June 6, 2012

Legalize It

Patrick Laverty

First, let me get this off my chest. Decriminalize and legalize are not the same thing. I've seen numerous news reports talking about how the General Assembly voted to legalize marijuana yesterday. That's not true. They voted to decriminalize it. Think of it this way, if you park your car next to a fire hydrant, you will not face criminal charges, but that doesn't mean it's legal to do so. Though I bet Mr. Morse and Mr. Kenney have at times wished it carried criminal charges.

Back to the original idea. Yes, the General Assembly voted to decriminalize marijuana and early indications are that the Governor will not veto it. So all this means now is if you get caught with an ounce or less, it's a fine, you don't go to jail. I say that the bill doesn't go far enough. Why not be the first state to completely legalize possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and legalize and license dispensaries and then tax it to the hilt?

Why not? Let's look at some of the arguments against.

We'll become a state full of pot heads. Oh right, there's that. Rhode Island, where all those pot-smoking hippies live. Just because something is legal, doesn't mean everyone's going to use it. Tobacco is legal if you're over 18, but many thousands of people don't use it. Why will this be any different?

Kids will have easier access to it. I'm not sure how this one is true. Right now, kids can certainly ask around at school and find it if they want to. Very similar to alcohol. I don't see how legalizing it makes it easier to access if it is properly sold, just like alcohol or oxycontin is today.

It's a gateway drug. Is it? It seems from all the historical videos and movies I've seen, in the 1960's, marijuana use was pretty prevalent. So why don't we have millions of grandparent cokeheads running around? Where's grandpa with his track marks and cashing his retirement checks to get his heroine fix? Plus, it's not even physically addictive, unlike many of the other things that are already legal today.

People who are high can't work or drive a car. Yeah, I think we already have laws against impaired driving.

The ATF will come in and bust it up. Maybe. But I'm supposing, and I think Joe Bernstein can confirm either way, that every time the federal government went in on a bust, the local law enforcement was aware and supportive. If the state were to legalize marijuana, the state and local police would have no legal standing to support the ATF's actions. They'd likely decline. If the ATF were to go forth with a bust anyway, we would need state leadership ready to support those who were arrested, all the way to the US Supreme Court. And that's really where this issue would belong. The question would be in regard to the 10th Amendment to the Constitution and whether a state has the right to make it's own laws. Oh sure, there's that interstate commerce thing, but I see that as just another benefit to Rhode Island. Because it would be illegal to transfer any of the product either in to or out of Rhode Island, we'd be 100% self-sufficient. Grown right here in RI (new business), sold right here in RI (increased pharmacy business), plus the state taxes on top of that. It becomes win-win-win all around. Think of the tourism. People from around the world would flock to Rhode Island to indulge in the legal consumption.

Does that create a bad environment? No more so than nightclubs or bars or casinos do. So regulate that part too. Worried about people smoking it in public? That's either akin to drinking alcohol in public, which is illegal, or if you're more on the libertarian side, it's akin to smoking tobacco in public, which is legal outdoors in most areas. Why would we be any more worried about being a state of pot heads than being a state of drunks where alcohol is legal?

Lastly, what would it do to the black market? It would eliminate it for marijuana. Sure, we'd still have drug dealers for the other drugs, but the small-time marijuana dealers would go the way of bootleggers after Prohibition. This would free up law enforcement to go after "real criminals" and also lessen the prison populations.

So maybe it isn't a popular stance, but I think the state's bill to decriminalize marijuana doesn't go far enough, let's completely legalize it. If you're going to argue against that, please tell me why, especially in the context of why alcohol and tobacco should be legal but not marijuana. Unless you're for banning those as well.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I suppose the ridiculous arguments you identify *should* objectively be rebutted, but the reality is that every thinking person under 50 already knows that marijuana is harmless and should be legalized, including the politicians who could change the law anytime they wanted. The only reasons why it's still illegal are because law enforcement and politicians want it that way to retain their funding and jurisdiction, a handful of brainwashed senior citizens still believe the propaganda that it's harmful, and everyone knows it's easier to retain a law than to abolish it. It will be legal in the next 20 years as public resources become scarcer and the holdouts simply die off. The recession had at least one benefit: the Drug Czar's multi-million-dollar annual funding for the anti-marijuana ad campaign was rescinded last year amid budget cuts.

