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Free Up the Weed

On November 2, Californians will have the opportunity to vote to end marijuana prohibition in the state. Prop 19 on the ballot will make it legal to grow, posess or sell marijana, a plant that, when ingested, gives a mild euphoria to the user with little to no harmful side effects, for which some 850,000 people are arrested every year.

The vote may turn out to be largely symbolic, as marijuana will still be illegal under federal law, and Attorney General Eric Holder has said that he intends to continue enforcing that law (to the extent that the feds are able). For that matter, Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca has also said that he will constinue to enforce marijuana laws if Prop 19 passes, although the sheriff department doesn't really have that much enforcement power in L.A. (they mostly run the prison system). But if nothing else, this will be a first step towards a sensible drug policy in this country.

Now, me personally, I'm all for personal freedom to do whatever you want as long as it doesn't harm or infringe upon the rights of others, so as far as I'm concerned we could just get rid of all laws banning drug use, gambling, prostitution, gun ownership, gay marriage and public smoking, or mandating the use of seatbelts or helmets (and yes, I find the individual mandate in the health care bill pretty repulsive).* But I understand that not everyone sees things this way. For instance, addictive drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth really do cause serious damage to society, and I can't really see going for full legalization with smack available at 7-11 (with a free toy in each balloon!). I'm not sure how you could make it work, but I'm also not sure how it could be worse than the system we have now. Prostitution would require some kind of intensive regulation to make sure that the system would in no way resemble the current black market in prostitution, which is basically human trafficking (you could argue that this system is the result of the black market status, but nonetheless it seems unlikely to just disapear with a change in legal status).

Marijuana is different. Marijuana doesn't cause the kind of damage that hard drugs cause. It doesn't even cause the kind of ruin that gambling can cause. For this reason, marijuana should be considered seperately from the broad category of "drugs." There have been countless studies over the last century attempting to find the dangerous effects of the drug, and no signifigant dangers have been found. Everyone who has ever smoked it (which includes a near-majority of American adults) knows this to be true. There are no consequences for legalizing the plant. The consequences of the current system are a criminal black market, human cost of incarceration, and the cost to society of incarceration and enforcement.

In California, we've already gotten halfway there. A few years back, we legalized medical marijuana. The result is that just about anyone can find a quack doctor, pay a hundred dollars or so and receive a certificate that allows them to go to a licensed dispensary and buy marijuana. This is nice, but it's also kind of idiotic. It either means that we support a complete sham of a system that turns doctors into scam artists and limits the market of competition, or we have police waste their time trying to figure out who has a legitimate medical need for the plant and who doesn't. Why? We're talking about a harmless, natural and potentially very profitable plant here. This is ridiculous.

Besides, California voters need to redeem themselves for passign Prop 8 two years ago. Back in the 90's, I was absolutely positive that marijuana would be legal in my lifetime. As time went on, I started to think I was wrong. There just seemed to be no progress on it. Maybe it would never change, and we would just live with this stupid law forever. Now, suddenly, just as I was about to give up, things have started moving again. This proposition could be the tipping point. In 10 years, we could be living in a country where Mary Jane is fully legal. Our state is already going to have a black eye in history by having voted against gay marriage, which we all know will be not only legal but universally accepted within the next decade. Let's not be on the wrong side of history on this one, too. And seriously...if you live in California, and you don't go out and vote for Prop 19 next Tuesday, just DON'T FUCKING TALK TO ME.

As an aside, there is one law that is even more ridiculous than marijuana prohibition: the ban on liquor distillation ("moonshine"). Liquor is legal, but unlike beer or wine, it's illegal to make your own at home. Why? Can anyone give me a good reason for this? It makes no sense at all. Below is a video from Reason TV. Good thing about reading libertarians is that sometimes they think of arguments that I, as a liberal, wouldn't even consider. I think the ban on moonshine is ridiculous for a variety of reasons, but I never considered the capitalist argument that this clip makes. We have a robust craft beer movement in this country, but our liquor is made by a handfull of corporations. I mean, gin is basically vodka infused with various aromatics. There should be hundreds of microdistilleries in America making artisinal varieties of gin! We import wonderful rums from the Caribean and Latin America. Why aren't we creating our own wonderful rums?

*When I was young, I thought this made me a libertarian, until I started reading actual libertarians and found out what they actually believe.


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