Last May, Vermont Governor Phil Scott vetoed a bill to legalize marijuana in his state because the legislation didn’t protect minors or sufficiently address highway safety. Scott remarked that he’d still like the state to be the first to legalize marijuana through a legislative act, but just wanted to “move a little bit slower.”
One of the most outspoken opponents of legalization is Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which recently published a critique of the Justice Department’s hands-off approach to state legalization (also known as the Cole Memo.)
SAM claims that legalization has increased drugged driving crashes and youth marijuana use. Also, the black market continues to thrive, alcohol sales have not diminished and these states still have budget problems—in other words, SAM claims that the legalization was based on empty promises that have failed to materialize.
Indeed, this is the theme of their opposition to legalization.
The Cole Memo established eight guidelines that federal prosecutors should use in exercising their discretion to enforce federal marijuana laws in legalization states. SAM produces evidence to argue that the situation in legalized states violates every one of these guidelines, thus they argue for federal intervention to shut down the marijuana industry:
“Federal resources should target the big players in the marijuana industry. Individual marijuana users should not be targeted or arrested, but large-scale marijuana businesses, several of which now boast of having raised over $100 million in capital, and their financial backers, should be a priority. These large businesses are pocketing millions by flouting federal law, deceiving Americans about the risks of their products, and targeting the most vulnerable. They should not have access to banks, where their financial prowess would be expanded significantly, nor should they be able to advertise or commercialize marijuana.”
SAM argues that the marijuana industry “combines the tactics of Big Tobacco with black marketeering” and otherwise engages in “deceitful practices.”
The strategy of pot legalization opponents used to be that marijuana was a horribly dangerous drug, the old assassin of youth routine, and that legalization was unthinkable.
Now, they face a formidable problem. Not only are people thinking about legalization, it has actually taken place in many states and is soon to be enacted in several more.
This has led to a new strategy for pot legalization opponents, and the new strategy has two forms.
The first is the go-slow approach: as in, maybe this is a good idea, but we ought to be careful. This is a watered-down version of the assassin of youth refrain—that marijuana is a dangerous substance that must be addressed with extreme caution.
The second form is that advanced by SAM, arguing that any legalization produces a horribly dangerous marijuana industry.
Public policy is a complex endeavor, and all public policies must be subjected to evaluation and analysis.
Are they effective? Are they as effective as they were supposed to be when they were adopted? How can they be improved?
These are all reasonable and, indeed, desirable questions.
And yet many public policies are flawed; they don’t quite accomplish what they are supposed to do. This is the case with lots of public policies.
The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program is notorious for lacking research findings that it is effective, yet remains popular in many jurisdictions. Sex offender registries remain popular with the public, even though there is little to no research indicating they fulfill their intended purpose of reducing sexual offending. These are just two examples, there are lots of public policies that are partially effective, or otherwise successful but not perfect and/or not working the way they were designed to work.
Marijuana legalization is working, however, in that it provides a legal market for marijuana and protects marijuana users from arrest. Interestingly, most opponents of legalization today endorse the idea that individual marijuana consumers should not be arrested.
Pot legalization opponents are in a state of denial.
There is no middle ground between prohibition and legalization. Marijuana is either legal or illegal. Those are really the only options available these days.
For marijuana users to be protected from arrest, there must be a legal market. If someone can legally use marijuana, they must be able to purchase it legally—not to mention grow their own.
There are legitimate issues associated with regulating the new marijuana industry. These will not be addressed by banning it. The problems associated with an illegal marijuana industry are far worse and more damaging to the public interest—look at the history of prohibition.
The effective way to address regulatory issues for the marijuana industry is the traditional way—through public policy and citizen engagement. The country needs to legalize marijuana throughout the nation, and consumers need to be engaged in the public policy process to monitor and regulate the industry.
Here is something else.
Any other approach simply perpetuates a double-standard that denies marijuana consumers equal protection under the law.
How far will pot legalization opponents go to deny addressing this fundamental aspect of American society? Far enough to criminalize marijuana use and sales? Wait a minute, they already tried that… and frankly, for all their disingenuousness, that’s what they continue to advocate. They are living in a fantasy land if they think Americans will accept that.
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