Every now and then, the clouds of clutter in one’s mind part to allow a moment of clarity. Mine came recently on the way home from a vacation in Cancun, Mexico. I suppose my mind was relatively clear after a week of the beach, no TV, and a complete avoidance of all unwanted stimuli. Even for someone like me, who’s confronted with the contradictions of marijuana policy on a daily basis, a simple experience can sometimes crystallize the sheer idiocy of the war on cannabis.
After passing through airport security, I was doing the usual slog to the gate. Ahead, a sparkling duty-free shop beckoned passengers. It’s not like I could avoid it; the path to the gate was purposely designed to pass through it.
And, guess what? Just a few yards later – in case you didn’t make a purchase at the first shop – passengers pass through another one.
A "duty" is a tax or fee placed on goods by the government. Merchants who import goods and sell them to consumers who are leaving their country aren't charged a duty on these products. Duty-free shopping offers international travelers a way to save money perfume and jewelry. It also allows them to stock up on booze and cigarettes at a greatly reduced price.
Which brings me to my moment of clarity. The shops in Cancun aren’t little airport boutiques. They’re bright, shiny supermarkets, featuring shelves stocked to the ceiling with dangerous, legal merchandise, products that are endorsed by governments around the world.
And it’s not like governments are ignorant of the risk for consumers. According to the World Health Organization’s “Global status report on alcohol and health 2014,” 3.3 million people died worldwide in 2012 from all harmful uses of hooch, a figure that’s considerably higher than the 2.5 million booze-related deaths tallied in a similar 2011 WHO report. Alcohol contributes to over 200 maladies, including cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease and some cancers. Plus, liquor can lead to death due to violence and accidents. And, of course, let's not forget traffic fatalities, where over 10,000 lose their lives annually.
Cigarettes? Well, in the US alone, nearly a half-million deaths can be attributed to smoking and tobacco use annually.
So, if a government is aware of these stats, why would it ignore its responsibility to protect its citizens – remaining “duty-free,” if you will?
As always, it follow the money. In 2009 alone, US states reaped a combined $15,753,355,199 in tax revenue, while the feds raked in $8,512,263,000. States collect another $6 billion in alcohol taxes.
But cannabis is the substance that is vigorously vilified, smeared as a plague on society, despite the fact that it has revealed itself as legitimate medicine and a benign recreational substance. Is it too outlandish to envision future duty-free shops that sell cannabis? Is it too far-fetched to believe that, some day, tax revenue will flow from the sale of a safe substance, rather than those that imperil our health?
More personally, while chilling on the beach, I was surrounded by tourists drowning themselves in unlimited, all-inclusive access to alcohol. I, unfortunately, was forced to hike a quarter-mile down the beach to sneak a few illegal tokes.
We still got a long way to go, folks.