Opinion: Legalize Pot Without Legitimizing It

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jun 1, 2002.

  1. By Elizabeth Hovde, Columbian Staff Writer
    Source: Columbian

    Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, a Republican, was in Portland last week, offering the many compelling reasons to legalize marijuana. I am on his side, for the most part.
    It is an odd side for conservatives to be on. Two weeks ago, when I mentioned my support for legalizing marijuana haphazardly and without context in a column about library Internet policies, several people wrote or commented to me that they were perplexed.

    Pro-legalizers have different motivations to be sure. Johnson told me that his are primarily cost motivated. That should be no surprise coming from a governor who came to reign straight from a business background and who claims more than 750 vetoes since he's been in office.

    Johnson hates new laws and the idea of regulating every human behavior. He thinks criminalizing marijuana use is about as ridiculous as the proposal he once saw to require pole vaulters to wear helmets or the proposed law that would have required pet store owners to exercise dogs and cats according to legal guidelines. He joked about the creation of an animal fitness law enforcement division.

    Johnson's cost-effective motivation is hard to argue. Of the 1.6 million Americans arrested on drug charges each year, Johnson says, 800,000 are for marijuana. Marijuana doesn't kill people, and it is certainlynot any worse on the body than tobacco or alcohol, which are legal and overused to the point of death and disease. Catching and incarcerating drug users is costing society a lot more than it would to offer voluntary rehab. Few argue this. People overdosing or causing lost productivity will do so whether drugs are legal or illegal. Without the fear of criminalization, it is even quite possible that more people would come forward to get help.

    Johnson doesn't buy the idea that legalizing marijuana would increase the number of drug users and neither do I. As he put it, "how much more can use go up from 80 million Americans?" With half of high school seniors saying they have tried illegal drugs, he joked, "we should be telling kids to do drugs," we'd get better results. As for marijuana being a gateway drug? Johnson quips, "Beer didn't lead to Everclear."

    Bottom line, Johnson says, make drugs legal for adults (not kids). Keep it criminal to deal to minors. And start treating drug use like the health problem it is just like alcohol and tobacco use. And what to say to kids? The truth: Drugs destroy. Just like alcohol and just like tobacco. Don't use 'em.

    Marketplace can help

    I believe there is even greater hope for legalizing marijuana than simply a decrease in the prison population and cost savings for those of us stuck paying drug users' way. Marijuana warriors can be diverted to other tasks. The FBI this week announced it was shifting 480 agents on drug and other criminal investigations to counterterrorism posts. Whether that is a good reallocation or not, clearly there are many law enforcers stuck fighting losing drug battles when they could be better protecting homes, families and communities in various ways.

    The drug war has not been won through criminalization, treatment is more effective for those who want it than jail, and I believe the marketplace is better equipped to handle potheads than the law. Insurance companies should charge more for those who do drugs or partake in other high-risk activities. Employers should be able to fire any employee who comes to work stoned, just as they fire drunks. Drug use is not a selling point. Let the marketplace teach users that lesson.

    Legalizing pot should happen today. We should then watch the results to consider legalization of deadly drugs such as cocaine, meth and heroin.

    At no point, however, should we adopt Johnson's plans to actually assist drug users in their habit.

    He believes, as many legalizers do, that harm-reduction strategies such as needle exchange programs and provision of maintenance drugs should accompany legalization. He argues this again on cost-effectiveness grounds. I say that this is where society can afford to be less cost-concerned.

    Government should certainly not accommodate drug use. If junkies choose to be junkies and refuse treatment when offered, they must suffer the consequences of poor health decisions. Handing a heroin user a needle is no more compassionate than supplying johns to prostitutes.

    We can legalize marijuana, while continuing to send the message that drugs are a horrible danger and waste of time. The current drug war proves we have nothing to lose.

    Source: Columbian, The (WA)
    Author: Elizabeth Hovde, Columbian Staff Writer
    Published: Thursday, May 30, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 The Columbian Publishing Co.
    Contact: editors@columbian.com
    Website: http://www.columbian.com/

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