Legalizing marijuana would save money, improve lives

For politicians, abandoning a costly, ineffective program is a lot like retreating in the face of battle. They would rather suffer a crushing and decisive defeat than regroup, change strategy and live to fight another day. This is especially true of the federal government’s expensive and inefficient war on marijuana.

It goes without saying that there is an obvious monetary cost to running such a war. It comes complete with government-funded combatants (drug enforcement agents), as well as prisoners-of-war (convicted drug users) that need to be housed.

The police are funded billions of dollars annually to protect us from marijuana use while that money could be used to benefit their other protective work, such as catching rapists, thieves and murderers.

In addition to the money, resources such as equipment and personnel are funneled into this war on drugs when they could be used elsewhere.

After all, we are also involved in a war on terror. Departments around the country are scrambling to meet requirements and investing tax dollars and training hours to ensure that they will be prepared and effective in case of a true emergency.

A new war has been declared, but the needed capital is difficult to find with our economy on shaky ground.

Much of that capital is diverted to the convicted drug offenders that we have been forced to house. It costs thousands of dollars in food, energy and personnel to keep these criminals behind bars. This is in addition to the money it initially costs to arrest and try them.

Furthermore, after these criminals are freed, they find themselves without the means to support themselves. They have a conviction on their record, which keeps them from being hired.

Suddenly, the ex-convict finds himself in a worse place than where he started. Now, he is either reliant on government funding in the form of welfare or he must return to the battlefield, armed with dime bags and crack vials in order to make a living.

Not only do the costs fail to justify this war, but the rationale behind it is lacking as well. Most convicted drug offenders are not given any rehabilitation and are still addicted, leaving prison with a need for their fix.

This is not the case with marijuana users, however. Studies have shown that at least one-third of Americans age 12 and older has used marijuana at least once. And those studies don’t even include the past two presidents of the United States!

Given this, it isn’t surprising that those charged with fighting this war aren’t too thrilled about it. In a 2004 study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., 300 police chiefs were interviewed on the subject of the war on drugs.

Two-thirds believe that the war on drugs is ineffective and almost as many (61 percent) feel that incarceration is not the answer.

If the soldiers on the front line recognize the need for change, why don’t the politicians?

Perhaps politicians feel they have a duty to protect us from marijuana use, just as they felt they had a duty to protect us from alcohol use in the 1920s.

As we have seen by the passage of the 21st Amendment, alcohol prohibition did not work. Most of the population resorted to smuggled or homemade alcohol, so consumption and drunkenness were still problems.

Furthermore, since alcohol was illegal, it was not regulated. There were no minimum standards for safety. When prohibition was repealed, gang activity diminished. The turf wars over alcohol distribution “rights” ended. Alcohol use was then taxed, which forced citizens to pay for their vices and provided a source of revenue.

Logically, it would follow that a similar situation would occur after the marijuana prohibition is lifted. Production facilities would need to meet a minimum safety standard, so the form sold to the consumer would not be laced with another drug.

This is a safeguard one cannot find on the street.

It would also follow that there would be fewer gang disputes, because one market will have been removed from the hands of gang leaders and put into the hands of the government.

Finally, following the cases of alcohol and tobacco, marijuana would be taxed, which would provide additional revenue.

With marijuana a legal substance, researchers would be granted the ability to truly study the effects of the drug. Patients who use marijuana for medical reasons do not know the risks of the drug. It might be safer than cigarettes, or it might be more dangerous than breathing asbestos fibers.

Unfortunately, not enough research has been done either way. Even the potential research benefits should be enough of a reason to lift prohibition.

Politicians have long used the argument against marijuana and other vices (prostitution, gambling, other drugs) that we, the citizens, are being protected against ourselves.

However, if that truly is the reason, why is only marijuana banned?

Alcohol is the direct cause of more crime, in the forms of assault and property damage, than any other single substance.

Tobacco has been linked to a number of cancers, as well as other diseases, with fewer beneficial side effects than alcohol (possible cancer protection) and marijuana (possible glaucoma treatment). So, why are these “cancer sticks” not banned?

The answer is that they offer sizable government revenue in the form of taxation. Why not do the same for marijuana?

If politicians are looking for a positive to campaign on, they might want to consider the drop in the crime rate that would come with legalization.

Illegal drugs only cause crime because they are designated illegal. The mere act of using the drugs is a crime.

Additionally, because the entire market is taboo, individual dealers often have no qualms about resorting to violence to protect their territory.

To ensure that their benefit (in terms of profit) outweighs the risk of incarceration, prices are artificially inflated. The consumer, in turn, resorts to theft to finance the habit.

None of these crimes, however, are caused directly by using the drug itself, only the illegal environment in which it exists.

The generals of this war, mostly educated politicians, need to take an honest look at its progress so far. They should consider a strategy that is more cost-effective, both fiscally and socially.

Prohibition needs to be dropped in favor of regulation. In other words, it’s time to retreat.