One of the great things about the American political system is that it is designed on the premise that no faction can be the judge of their own cause. More precisely, here is how James Madison explained this in an essay (#10) in the Federalist Papers: “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.”
In other words, politics is often about self-interest.
The self-interest of many people supporting the legalization of cannabis is obvious. They like cannabis, want to buy it legally,and don’t want to be subject to criminal sanctions for growing, selling or using it.
Now, what’s the motivation for the alcohol industry and manufacturers of opiate pain medication to oppose the legalization of cannabis? Self-interest, of course.
If people can use cannabis legally, they will use less alcohol. If people can use cannabis legally, they will not require opiate medication as often for pain relief. There is all sorts of data that can be examined in support of either claim, including data on the pharmacological activity and relative safety of each of these three drugs. But the important issue here is that some folks who sell alcohol and others who sell opiate pills believe it is in their self-interest to keep cannabis illegal.
These confessional acts are brought out by the genius of the American political system, which brings clarity to otherwise chaotic claims about what is in the public interest and what is not. The political process transforms an abstract discussion over public policy into a clear and vivid contest between competing interests, each with something to gain. The public can then weigh the arguments from either side, temper their perceptions with understanding of the self-interest motivating each faction and come to a decision.
This raw expression of self-interest is often lost in abstract discussions over drug policy.
It’s harder for the public to see who benefits and who pays the costs when prohibition is endorsed in legislative hearings. Often the money backing prohibition is obscured from public view. But in a political campaign, a lot more transparency is available.
Certainly the rhetorical excuses for supporting prohibition are repeated and recycled in campaigns against legalization initiatives. But equally certain is that the contributions to one side or another are just as transparent. The difference is that the backers of legalization are clear as to what they want and why they want it.
Legalization supporters are clear that they think they have the better public policy option, and they are also clear that they want to make money in a legal market. They also want to raise money for state and local government by way of providing a taxable industry to supplant and eventually replace the current industry tax-exempt free ride.
Supporters of prohibition want to continue the free-ride for the illegal market, but they refuse to admit this. They claim their position is better public policy, but they refuse to acknowledge that prohibition is better for them financially.
Prohibition artificially raises the cost of cannabis, which in turn makes alcohol and opiate pain killers more attractive—either in terms of cost, or access, or just because they are legal. Legal cannabis, at a cheaper price, becomes more competitive with other legal drugs. This is simple economics. It’s obvious. It’s transparent. And ultimately, it’s one of the best testimonials yet for why cannabis should be legal.
If the manufacturers of alcohol and opiate pain meds oppose cannabis legalization, then cannabis is obviously an attractive substitute for both products. That’s a pretty persuasive endorsement of cannabis and why it should be legalized.
Last week’s Pot Matters: These Days, ‘Wasted’ Has a Lot of Meanings