The Massachusetts Association for School Superintendents has decided to oppose a fall ballot measure to legalize marijuana because, “where marijuana is legal, we see increased use and abuse by young people.”
They really haven’t thought this through… and, frankly, they have a lot of company here.
Supporters of the legalization effort have responded to this claim in a calm, reasoned manner.
“We think the more dangerous market is the one that exists today—where drug dealers don’t ask for IDs,” says Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts.
The citizens of Massachusetts will sort this out and will most likely reach a reasonable and informed decision about legalization this fall when they vote.
But there is a widespread argument against legalizing marijuana based on the assumption that the current illegal market is better public policy than any sort of legal market. Any time someone argues that marijuana should remain illegal because more people will use it if it is legal, they are making this argument—illegality is better than legality.
It’s time to address this stupid claim head-on. Because, really, it is stupid, and perhaps even worse, it is corrupt. Really, really corrupt.
Usually the response of legalization supporters consists of comparing a proposed legal market with the current illegal market, touting the benefits of taxation, age limits and other regulatory measures. It’s a sound argument, the kind of argument that should be the basis for calm and reasoned discussion about public issues. That’s fine, not only fine but admirable.
But it misses an important point.
Since when has it become acceptable to outsource public policy objectives to criminals working outside the law? That’s stupid, and this can’t be said enough, corrupt.
Let’s apply this principle to other public policy issues. Consider whether these scenarios are acceptable or not. (They aren’t.)
The banking system can’t supply credit to enough people—so let’s encourage loan sharks to pick up the slack with criminally high interest rates and violent collection methods. Some people want to discourage abortions—so let’s outlaw them and force women who want abortions to endanger their lives through access to clandestine and unregulated medical practices. Our civil rights values require respect and tolerance, but some folks are afraid of Muslims, gays and immigrants—so let’s encourage vigilante groups to make violent attacks on such people to intimidate them. These are all extreme and obviously unacceptable scenarios, but at one time or another in American history, these were all seen as practical solutions to public policy problems for which the public did not wish to take responsibility.
The issue of credit availability gave rise to loans from organized crime during the 1930s, prohibition of abortions was a policy before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the 1970s and vigilante justice has plagued America throughout its history and challenges the country even today.
It’s become a popular approach to downsizing government by advocating the privatization of public services. Northern Virginia has a toll road (the Dulles Greenway) that was built by a private firm because the state was too cheap to build it, and in exchange for this “saving” of public funds, the private firm collects tolls and is free to increase them as their profit expectations require.
Privately run jails and prisons have become popular in recent years, based on the assumption that private firms can operate such facilities more efficiently. In fact, the only way this can be accomplished is to reduce or eliminate valuable rehabilitative programs. Privatization is a complex issue, and in truth, has both costs and benefits worthy of the same kind of rational debate that marijuana legalization advocates seek to apply to the issue of whether a legal market is better than an illegal market. But privatization invokes questions about the public interest, and presents issues that the public interest will be compromised in favor of private or personal gain.
There remains a simple truth here that legalization opponents should be required to face. They advocate privatizing the marijuana industry by outsourcing it to criminal organizations. They argue that this is superior public policy.
Prohibition advocates are in a de facto conspiracy with criminals to prevent legal markets from replacing illegal markets. They argue that criminal markets reduce use by keeping prices high, and now, they argue that criminal markets do a better job than legal markets at reducing teenage use. It’s a win-win proposition for them—they don’t want to admit they were wrong to criminalize marijuana and criminal organizations get to continue ripping off marijuana users with high prices. Pretty smart for prohibitionists and criminals.
But we have another word for that—it’s corruption. Corrupt public policies are stupid.
One would think that an association of school superintendents would have the smarts to figure this out. But legalization advocates are patient, they’ll keep on with the rational arguments, and they will eventually get the point across.
(Photo Courtesy of Reddit)