We were both surprised and encouraged by last week’s announcement from the Department of Justice that it will respect state laws regulating the use of marijuana. The decision is a welcome move which recognizes the costly and futile federal prohibition against pot.
The Department of Justice stated Aug. 29 that even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the agency won’t move to block state marijuana laws or prosecute as long as states create strict and effective controls.
Rules which states must follow to avoid federal involvement include age restrictions, preventing black market sales and outlawing use while driving or using firearms. Generally, these would be the same laws which apply to the sale and use of alcohol.
The policy memo came after voters in Colorado and Washington passed ground-breaking laws to allow recreational pot use. It follows similar agency statements in recent years which have laid the foundation for medical marijuana systems across the country.
After 75 years of federal marijuana prohibition, it is readily apparent that banning the drug hasn’t curbed its use. This isn’t to say that there aren’t drugs out there with effects so terrible that they should never be accepted by society. There are many such drugs. However, the financial and human costs created by outlawing marijuana is disproportional to any supposed benefits.
As with our nation’s flirtation with alcohol prohibition, the ban on marijuana has created a black market which funds criminal organizations ranging from international cartels to street gangs. Selling pot provides massive amounts of cash for these groups to purchase weaponry to battle rivals, the police and even kill innocent civilians who get in the way.
Efforts to stem the tide of drugs has cost billions in tax dollars. Going after marijuana distributers and users diverts law enforcement resources away from other crimes, including violent ones. Prosecuting drug offenders further clogs an already overburdened court system. Incarcerating dealers and users fills up prisons which can result in overcrowding to the point where even perpetrators of more harmful crimes are released early to free up space.
The benefits of allowing states to regulate marijuana are obvious. Not only would this allow police and prosecutors more time to pursue violent offenders and rob organized crime of a vital source of funding, it would create domestic jobs growing and distributing marijuana. Also, let’s not forget taxes. The sky is the limit on the taxes states could impose.
Using cigarettes as an example, we could easily envision taxes equal to — or possibly even more than — the sales price.
We recognize that allowing recreational pot use is not without its problems, but the damage caused by prohibition has proven to be far more burdensome. With an ineffective 75-year track record, it’s time to abandon this costly misadventure and embrace a sensible policy toward marijuana use.