Disclaimer: I've never smoked marijuana, mostly for employment reasons.

Posted by: Dan at June 6, 2012 5:56 PM

Marijuana was already decriminalized by the judges in this state. No one goes to jail for simple possession unless they are violating probation, parole, or a suspended sentence. Even then it's doubtful. There isn't a local or state prosecutor that won't recommend a filing for one year with a donation to VCIF. Mostly because that's the best they'll get from any judge. After a year of good behavior, you file for an expungement and poof charges gone. Defendants get multiple bites at the apple despite the rule of law.

As for the feds v. state, Joe can speak better of it but possession of a firearm by a felon is a federal offense not a state offense and there have been plenty of times that the feds have called on state and locals for help in those instances. I can see the same happening for marijuana.

Posted by: Max D at June 6, 2012 9:08 PM

Right on! If you only decriminalize, you only solve a part of the problem. If you full on legalize you can actually realize a cost reduction AND a revenue boost.

Someone needs to run some numbers on this, but growing, distribution, taxes, and sales would be a MAJOR boost to the economy.

For the record, I don't use pot either, but I can have it delivered in ten minutes if I want, or buy it literally from a guy on my street, whereas alcohol requires a trip to the store during certain hours.

We lost the war on pot. Call it what it is already and put honest people to work instead of thugs.

Posted by: mangeek at June 6, 2012 11:29 PM

I could be wrong but if legalized, something tells me you'll never beat the black market on pot so I wouldn't expect any revenue from it.

Posted by: Max D at June 7, 2012 7:34 AM

> you'll never beat the black market...

I know a LOT of pot smokers. I don't think I know a single one who would prefer interacting with armed dealers to buy product of unregulated quality vs. Just going to the store and picking a brand they like.

The margins on street sales are very low, because there are so many layers between production and distribution. Allowing licensed local growers to sell would let them knock the price down by more than half, which means you could tax it 100% of wholesale value and STILL beat the black market.

Posted by: mangeek at June 7, 2012 8:06 AM

Why DD? We don't have much of a black market for alcohol or tobacco, so why would this be any different?

Posted by: Patrick at June 7, 2012 8:11 AM

Posted by Mangeek:
"The margins on street sales are very low, because there are so many layers between production and distribution."

I really don't know about smaller cities, but I have seen a economic analysis of drug dealing in New York and Chicago. The "street dealers" for the larger gangs make about minimum wage. It is seen as an "entry level job" in the gang industry.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at June 7, 2012 10:16 AM

in condolences about the "bring in more revenue" thing that's only a small margin see when a seller gets money for all the pot he/she sell THEY DON'T KEEP IT!!! a lot of people lose sight of the fact they use the money just like the rest of us. as soon as the deal goes down it counts as private trade and helps the economy just as much as going to the store and buying cereal. in order to make a good revenue they would have to make a huge deference in price to accommodate for the lack of sales and if that happens its a great opportunity for home growers to sell their stuff for a cheaper price there by not eliminating the black market. or(your only other option) lower the price to attract more buyers this tactic won't work over night though and will probably bankrupt the business because everyone will still have that taboo feeling about smoking that would detour them from buying. point is the only huge money saver is the money funneled into the police, which isn't as much as you think it is most of the "drug war" money goes to the DEA not local police stations.

as far as "decriminalization only defeats part of the problem" your right, but it is a GREAT start for most states. as far as Rhode Island goes, and almost all east coastal states, like New York, Main, CT (where I used to live), RI, NC, Virginia, and Mass going straight to legalization would be a really beneficial idea because these states have the least "pot is taboo feeling" in the general population. But as far as mid west (excluding Michigan) and southern states go just plain decriminalization is a huge step for getting rid of that "taboo" feeling.

