It’s time to monopolize marijuana

The Seattle Times congratulates former Seattle police chief and new Obama “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske for ending the use of the phrase, “war on drugs.” The Times is right, “words do matter,” (though you wouldn’t think so from some of their other editorials), but rather than just rebranding our failed experiment with prohibition, isn’t it time to have a serious conversation about ending it entirely?

For example, take marijuana.  Seriously, go ahead and take it.  I don’t care, and neither should the government.

All the D.A.R.E program scare rhetoric aside, marijuana is a relatively innocuous substance that’s proven no more dangerous and no more a “gateway drug” than alcohol. A majority of Americans have used marijuana at some time in their lives, and an overwhelming majority of them have used it responsibly. It is easily grown in backyard gardens and on indoor window sills, yet our prisons are bursting at the seams, at great taxpayer expense, with petty users and small time dealers. Meanwhile, the U.S./Mexican border has been turned into a bloody war zone as violent drug gangs fight to the death over control of this lucrative, multi-billion dollar black market.

Where’s the sense in that?

With the Obama administration signaling its intent to back off enforcement conflicts with state medical marijuana laws, California’s dispensaries are set to evolve into an informal, quasi-legal marketplace, but if we’re going to repeal prohibition, the best course would be to do it honestly and do it right.  And fortunately, we already have here in Washington state not only a model for the legalization of a potentially dangerous intoxicant, but an established system in place for regulating, selling, and perhaps most importantly, taxing the hell out of it.

Of course, I’m talking about Washington’s oft-reviled State Store system.

Other states may be further along the political path toward de facto legalization, but no other state, with the exception of my native Pennsylvania, has a more robust system already in place for effectively executing it. Washington already heavily regulates the in-state manufacture of wine, beer and distilled spirits, and maintains an extensive statewide network of retail stores and distribution centers for the sole purpose of operating its exclusive monopoly on the retail sale of liquor. A similar monopoly on the legal sale of marijuana would not only be easily implemented, but highly profitable for taxpayers and state farmers alike.

At an estimated street value of over $1 billion a year, marijuana is already Washington’s number two cash crop, second only to apples, and consistently ranking us among the top five pot-producing states.  By legalizing and regulating a crop that is already being grown, the state could impose standards of consistency and quality on the product, and by setting prices as the only legal buyer for the crop, farmers could be assured a stable, legal income for their efforts.

And considering the existing federal ban on marijuana, and the federal government’s constitutional authority over interstate commerce, Washington’s State Stores, by necessity, would initially only be able to buy and sell state-grown product, thus nurturing a nascent hemp industry that would eventually produce a valuable export commodity once the ban is lifted nationally, perhaps even dominating the market.

As for retail and consumption, the same restrictions that apply to the sale and use of liquor would apply to the sale and use of marijuana, with the state likely maintaining prices at or near current street levels. The result would be hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional state revenues, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from law enforcement and incarceration (not to mention the elimination of the incalculable human suffering caused by our current prohibition.) Distribution to minors, for profit or otherwise, would be strictly prohibited and harshly punished, as would driving under the influence of marijuana. And just as consumers may already legally make their own beer and wine for their own consumption, the current guidelines on medical marijuana could be easily adapted to apply to all home growers.

And the societal impact? Most studies I’ve seen suggest that marijuana use would indeed rise slightly if legalized, and thus we should likely expect an increase in marijuana abuse, and the personal and social costs associated. (Marijuana is not an addictive substance like, say, nicotine or heroin or even alcohol, but it can constitute an addictive behavior like problem gambling.) Thus a sizable portion of state profits from the production and sale of marijuana should be dedicated toward prevention and treatment programs for marijuana, alcohol, drugs and other addictive substances and behaviors.  In the end, the revenue earned from legalizing marijuana could be used to curtail the abuse of other more dangerous substances.

