To this day, the sound of helicopters sends chills up my spine. I have to remind myself that they’re not coming for me, or my family. Now, as an adult who pretty much never breaks the law, cop cars, sirens, and ghetto birds shouldn’t leave me paralyzed in fear anymore. But when you grow up with a parent who grows and sells weed to supplement his salary as a used car dealer, being paranoid just comes with the territory.
My father always had a green thumb, and word of his fantastic bud quickly spread throughout San Diego’s used car industry. Middle aged car salesmen who had been burned by the American dream would come to our house in droves. They arrived looking like they were fighting a losing battle with their own lives, and leave looking relaxed, confident, and maybe even a tiny bit happy. If marijuana had been legal when I was a kid, my dad could have made an honest fortune. Instead, we lived in a constant state of fear, waiting for the day when that helicopter would shine its spotlight down into our backyard, and see my dad’s proud collection of 6 foot indica plants.
He was arrested on a Tuesday in Mississippi. Or Alabama. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere with 20 pounds on him. Since he had crossed state lines, he was charged with drug trafficking. We lost everything. And for what? The majority of Americans think marijuana should be legal, anyways.
My story is not unusual. If you include distribution-related charges, there is a pot-related arrest every 42 seconds in the U.S. Many argue that while police are busy chasing stoners, violent criminals are slipping through the cracks and literally getting away with murder.
A Lesson From Prohibition
If you stand with President Obama in thinking that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol, then viewing the criminalization of weed through the lense of Prohibition can reveal why we should make weed legal in America.
When the Volstead Act, prohibiting the sale and manufacture of alcohol went into effect on January 16th, 1920, the biggest gangsters in America were guzzling champagne by the bucketload, celebrating their new, (and very profitable) racket. Prohibition essentially deregulated the market for booze, and allowed organized crime syndicates to control distribution.
Contrary to the hopes and dreams of the temperance movement, Prohibition did absolutely nothing to make America sober up and lead good, Christian, law-abiding lives. What Prohibition did successfully do, was enable organized crime to flourish, and allow America’s most ruthless gangsters like Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein to accumulate vast amounts of wealth and power.
Aside from making dangerous criminals really powerful and rich, Prohibition also wreaked havoc on the economy. New York Times columnist, Garrett Peck discusses the damaging economic effects that Prohibition had on the U.S. economy in his recent article, “Lessons from Prohibition.” In it, he states,
“One of the crucial arguments for ending Prohibition was that the country desperately needed tax revenue during the Great Depression.”
He goes on to say, “Many states once again raised alcohol taxes during the recent recession – not because lawmakers considered alcohol sinful, but simply because states needed the revenue.”
In times of an economic downturn (like the one we’ve been struggling to get out of for the last 5 years), taxing booze is a surefire way to round up some much-needed cash. In fact, state and local economies are practically dependent on the revenue they make of taxing alcohol. So drink away, friends!
Not only did states lose money during Prohibition, but boozehounds also got really sick. When the government bodies aren’t there to create relegations surrounding the manufacturing and distribution of a substance, the black market takes over. Essentially quality control goes out the window. There was zero government-enforced oversight of alcohol production, which meant that people had no idea what they were really drinking. Was that a fine scotch, or just some sketchy moonshine that someone died brown in their backyard? Some sources estimate that “over 10,000 people died during Prohibition from drinking wood alcohol. Others who were not killed went permanently blind or had severe organ damage.” Yikes.
If we’ve learned anything from Prohibition, it’s that criminalizing a substance doesn’t stop people from using (or producing). In the end, the only folks who benefit from making substances like weed and alcohol illegal are the criminals who have the muscle to control distribution. For the user, the deregulated final product that contains god-knows-what only makes them sick (or worse). For the states struggling to come up with enough revenue to pay their teachers, taking away something which generates the kind of tax revenue that alcohol did, only made us poorer.
Which scenario do you prefer? Kind of makes you wonder what tax revenue from legal marijuana sales would do for state budgets.
Why Latin Leaders Are Pushing For Legalization
For years, key Latin American leaders have argued that legalization is the only way to end the devastating war on drugs. Here are just some of Latin America’s politicians who are tired of fighting a losing battle against the war on drugs, and are now speaking out in favor of legalization.
- Vicente Fox (Mexico)
Regarding recreational marijuana use becoming legal in Washington he said, “This state of Washington has decided to lead a new path. In Mexico we welcome this initiative because the cost of the war [against drug cartels] is becoming unbearable.”
- Otto Perez Molina (Guatemala)
Guatemala’s president has been trying to convince other Central American countries to legalize drugs ever since he took office.
“We’ve seen that when we capture a drug boss, cartels get reorganized and business continues. While there is demand in the United States, drug trafficking will continue here [in Latin America].”
- Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia)
For Columbia, the issue with drugs is a matter of national security. Fed up with the America’s approach, Santos has said,
“A new approach should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking… If that means legalising, and the world thinks that’s the solution, I will welcome it. I’m not against it.”
- Pepe Mujica (Uruguay)
Under his leadership, Uruguay officially legalized weed and The Economist named it 2013’s country of the year, saying,
“This is a change so obviously sensible, squeezing out the crooks and allowing the authorities to concentrate on graver crimes, that no other country has made it. If others followed suit, and other narcotics were included, the damage such drugs wreak on the world would be drastically reduced.”
Something to think about, right?
What’s Happening In Colorado
Voters in Colorado, for instance, (a state with an arrest rate well above the national average) has opted to explore legalization. While the U.S. certainly hasn’t gone as far as our friends in Uruguay and nationally legalized recreational marijuana use, we made huge strides in 2014, as Colorado became the first state to actually start selling weed to people without a prescription (and Washington isn’t far behind). So, now that marijuana has been legal in the centennial state for a full month, let’s see how things are going. . .
According to reports, the biggest issue that the citizens of Colorado have faced with their newfound weed smoking freedom is the long lines they have to wait in outside the dispensaries. Christian Science Monitor reports that “Tim Cullen, co-owner of Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, says his shop has had about 400 customers a day since Jan.1 – more than four times the 70 or 75 medical customers they were serving before that. When the shop opens at 8 a.m., there’s usually a line at least an hour long; at 5 p.m., the store hands out 80 numbers to the people remaining in line and sends everyone else home.”
Small business owners everywhere just got a little bit jealous.
The state of Colorado expects to bring in over $70 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales this year. Imagine if every state in the U.S. followed suit what that kind of money could do for our schools, infrastructure, and public services. Seriously, just think about it.