October 15th, 2009
Why the debate over marijuana legalization should not be about tax revenue.
by Richard Markosian & Rebecca Edwards
Fueled by mounting government deficits, the conversation about legalizing marijuana has gained renewed momentum across the country. Cited as a potential revenue source as well as a way to save money, the long-debated herb may soon see its day of liberation.
The war on drugs has resulted in thousands of marijuana users being thrown into jail. This battle costs our judicial, public safety, DEA and penitentiary systems billions of dollars: money that could be spent catching real criminals who deal in much more harmful drugs like crystal meth.
In Utah, where methamphetamine is the leading illicit drug threat, money used to track down, prosecute and punish marijuana users could be rerouted into the fight against meth. In addition, the war on drugs seems to have had little impact on the use and trade of marijuana. While many cite pot as a "gateway drug" to harder substances like meth, a large percentage of regular marijuana users do not use other illegal drugs. Add the proven medical benefits, and it seems, on many levels, that de-criminalizing pot and taxing its sale and distribution may do more good than the current crack-down on the drug.
Taxing sin is a favorite practice of the feds. If marijuana were legal, the government could gain a huge amount of tax revenue, but the real benefit would be to stop the flow of illegal commerce -- not to mention the billions of dollars it takes to monitor and enforce marijuana's illegal status. Criminalization has not kept those who want to toke from toking -- but it has kept their money out of US hands and in those of international drug cartels and narco-terrorists.
While there is no doubt that long-term marijuana use can lead to problems similar to long-term tobacco use, there is little evidence to prove that it is more dangerous. Other than inducing the same dangers associated with alcohol consumption when driving a vehicle, it is hard to justify the harsh treatment and regulation of this "kind" plant. Indeed, even ultra-conservatives such as Governor Schwarzenegger in California seem willing to admit that the current approach to marijuana control has not been effective -- and preliminary research does not indicate that legalization would lead to drastic growth in users.
Some activists are pushing for legalization in Utah as a gateway for less conservative states. They believe that if Utah can embrace "the herb," then the rest of the country can't be far behind.
Money Doesn't Mitigate The Dangers of Pot
The dangers of marijuana cannot be overlooked in the name of the almighty dollar. Not only is pot a mind- and mood-altering substance, but its impact and consumption is more difficult to regulate than alcohol and for decades has been reported as the first step on the road to harder drugs.
When it comes to regulating intake and effect of marijuana, it is virtually impossible, as everyone reacts to it differently and to a different degree, not to mention the varying potency of the drug itself. Keeping the roads safe from drunk drivers is difficult enough, but choosing to add the danger of stoned drivers seems insane.
It is also hard to ignore the fact that nearly everyone who becomes involved with hard drugs began with what seemed an innocent experimentation with marijuana. Pot is the least scary drug to try, and once someone dips their toe in the pool, it is that much easier to dive in.
Looking at an illegal drug to cure our nation's economic woes is naïve and desperate. The money it would take to legalize and regulate the drug would more than likely eat up all potential tax benefits -- regardless ofthe socially irresponsible consequences of such a decision.
The Center of the Debate over Marijuana Legalization
The debate over marijuana legalization should not be over whether it could be a cure to our economic woes. Mississippi and Louisiana --among several other states with poor economies -- legalized casino gambling and justified their decision by speaking of the great tax revenue benefits. Allowing vice to become more prevelant in the name of tax revenue, preys on the weak and the poor. Utah has managed quite well despite not allowing even a state lotto.
The debate over marijuana legalization should instead be about personal liberty and ending the cash flow that is currently funding the Mexican drug cartel and narco-terrorism. Policy makers should ask themselves: are marijuana users --who have no intent to sell -- criminals who deserve to spend years in prison? The answer is no. Most of the pot heads I've known over the years are moral people. Even if they were required to pay more for legal pot (that doesn't fund the Mexican drug lords) I believe they would, and both the United States and Mexico would be better off for it.
What's your opinion on marijuana legalization? Tell us using the form below.
Money Doesn't Mitigate The Dangers of Pot- I just have to comment on the statement "Keeping the roads safe from drunk drivers is difficult enough, but choosing to add the danger of stoned drivers seems insane." im sorry but whether or not weed is legalized or just decriminalized people will still drive high, just as people everyday drive drunk. i myself use marijuana like most would use over the counter or prescription medication, to help a headache, nausea, insomnia. Americans abuse prescripton medication either consiously knowing or not that they have built a dependance to it. Marijuana is not a "stepping stone" the problem is that growing up as children are going through the anti drug programs and being told by parents "marijuana is as bad as meth." Once the person has their marijuana experience they see "oh this really isnt as bad as anyone says it is you actually still have the ability to have your motor functions and work, unlike the effects of alchohol." So it the fact they try it and its somewhat similar to aclhohol so they think the drugs marijuana is compared to cant be "that bad." Pot isnt the stepping stone its the misinformation that weed is "just as bad as meth or herion" so people experiment with the "just as bad's". Marijuana has been around for thousands of years people have not stopped people are not going to stop, legizagtion may not be the best option, but with decriminalization of marijuana you would still be able to maintain policy on hard drugs while reducing the punishments for pot.
Read the introduction to the October issue of Utah Stories Angels and Demons -- the demons that are protecting us and the angels who will kill you.
Read articles from our previous issue:
Rage Against Bad Food and TV: Meet Amy Thompson, the Progressive Pioneer