I know this might sound to some like a radical proposal, but our current prohibition on marijuana simply isn’t working, and its widespread illicit use only serves to undermine respect for the law by normalizing its violation. Meanwhile, the State Store system we created after the repeal of alcohol prohibition leaves us uniquely positioned to take the lead in responsibly moving toward marijuana repeal as well. And even if the feds attempt to block such a dramatic shift in marijuana policy, either through the courts or through direct conflict with state agencies, our effort to create a viable model for full legalization would at the very least spark a real national conversation on the pros and cons of our current failed, national policy.

And that’s a conversation that’s long past due.

Comments

  1. 1

    Rick D. spews:

    A majority of Americans have used marijuana at some time in their lives, and an overwhelming majority of them have used it responsibly. ~ David Goldstain

    You pulled that right out of your ass, Goldy. Where’s your proof that that opinion is fact?

    You don’t have any and we all know it. The Gerald Ford of blogging strikes again.

  2. 2

    spews:

    Rick D. @1,

    The surveys I’ve seen show lifetime marijuana use of American adults at between 40 and 60 percent. (That’s anybody who has tried it at least once.) Lifetime use for 12th graders is consistently in the high forties. And remember, this requires respondents to admit to having broken the law, so these surveys are hardly likely to overstate the number.

    Now, you want to quibble over whether that constitutes a majority or not, fine. But with a hundred million or so Americans having violated our marijuana laws at one time or another, it’s hardly a fringe activity.

  3. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The righties want to raise taxes on the poor. Yes, that’s right, conservatives are FOR higher taxes! Oh, they won’t admit it, but don’t kid yourself — privatizing liquor sales would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost revenue that would have to be made up by RAISING TAXES. And given our regressive tax system, these higher taxes would almost certainly hit those already paying the most and least able to pay more. So the next time you see a winger braying about handing over the state’s lucrative liquor trade to private enterprise … ask him why HE WANTS TO RAISE TAXES ON THE POOR!!

  4. 5

    Rick D. spews:

    Now Goldy wants to ban free speech (removing my post @ 3) because I pointed out he was in error? My posts are now marked as “spam” and no longer accepted?

    Way to go Goldy. You’re living proof of the intolerance on the left.

  5. 6

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    Goldy,

    I am in agreement with you on this one: marijuana should be made legal and enjoyed as alcohol is enjoyed. Whether the state runs the store or not does not matter to me. If other states want to legalize marijuana but use an different method of control, I see nothing wrong with that. As long as we finally come to the realization that having marijuana illegal is far more injurious to our society than having a safe, sane and regulated policy towards the substance, the distribution system doesn’t matter. The “war on drugs” has been a failure and a waste of time.

  6. 8

    Broadway Joe spews:

    The local State Store, of course. The whole concept of marijuana being a ‘gateway drug’ was based on what happened when marijuana users were unable to get it, and tried other substances.
    —————

    The only issue I see is the inherently DIY culture involved in marijuana. It smacks me as slightly draconian that growers and distributors would so willingly hand over an easily grown plant to the State, no matter how lucrative the deal might be, let alone safe and legal. And what about those who would grow their own for personal use? Otherwise, it’s a pretty good idea, Goldy.

  7. 9

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    Goldy wrote:

    “The Times is right, ‘words do matter’”

    That’s why it’s now called an “Overseas Contingency Operation…”

    NOT!

  8. 10

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    Think about it. Legalizing MJ like lickher in a guvmint store can provide an interesting foretaste of things to cum…

    4 Way
    Big Bud
    Champagne
    Citrus Buds
    Crystal Marijuana
    Durban Poison
    Early Misty
    First Mature
    Hawaii Skunk
    Hawaii x Skunk 1
    Haze
    Haze x Skunk
    Hindu Kush
    Holland Strains
    God Bud
    Ice Marijuana
    Indica Marijuana
    Island Lady
    Maroc x Skunk
    Misty
    Kush
    Kush x NL
    Mauwie Wauwie
    Natural Buds
    Nigeria Weed
    Northern Lights
    NL x Shiva
    Purple Haze
    Shiva
    Silver Haze
    Skunk Red Hair
    Super Skunk
    Skunk Special
    Skunk Weed
    Snow White
    Swazi x Skunk
    Swiss Miss
    Thai x Skunk
    Turtle Power
    White Widow
    Afghani
    California Bud
    Crystal
    Durban Poison
    Blueberry Bud
    Happy Outdoor
    Early Special
    Early God Bud
    Early Girl
    Early Indica
    Early Sativa
    Early Special
    Hawaii Maui Waui

    You navigate to the shelf you and grab an ounce to go. You can weigh it in the provided scales just like buying vegetables in a grocery store.

