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home : opinion : opinion June 24, 2016

4/24/2014 6:10:00 PM
Freedom Flak
William Slusher

I'm catching flak from some of my fellow retired cops for "endorsing the marijuana business".
First, I tell them, I'm not endorsing the marijuana business. I don't recommend use. I don't use, never have and won't. I've never grown, produced or sold it, and never will. I've never handled marijuana in any way outside law enforcement and won't. I am not an employee of, nor am I paid in any way by any phase whatever of the marijuana industry.
Then what the hell are you doing endorsing legalization of marijuana, these friends demand. Fair question.
Freedom, is my answer.
Whaaat? is their answer.
Freedom in free countries means government has no role nor right to interfere with adults enjoying or profiting by whatever they wish as long as they do not involve minors in harmful ways nor violate the human rights of anyone else.
Just as importantly, if neither the new industry nor government are careless or greedy, then legalization of marijuana will go exponentially further toward reducing harm to citizens and minors by marijuana than any 'drug war' will ever approach. Witness the less than spectacular success of the last several decades of horrendously expensive, to say nothing of deadly, anti-drug 'warfare' despite the heroic service and too often deadly sacrifice of the law-enforcement profession.
History seems to have shown us that people are going to do whatever is necessary to get what sources of pleasure and relief they crave. Go figure. Yet, no useful government can just throw up its hands at this reality because the nature of human affairs is that someone's going to get greedy and violate other people's rights in pursuit of whatever pleasure or relief is at issue. Government, thus, has a protective role to play.
Yet, when government situates itself in the path of that pursuit not as a safety regulator but as a dam, it then starts a war with human nature it cannot win, a war in which untold billions in tax money squeezed from hard working Americans will be squandered to no good end. Indeed it can only ensure enormous unnecessary criminal-caused death, imprisonment and citizen suffering.
All efforts to be a dam instead of a regulator seem to have failed if results are to be the measure. Little wonder. No matter how big a dam you build to choke the flow off, eventually the unstoppable current of humans seeking pleasure or relief will simply overrun it.
Has citizen harm from marijuana gone ... down ... by any intelligent measure during its prohibition? The real question, you may counter, is will it go up under legalization?
It's hard to see how. Legalization might lead to slightly increased use among adults but to what negative end? The reality is that the vast majority of adults who've wanted marijuana have been able to get it readily on the black market for decades. Similarly, toking drivers have been around for decades as well. There seems little reason to expect a consumer rush to marijuana upon legalization because most users already 'rushed' long ago.
It's too early to tell if use by minors might increase slightly but the same prior easy access reality applies. Moreover, as the state, not criminals, will inspect, regulate and enforce laws affecting retail outlets under legalization, there is just as much reason to suspect that juvenile use of marijuana may actually decline.
If government doesn't bungle the matter, what we can look forward to - just as with repealed prohibition of alcohol - is the movement of the marijuana industry from cutthroat-competitive, killer gun gangs to peaceful, state regulated, neighborhood businesses. Marijuana related gun violence and crime will drop like a greased anvil as it did with liquor upon the repeal of Prohibition ... if ... government or the marijuana industry itself don't ruin the free-market equation.
But if government tax-gouges, fee-bleeds and hyper-regulates the legal marijuana industry such that retail prices are forced up to criminal supply levels then criminals will remain in the game at continued dreadful cost to society on so many levels.
Likewise, if government does not quickly adjust banking laws to allow financial institutions to treat marijuana businesses like any other, then marijuana will remain a cash-only enterprise which invites all the crime, graft and tax-fraud that cash-only businesses are uniquely vulnerable to.
Lastly, if the marijuana industry drops the ball on campaigning hard against marijuana related DUI and involvement of minors, then the good side of marijuana legalization will be compromised by public opposition.
So this is the side I offer the non-using public: Marijuana legalization is about freedom for adults within the confines of everyone's human rights. It is not about any moral caving in nor surrender of the drug war. In fact, it is the only realistic possibility of ... winning ... the drug war where marijuana is concerned.
You don't need to use marijuana nor even approve of its use by others to be part of an enormous social good brought by its legalization. You will see safer streets from the huge reduction in black market crime and violence. You will see reduced black market gun abuse. You will see vastly fewer otherwise productive citizens incarcerated to no social benefit, and you will enjoy the diversion of immense amounts of tax money now wasted on prohibition enforcement and incarceration to far more worthy uses.
Marijuana legalization - assuming government and the industry don't get crazy - will be the biggest win-win bargain for America since ... well ... since Prohibition was repealed.

William Slusher's latest novel is a bipartisan Pacific Northwest political comedy: CASCADE CHAOS, or, How Not To Put Your Grizzly In The Statehouse.

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