Cannabis has been legalized in Washington state and Colorado, causing apprehension among some on the right. Last August, Newt Gingrich said that general legalization would be a “huge mistake.” Chris Christie has long shown his disdain for medical marijuana, saying of a proposed law in its favor, “Here’s what the advocates want: They want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances.”
Emily Miller at the Washington Times wrote recently that activists are “totally uneducated’ about the “severe consequences” of smoking cannabis, writing that it is “simply a toxin” which is “more similar to heroin and cocaine than alcohol in how it affects the body.”
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum has been sounding the alarm about marijuana use for years. In a September column at CNN, he implied that cannabis is harmful, but he didn’t say why.
On the other side of the issue, a number of Republicans have stepped forward in favor of legalizing marijuana. Rush Limbaugh admits that he used cannabis during his recovery from opiate addiction and says that the legalization of marijuana is “a great issue” for the GOP. Pat Robertson is famously in favor of legalization, saying “this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”
In California, a majority now supports legalization, and a new law in favor of legalization is being floated. Now that support for legalization is rising nationwide, the right needs to ask itself: are we in support of legalization, or not?
The critics of marijuana legalization have trouble getting their arguments straight, and oppose it based on a visceral cultural revulsion, rather than science or reason. There is no scientific evidence that marijuana is “similar to heroin and cocaine.” If anything, it is more similar to caffeine — the effects rarely last longer than 2-3 hours, and are extremely mild. The majority of users use it only occasionally, and daily addicts — if true addiction is even possible, which seems doubtful due to the way that marijuana works in the brain — will be able to get it on the black market anyway.
Alcohol causes 75,000 deaths per year, cannabis causes zero.
Consider that cannabis is readily available everywhere, whether it is legal or not. Also, consider that proposals for cannabis legalization are on a state-by-state basis, so the legalization of cannabis in Colorado does not impact its legality in Idaho or Utah. So, any potential damage from the legalization of cannabis is restricted to the states in which it is legalized.
Traditional conservative values discourage the government from involvement in individual affairs and victimless crimes. The illegality of cannabis gives police an excuse to search vehicles, raid homes, and throw people in jail. Overall, cannabis laws facilitate greater government intervention into our private lives, whether we use it or not. People are shot and killed during marijuana raids that turn up nothing. In 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, Marine veteran and father of a 4-year-old Jose Guerena was shot and killed in a no-knock raid that led to a $3.4 million settlement without admission of wrongdoing.
Opposition to cannabis legalization is primarily driven by righteous indignation rather than assessment of objective harm. “If I don’t like it, and don’t use it, no one should.” Isn’t codifying personal indignation as ironclad law a failing of the nanny-state left? Do we need more excuses to extend the reach of the federal government and the police state?
Emily Miller writes that, with cannabis legalization, “You’re going to have […] a class of people that’s unemployable.” Daytime television and video games enable lazy people to be unemployable, should we make those illegal as well? If someone is too much of a loser to seek out gainful employment, they’re going to find ways to be lazy, marijuana or not.
More and more law enforcement officials are coming forward in favor of cannabis legalization, arguing that legalization would disempower gangs and bring the business into the sunlight, removing the criminal element. Federal judge Richard A. Posner, the most cited legal authority in America, has said “I don’t think we should have a fraction of the drug laws that we have” and “I think it’s really absurd to be criminalizing possession or use or distribution of marijuana. I can’t see any difference between that and cigarettes.”
Though the moral argument should be enough, it so happens that tax revenues from cannabis sales bring immense revenues to the state, as well. The first week of sales in Colorado topped $5 million, about half a million dollars of which will go to the state of Colorado. The state projects $600 million in total sales annually, bringing in $70 million in tax revenue. That means less fiscal pressure to introduce or maintain other forms of business-strangling taxation.
By allowing cannabis to remain illegal in most American states, we are handing billions of dollars over to gangs and other criminal elements, financing hundreds of thousands of drug dealer careers. In the vast majority of cases, cannabis use does not serve as a gateway to harder drugs, but it can often serve as a gateway for petty drug dealers to go into selling harder drugs. In California, the introduction of cannabis clubs has already killed street sales and taken the initiative away from street dealers.
No matter how distasteful you personally find cannabis, and whether you use it or not, you must accept that cannabis is a multi-billion dollar industry which is not going away. Some observers estimate cannabis is the number one cash crop in the United States. The value of the California crop alone is estimated at $13.8 billion. Cannabis is among the fastest-growing industries, and by some estimates will soon eclipse smartphone growth. The question is, do we want this massive economic sector to be headquartered in the alleyway, or in real brick-and-mortar businesses, regulated and sending tax dollars to the state? The choice is ours.