    I wonder if the state will provide accurate scales? Hmmmmmm…………?

    Heh heh heh!

  9. 11

    SJ spews:

    If we were to legalize it, why not restrict the product to non-smoking forms?

    Given the bad experience we have with i haling carcinogens vis tobacco, I suggest that it is a folly to encourage folks to go this route and, given the legal history, might also subject the State to a real risk.

    There is no reason not to offer THC in 0ther forms!

    How about T-time?

  10. 13

    CC "Bud" Baxter spews:

    Cannabis is nothing like tobacco smoke. In fact, there are some studies that it might in fact inhibit lung cancer from happening. Unlike tobacco, which restricts the lung system, thereby trapping nasty smoke particles, cannabis smoke actually expands lung tissues. I’m not saying it is good for your lungs to smoke it, but it isn’t near as toxic or harmful as tobacco smoke. And it isn’t physically addictive, unlike tobacco which is one of the most deadly addictive known to mankind.

    Myself, I prefer to ingest it. It hits you a lot slower but it gives you a nice relaxed feeling that lasts a long time.

    I’m still convinced that if they would have given the Iraqi population a bag of pot and some brownie mix, the insurgency would have never happened.

    Instead, guess which drug is popular in Iraq (and with US troops also)? Xanax, which is a variation of Valium. This stuff is nasty addictive, which is why the drug companies love it. While it does work good for calming you down, when you stop taking it, and start going through withdrawals, it makes you nasty aggressive and mean. It makes you feel like absolute shit. And this is the stuff people are taking in place of something wonderfully non-toxic and non-addictive like cannabis. It is insane. (Sorry to sidetrack on a prescription drug like xanax, but my point is this is the crappy stuff the doctor will give you when cannabis is much, much, much more effective and better for your health. The drug companies buy the politicians, which is why bullshit like this happens. It is criminal, in my opinion.)

    And don’t get me started about the bullshit of urine tests, WHICH DON’T SHOW IMPAIRMENT AT ALL. This is something you will never hear from this multi-billion dollar drug testing industry. Imagine that they had a piss test during prohibition which showed that you were exposed to alcohol two weeks ago. Now suppose you could get fired because of a positive on this drug test. Pure bullshit.

  11. 15

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    When I was in Vietnam you could buy a joint for a nickel and a kilo of Thai Gold for five bucks.

  12. 17

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    If pot was legal, how many farmers growing tomatoes that sell for $2.50 a pound switch to pot which sells for $1500+ a pound.
     
    Growing at home would be too hard to tax so that would remain illegal for the most part.

  13. 18

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    12. Roger Rabbit spews:
    When I was in Vietnam you could buy a joint for a nickel and a kilo of Thai Gold for five bucks.

     
    Well, using you as an example we now have evidence why pot smoking is bad for you.

  14. 19

    Broadway Joe spews:

    8:

    Really, your suggestion isn’t much different than say, buying veggies at the grocery store. But more accurate scales, preferably digital scales, would be required, considering the price involved, so that’d be up to the Dept. of Weights and Measures (or the local equivalent thereof), the guys who calibrate gas pumps, truck scales, etc….

    9:

    There has been research towards that end, and IIRC you can get medically prescribed pills that deliver THC in Canada. But a joint or a brownie is still probably cheaper and more effective than a pill at this point.

