Thursday, January 2, 2014

About Legalizing Marijuana in Colorado and Why You Should Not Overreact

People’s reactions to this news vary greatly. Some say they will never visit Colorado again: The Den of Iniquity reaction. Others think they can come to Colorado to party permanently: The Party on, dude! reaction. Those are two extremes that will serve no one’s interest, for neither is an accurate perception of Colorado voters’ reasoning for legalization or the effects of it.

Those of the first view deny themselves access to a beautiful region, and hurt innocent people economically who depend on tourism dollars directly or indirectly. Almost half of the residents did not vote for legalization, yet could be hurt by “association”.

Those of the second view will be disappointed because Cannabis is to be well regulated.

Practically speaking, DUI is going to cost you your license whether you are impaired by alcohol or weed. The ski resorts are NOT going to allow its use in their areas, because they want to guarantee their “family-friendly atmospheres”. You have to be 21 to buy it legally, and if you’re from out of state you can't take it with you when you leave. And your employer has every right to require that to keep your job you have to pass random UAs because they can’t have impaired employees showing up for work, whether they’re high or drunk.

While there are many different views of this issue among those Colorado voters who voted Yes, the view prevalent among people I know who voted Yes is that the war on drugs is lost. Like alcohol prohibition, the prohibition of certain drugs has been the catalyst for creating crime throughout this country, and that has leaked into other counties to a far greater extent than did alcohol prohibition. Who do the foreign drug cartels sell to primarily? Americans, 16% of whom report cocaine use and 42.4% report marijuana use, compared to the Netherlands (with much more liberal drug laws) where only 1.9% report cocaine use and 19.8% report marijuana use. These numbers are from a WHO 2008 survey. I also know no adults who engage in recreational marijuana use, no matter how they say they voted. A small sample, to be sure, yet you have to think: None? Really. None.
Political conservative should note that William F. Buckley, Jr. would have likely voted for this legalization. He wrote and spoke about being in favor of legalization. Some may not remember him, but he is considered the “father” of neo-conservatism, arising in the 1950s to reassert conservative values and get away from the “big government” politics that had become prevalent in Washington D.C. He would rightly be considered more of a libertarian than a Republican these days because he was not in favor of laws that tell people how to live their lives daily; he was a champion of individual liberty. Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose, and all that.

Regarding crime, there is little doubt that prohibition creates criminals who were not otherwise engaged in true criminal activity, specifically marijuana users of both the medical and recreational variety. These are people who were bothering nobody else yet now have misdemeanors or felonies and possibly even served time in jail, a place for dangerous people not the doobie brothers. Others who got into dealing often were dealing relatively small amounts, enough for themselves and friends but more than just personal use. They became felons for dealing on par with crack and meth dealers.

The medical legality of Cannabis preceded recreational legality by a few years, and has many positive stories attached. Many families are moving to Colorado to obtain cannabis-infused oil to give to children with epileptic seizures, sometimes severely debilitating ones. There are many instances already of those children having a future, thanks to cannabis treatment. Many cannabis patients smoke, vaporize, or eat it, and find it relieves symptoms of glaucoma, the nausea of chemotherapy, relieves pain without the side effects of NSAIDs, relieves muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, reduces or stops seizures, relieves symptoms of Crohn's disease.  Those from out of state are called “medical refugees” by some because they come from states where no type of marijuana use is permitted, no matter how beneficial.

What success did Prohibition have? Alcohol was vilified by so many a century ago that its use eventually became prohibited by the 18th amendment. Al Capone could not have been more pleased; he made $Millions, and people died. It created a subculture. Bootlegged liquor was directly responsible for killing many people because it was often made with tainted alcohol -with no legal access there were no governmental regulations for its manufacture. The government even made producers of legal industrial ethyl alcohol poison it with various substances, resulting in “denatured” alcohol which got into the bootlegging business. There was a reduction in alcohol consumption during prohibition, but nothing like what its proponents hoped for. Some estimates are that at best, 40% less alcohol was consumed, and not even that for much of the time period before repeal.

Marijuana prohibition is not responsible for nearly as much crime (if Bonnie and Clyde had toked they might have ended up happy and unknown) but because of its position in the illegal drug hierarchy it did serve as a gateway to more serious crime. Legalization removes that status.

This could turn out to be a “grand experiment” in an opposite sense of that of prohibition, and then it would be up for illegalization again. However, with so many heinous drugs out there (anyone watch Breaking Bad?) one result might be to let law enforcement turn their attention to those other areas of drug abuse. Maybe we’ll find some of them would become less odious if they were decriminalized and the money that would have been spent on incarceration applied toward treatment programs for the abusers. Poverty could be reduced if there were more access to treatment that could help people become or remain productive taxpaying citizens rather than be incarcerated.

Could we, perhaps, build the citizenry up instead of throwing it in jail?

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