Disclaimer: I take part in the recreational use of marijuana and I live in Indiana (the worst place for a pot head to live) the people in this state are very anal retentive about weed and decriminalization would be a great start

Posted by: mike at June 7, 2012 10:18 AM

I think the opportunities for revenue arise once you have an actual industry: growers in greenhouses instead of basements, taxes levied on sales, licensing growers, distributors, and vendors.

I want to put pot dealers out of business and replace them with 'farmers' and 'clerks'.

Posted by: mangeek at June 7, 2012 10:55 AM

Why DD? We don't have much of a black market for alcohol or tobacco, so why would this be any different?

The black market is already established and entrenched. The black market isn't just those that are sending it over the borders. It's any market that avoids government regulation and/or taxes. Does anyone think the home growers will file for a retail license?

How many pot dealers do you know that possess firearms? Not saying they don't but as many as I've met, not one owned a gun and I've met many.

Posted by: Max D at June 7, 2012 10:56 AM

As a liberterian, I'm for letting people do what they want to do as long as it doesn't negatively impact others. The core of this concept, however, relies on personal responsibility and accountability. I make a choice, I gain--or suffer--the consequences.
That said, our society neutralizes these precepts with the cradle-to-grave, no responsibility nanny state we are fast becoming. I shudder to think what protected class we'd generate if grass were legalized...

Posted by: Mike678 at June 7, 2012 11:15 AM

"Does anyone think the home growers will file for a retail license?"

Maybe. But what if that license cost $20,000?

Posted by: Patrick at June 7, 2012 11:23 AM

Sorry DD, I misread your question: "Does anyone think the home growers will file for a retail license?"

No, of course they won't. But if it's easier to go to the store and get what you need, why not do that? I don't see many people growing tobacco plants in their back yard. Some people grow grapes for wine, but most find it much easier to just visit a liquor store.

Posted by: Patrick at June 7, 2012 11:49 AM

> Does anyone think the home growers will file for a retail license?

Patrick is right, the consumers will choose to get legal pot, the same way they buy $9.75 legal cigarettes instead of having them shipped from South Carolina for less than half the price.

The 'black market' has TREMENDOUS overhead. Beating it's prices and taxing it 100% would be more than possible.

> How many pot dealers do you know that possess firearms?

Funny you should say that, because I lost a good friend last winter who was gunned-down by Asian dealers in Brooklyn, we assume that he was unknowingly eating into established 'local' pot business and they took notice.

When I was in high school, we all bought our pot from a guy who carried. He also paid-off the local police. This was in the Thayer St. area of Providence. His henchmen also ended up carrying guns after a while, after they had been robbed by better-armed dealers from 'the other side of Hope St.'.

The person you buy from usually just wants to 'sell enough to smoke for free', but the person above them usually has to have some way to protect what's theirs from competition.

Posted by: mangeek at June 7, 2012 12:21 PM

All drugs should be legal and sold in 7-11's and Cumberland Farms. Heroin, cocaine, vicodins, oxycontins, whatever.
The drug laws are a product of the "progressives". Harrison Act (and Prohibition)-Wilson, Marijuana Tax Act-FDR, Methamphetamine Control Act-Clinton.
Sad how the same bankrupt philosophy that supports killing babies and the stomach turning, disease spreading act of sodomy on the grounds of "if it's not your body it's not your business" are the same ones who brought us drug and alcohol prohibition, seat belt laws, soda taxes, polygamy laws, fat taxes, dog house minimum housing, anti-fireworks laws and so many others.
Progressives-the most miserable and joyless f**** to ever walk the planet.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at June 7, 2012 1:37 PM

"A cancerous element that will stifle every vestige of free life in the U.S. ... the word liberal has come to stand for the most damnable tyranny, a sniveling, mealy-mouthed tyranny of bureaucrats, social workers, psychiatrists and union officials"
William S. Burroughs
"The Letters of William S. Burroughs"
Oliver Harris

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