    10:

    My wife would agree with you on ingesting vs. inhaling. The last time we were in Washington, we attended my old rugby club’s Halloween party. She ate half of a smallish magic brownie, and was pain-free for a day-and-a-half. For the record, she suffers from a suite of autoimmune diseases including fibromyalgia and sarcoidosis, and has back problems due to a 2000 car crash (hit by an uninsured idiot outside Shelton). Half a magic brownie did far, far more for her than her average intake for the period of three 5/500 vicodin tablets.

  15. 20

    Libertarian Guy spews:

    So you simply want to trade one form of prohibition for another. How will that solve anything?

    A state monopoly will be difficult to maintain given the ease of growing the plant and we will end up with another illegal problem. Additionally true legalization would drop the price considerably to maybe a tenth of the present street value. Under your scheme the artificially higher price would make it more difficult for the poor medical patients to get adequate product to help with their needs. And as usually because of the higher price poor people who wish to consume cannabis for recreational purposes would likely look for street products thus making them subject to continued law enforcement action. Thus one more wedge between the poor and well to do and in most cases that means between the white establishment and minority.

    What problem have you solved?

  16. 21

    spews:

    9: THC is fat-soluble, also the reason it stays in your system for so long versus cocaine or meth. It’s only barely water soluble (hot water) so to use the most efficient means to deliver it to your system would involve processing. People who want to enjoy a bit of ghanj won’t go to that much trouble to get a buzz. Baking brownies is all well and good but kinda work intensive if all you want is to sit back and relax.

    Vaporization is a great alternative but again requires equipment a lot of folks don’t have. I haven’t seen vaporizers worth a damn under $100 especially when you can smoke a bowl from an apple.

    I agree with Goldy. Here in WA we have a ready made state retail system for the sale and licensing of marijuana. I’ve been harping on this subject on my site for months and will continue to do so. All six of my site’s viewers agree that the failed drug war needs to be set aside and reason allowed to take its place. Time for the 21st Century Prohibition to end!

    See you all at Hempfest!

  17. 22

    spews:

    17: Frankly, I don’t think the state would try to regulate the growing of pot unless it was for sale.

    For instance, if you were growing it for personal use, no prob. But if you were growing it to sell, the state would have a problem with that. If it were legal in state stores only, there would be a licensing process for growers. Licensed growers would have standards and rules to ensure that their product is safe and grown within established parameters. I would be one of those farmers. I would love to grow and produce craft strains of cannabis that would appeal to various consumers.

    Now, anyone could grow and smoke it as I said above, but who has that kind of time or motivation? Most people who grow a couple of plants in their garden may get a fairly decent smoke but would it be Okanogan Red or Purple Spank-me Punch?

    It’s the marketplace!

    Grow it if you want but why not just stop off at the state smoke shop and pick up a ‘teener’ for an AndyJ and walk away! (a sixteenth oz or 2 grams for $20)

    Folks can make beer and wine nowadays but still buy it retail.

    In any event, this scenario is a long way to reality. I’m not buying any seeds yet.

  18. 23

    mark spews:

    I say “lets burn some wood”! It just ain’t that
    big of deal. I don’t think farmers would be needed as the best weed would be grown indoors at least in this area. Also, screw the State they have so many revenue streams as it is. All they would do is wreck it somehow. We the people should get to grow our own and the State can FUCK THE HELL OFF, after they suck my

  19. 24

    mark spews:

    Although at Mr Aquarius’ drivethru a man could order a “teener for the low, low price of an AndyJ”! Thats one I haven’t heard.

  20. 25

    Don't Smoke, but would love to. spews:

