How what happened in Colorado and Washington will push America forward
“To put this into historical context, there is no historical context. It’s the first time any state has ever voted to legalize marijuana—and two of them did it.”
Amendment 64 in Colorado will allow people over 21 to grow up to six mature plants, carry up to one ounce and give one ounce as a gift to others. It also creates a regulatory system at the state and local levels for both production and sales.
Initiative 502 in Washington legalized the use and one ounce possession for those over 21, although personal “grows” of unlicensed cannabis will remain illegal except for medical cannabis. Revenue from taxes will go to substance abuse and education initiatives.
853,838 people were arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2010. Of those, 88% were arrested for possession only. As discussed in Ballots Behind Bars, many jails throughout America have essentially become recidivism factories. The same people are coming in, staying a few days and coming back out and they are doing so often under horrible conditions because of jail overcapacity. Ask any local police officer and they’ll tell you that a large percentage of the arrests they make are of people they’ve already arrested. Our prison system faces similar problems but to far greater extremes. Hundreds of thousands of people are spending considerable portions of their lives incarcerated (10 years or more in some instances) due to the selling or possession of marijuana. These “criminals” often suffer the myriad problems of institutionalization while inside and then stigmatization once outside. This can make it difficult for them to be reintegrated back into society, and quite a few of them then turn to more serious crimes as a way to make ends meet. This gross misuse of law, some good intentions there may be, actually has the potential to turn noncriminals into criminals. This all ties into…
Of course there is talk about how the government can make millions and in some cases billions from the taxation of marijuana, but there are other money matters to take into account. Take, for instance, that it costs $30,000 per year to house an inmate. On top of this, that inmate is not contributing to society through making money, buying things and being taxed on the buying of things. Another layer to this comes via the police officer mentioned above who devotes a few days of his week tracking down those who may be selling or in possession of marijuana. Much of that officer’s working energy is therefore entirely inefficient in preventing serious crimes and, remember, much of their salary is paid through city and state taxes. The final layer is this: in the past 30 years we have spent an estimated 600 billion (let these zeros sink in: $600,000,000,000) on the “War on Drugs,” much of which has been spent combating marijuana not only domestically but internationally. We fly helicopters and airplanes into faraway lands to get to the growers and, save for a few positives, every passing second means wasted American dollars.
The Big Picture
Although only two states officially legalized marijuana, it’s important to recognize that prohibition recall also happened at the state level first. The general public made a serious statement that this topic is far larger than the hippy/bohemian issue critics often make it out to be. The legalization of marijuana will provide major benefits for our struggling economy and our crippled criminal justice system–areas that must be improved if we are to continue moving forward as a nation.
Photo: Ed Andrieski AP