A Truce in the Drug War?

Time magazine has an interesting article on their website. It’s all about a bill being introduced in California that would legalize marijuana, tax it and regulate it.

I think it’s a dandy idea whose time came long, long ago. People are going to use pot regardless of the laws. Right now, it’s probably easier for kids to get their hands on weed than it is to get their hands on booze, since few drug dealers card people for their sales.

Another nice benefit is the financial one, which is the official reason for this bill being introduced. California has over $14 billion in marijuana sales each year. If they taxed that at 20%, that’d be $2.8 billion. Not too shabby! Of course, the price per ounce would likely drop, so it probably wouldn’t be $14 billion anymore. But it would likely still be a pretty large sum of money.

This stuff is not good for you, but that's your problem, not mine.

This stuff is not good for you, but that's your problem, not mine.

Of course not everyone is into this idea. Some people think it’s more important to be paternalistic than it is to grant people freedom. Check this quote from the article:

Despite the need for the projected revenue, opponents say legalizing pot would only add to social woes. “The last thing we need is yet another mind-altering substance to be legalized,” says John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers’ Association. “We have enough problems with alcohol and abuse of pharmaceutical products. Do we really need to add yet another mind-altering substance to the array?” Lovell says the easy availability of the drug would lead to a surge in its use, much as happened when alcohol was allowed to be sold in venues other than liquor stores in some states.

Ok, but people are already using this stuff. They use it in droves. And while some people would start buying more as soon as it was legal, a: that would likely not last long, cause once it sank in that they could buy it whenever they wanted, they’d not be buying so much at once, and b: other people, like me, who don’t use the stuff and don’t want to, won’t buy it at all.

Also, I’m pretty sure most stoners aren’t going to be the problem for law enforcement that, say, drunks are. If you’re stoned, you’re not likely to get off the ratty old couch you have in the basement and go do much of anything, much less anything illegal.

Joel W. Hay, professor of pharmaceutical economics at USC, also foresees harm if the bill passes. “Marijuana is a drug that clouds people’s judgment. It affects their ability to concentrate and react, and it certainly has impacts on third parties,” says Hay, who has written on the societal costs of drug abuse. “It’s one more drug that will add to the toll on society. All we have to do is look at the two legalized drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and look at the carnage that they’ve caused. [Marijuana] is a dangerous drug, and it causes bad outcomes for both the people who use it and for the people who are in their way at work or other activities.” He adds, “There are probably some responsible people who can handle marijuana, but there are lots of people who can’t, and it has an enormous negative impact on them, their family and loved ones.”

Marijuana already has a toll it takes on society, but right now that toll is taken with no benefit to our economy, and the current laws turn users into criminals, increasing the expense to the criminal justice system. Right now our laws cost us money instead of making us money. This is not even addressing the fact that I don’t want the government removing people’s freedom to do as they wish with their own bodies under the pretext of saving them, their family and loved ones from emotional harm. That isn’t the government’s job.

While we’re at it, let me also address some points in an article by Dr Sanjay Gupta. He’s against legalization and has quite a bit to say about it. Some highlights:

What do voters need to know before going to the polls?

The first is that marijuana isn’t really very good for you.

Well, duh. Also, not really relevant. Tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt, lazing about and not getting exercise, fast-food, sky-diving and many, many other completely legal things aren’t really all that good for you. But we allow them in the interest of freedom and personal choice.

What are other health consequences? Frequent marijuana use can seriously affect your short-term memory. It can impair your cognitive ability (why do you think people call it dope?) and lead to long-lasting depression or anxiety. While many people smoke marijuana to relax, it can have the opposite effect on frequent users. And smoking anything, whether it’s tobacco or marijuana, can seriously damage your lung tissue.

Ok, but so what? As long as we allow tobacco to be consumed by smoking, we have no moral grounds to ban smoking anything else people want to smoke on the basis of possible lung cancer.

But I’m here to tell you, as a doctor, that despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do your health any good.

Unless, of course, you suffer from one of the many illnesses he mentions earlier in the article where there appears to be some possible benefits.

And if you get high before climbing behind the wheel of a car, you will be putting yourself and those around you in danger.

Very true. People should not drive drunk, stoned, fatigued, stressed or in any other mental state that can impair their functioning. I’m pretty sure we have laws on the books to cover this already, however, and besides, how many stoners want to go driving while under the influence? Most just want to sit back, eat Pop Tarts and listen to The Who while making the sort of philosophical statements that make The Matrix look deep.

Bottom line: people are going to smoke pot regardless of the laws. Why don’t we legalize it so we can at least regulate the sales and derive some benefit to the economy?


2 Responses to “A Truce in the Drug War?”

  1. egghead Says:

    I think it maybe too late to legalize marijuana, it’s a full blown “industry” and no one wants to pay taxes on it. Better still, most would choose to grow their own small plant or two, and who’s going to police all of that?

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