    Look, responsibility is irrelevant, fact is, we have substances that are legal, (alcohol, tobacco, salvia d.(a hallucinogen)) that kills many of us daily, due to cancers, overdose, or even jumping off of objects onto areas that we do not bounce back from. Alright, as far as responsible use goes, as long as there is a legal age limit for use, then there is responsibility, works for alcohol (a deadly substance) or (sudafedrine (a substance used to make something way worse than alcohol or marijuana could dream about)). Is it responsible to drink or sell alcohol? Nah, I don’t think so, regardless of the circumstances. Youth has unlimited access to booze and smokes, regardless of the age limits. Youth smokes pot; nothing would change there regardless of the law. Fact: marijuana can not kill you from “possible” overdose, yeah, you may eat a whole lot or even decide to go to bed early, but as far as death; it is not happening. DUI, okay, drink some booze and drive, you die and take out many others, smoke some Marijuana and drive, you may get lost and be forced to stop (once you sober up) and ask for directions. Okay, as far as the economy goes, yeah, marijuana would be a God-send… FOOD, OIL, TEXTILES, and BUD TO SMOKE etc, would bring in several jobs in many different areas, not to mention making our culture a “greener culture” or more “sustainable” culture and would bring us back from the hole that we currently are in. Just, hell, legalize the sh**, save some lives and save some of our tax money for housing these, non-violent, no threat offenders, that are serving mandatory min. sentences. I mean, yeah there are crimes where marijuana is involved, but if you examine a little more closely, something else is involved, whether it be alcohol, crack, PCP, or a woman, other things are involved. Pot-heads don’t want to mow the lawn, little lone hop in the car and do a drive by, or go through all that effort to break into someone’s home, I mean come on people. Also, Marijuana was the greatest topic in Obama’s recent web poll on topics that the citizens want to discuss, he laughed it off and ignored the topic (I hope he apologizes for offending tens of thousands of American voters!), that is bull. I mean, you want to serve the American citizen, “yes we can” but “no you can’t” what kind of leader is that. (You can write a letter to pres. regarding this issue at NORML.ORG) So I mean, hell if you don’t support it, or the use of it, why do you submit posts… why do you read about it… and why don’t you just leave the country, for, this country was not originally intended to support those who want to label things or substances that were natural to this earth as evil or illegal, if you don’t like it or don’t agree with it, just don’t do it and move your bum bum to a dry county that don’t support it and leave the rest of this free country alone… oh, yeah… don’t reply to me through this blog, especially if it is something against what i have had to say, because, I don’t care what anyone has to say. I know what is right and what I believe is right, and I dont care what others have to say about it. THANKS. Enjoy, and hopefully, buy a pack of smokes soon. L8r.

  21. 26

    SJ spews:

    @10 CC “Bud” Baxter

    Sorry but it is very unlikley that smoking MJ is safer than smoking tobacco. Both forms or smoke are loaded with well defined carcinogens. The few papers tclaiming safety are not very good. If reffers are safer than cigs, then the most likely reason would be simply that potheads do not develop the massive habits do.

    As for convenience of use, I suspect that once legalized, industry would .. as it were .. rise to the bait and find numerous forms of easy to sue THC. Brownies would be just the start.

    Imagine Pepsi and Coke fighting over Toka Colas? As a diabetic I would also expect to see
    Diet Toke!

    Or howsa about M&M&Ms.. “it melts in your mouth?”

    Best of all, I suspect Tylly’s ‘s would use this opportunity to launch pot roast shops! I can see it now, caddy corner to Starbucks, Tully’s Pot Roaster!

    Pep

  22. 27

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    SJ

    Tully’s Pot Roaster? Don’t you mean Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc?

    With a name like Green Mountain and MJ being green this could be an explosion for additional green jobs in the Seattle area!

  23. 28

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    19. David Aquarius spews:
    Frankly, I don’t think the state would try to regulate the growing of pot unless it was for sale.

     
    Then how could they tax it?
     
    And without taxing it, what’s the point of the government legalizing it.

  24. 30

    spews:

    25:

    Marvin, taxes would be collected from retail and fees would come from licensing. Home growers would be exempt, I would imagine. The reason being it would be a regulatory and enforcement nightmare trying to find all the folks growing a plant or two in their house to tax them. Better to leave them be.

    This scenario won’t be the bonanza everyone expects but it will be revenue.

    As I said above, most folks won’t go to the trouble of growing if they can just get a bit of HighJack from the Holy Smoke Shack. Quality is a factor too. Just growing a couple of plants wouldn’t achieve the strains necessary to obtain the taste, smell, and potency of quality herb. If someone wanted to get that involved in growing, get a license and be a vintage grower.

    If we’re going to dream, dream big!

    Hempfest is Aug. 15 & 16, 2009

    Go there for the fun,
    Be there for the atmosphere!

  25. 32

    Paul spews:

    federal government’s constitutional authority over interstate commerce – this is an education in constitutional law — the only thing that the fed is required, by the the constitution to do, in overseeing interstate commerce, is to ensure that interstate commerce HAPPENS, not regulate it to death. this idea that the feds get their grubby fingers into everything that goes over a state line is totally misconstrued, by of course, the federal government. I could do a better job of making sure INTERSTATE COMMERCE happens.

  26. 33

    CC "Bud" Baxter spews:

    To even attempt to compare tobacco and cannabis smoke as both toxic is ludicrous on it’s face. Tobacco is a thousand times more addictive and deadly than cannabis smoke. End of story.

    And, yes, the key word is “addictive.” This is the main thing that makes it so much more deadly. If it weren’t nasty addictive, the amount of people smoking tobacco would drop to almost zero. This is because it doesn’t give you any real pleasure. The people who say it gives pleasure, are simply listening to their body tell them lies about why it wants you to feed the addiction. Your body and mind create a fantasy about it enjoying it so much, just to keep you feeding the addiction.

  27. 34

    SJ spews:

    @30 CC

    As a former smoker, I suspect that part of the pleasure of smoking comes just from having the thing in your mouth … read Freud is you need an explanation of why that would be true. A safe, tar free MJ cig probably could be made .. an opportunity for RJ Reynolds to make money!

    You are correct in one way. We do not have the epidemiological data to prove that MJ smoke is carcinogenic. At least the most recent time I read this literature there was a paper that claimed not to find a procancer incidence in MJ smokers. This would be interesting and would imply that there is some protective ingredient in the smoke except that the study had statistical problems because MJ smokers usually also smoke tobacco.

    We do, however have have ample data to expect that it should be. since MJ smoke does contain higher concentrations of carcinogens than does tobacco smoke. If you were to apply both to your skin both would produce cancers. Again, a business opportunity for someone.

    My only horse in this race is a concern that when MJ is finally legalized we will need to avoid the mistakes we have made with tobacco. Assuming that our knowledge of smoked, dried vegetable matter is true for MJ as well, I would hope that we would discourage inhalation .. just as I would hope we would discourage inhaling “safe” tobacco smoke or even oregano.

    I assume that this means that MJ, like the other weed, would to be allowed to be smoked in restaurants or other public places. Of course this would open up great marketing opportunities for inventive folks to create new delivery forms.

  28. 35

    spews:

    The point about the revenue to the farmers deserves a bit more expansion. Let’s take a look at California, for example.

    California’s Central Valley is the greatest agricultural area in the world. It produces 100 percent of the US production of more than a dozen crops. Its output is absolutely staggering — about $36 billion per year in farm products.

    The Central Valley is currently experiencing the highest unemployment rates seen since the Great Depression — more than 20 percent in some places. The Central Valley has been called the “epicenter” of the foreclosure crisis. In addition, many farmers are suffering because of limited Federal water supplies.

    Last year California’ Campaign Against Marijuana Planting seized about 3 million plants with an estimated value of about $12 billion.

    If all we did was to take the marijuana seized by CAMP and sell it through licensed and regulated distributors — as we do with alcohol — it would increase the revenues to farmers by about one-third in one year.

    In short, it would end all of the Central Valley’s economic problems in a single growing season.

    The marijuana laws were based on the worst kind of ignorance and nonsense. It is time to end the nonsense and legalize marijuana for the benefit of the farmers.

  29. 36

    Stupid is as stupid does spews:

    Yes for the benefit of the farmers, because what this nation needs is more jackass stoners.

  30. 37

    spews:

    @Stupid is as stupid does: Actually, the statistics from countries which have officially (like Portugal) or unofficially (like the Netherlands) decriminalised cannabis have consistently shown that decriminalisation creates *fewer* “jackass stoners”, not more.