The Case for Regulation

Goldy broke the news earlier this week that 6 co-sponsors in the State House are introducing a bill that will legalize marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The bill will also utilize the existing mechanisms in place for regulating wine and hard liquor to establish a distribution system that makes our existing state run liquor stores the sole distributor. One thing that’s not clear yet is whether there will be any limit on people growing plants for themselves. Ben Livingston has an excellent line-by-line breakdown of the bill here.

Without getting as far into the details of the bill as Ben does, I want to lay out the general case for why the legislature should pass this bill. There are a number of ways in which ending marijuana prohibition will provide benefits for the state.

The Economy

Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron has estimated that legalizing marijuana nationwide would reduce overall government expenditures by approximately $12.9 billion in law enforcement and criminal justice expenses. It would also generate about another $6.7 billion if taxes comparably to alcohol and tobacco. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a study of similar scope done just within the state of Washington, but University of Washington professor Dick Startz took numbers from a previous study by Miron and estimated that the state would save about $105 million a year.

On top of that, marijuana is already among one of Washington’s top cash crops, and the state is consistently near the top when it comes to marijuana production. In 2006, it was estimated that the total marijuana crop was worth $600 million. Right now, all of that money is handed over to criminals, many based in Mexico. So beyond the already substantial savings that come with removing the multitudes of marijuana offenses from our overloaded criminal justice system, the economy of this state will also benefit by having those dollars staying here and benefiting legitimate farmers and businessmen who are licensed by the state.

Protecting Young People

One of the most common arguments made against the idea of establishing a legal and regulated market for marijuana is that “it sends the wrong message to kids”. This argument makes absolutely no sense for a number of reasons. First, one could easily say the same thing about hard liquor – the fact that we tolerate sales of liquor to adults tells kids that it’s ok every bit as much as tolerating sales of marijuana to adults will tell them that it’s ok. But we know the damage that was done when we tried to ban liquor in the 1920s, and no one really wants to go back to that.

Second, the experience in Holland tells quite a different story. Adults have been free to purchase marijuana in coffeeshops throughout the country since the 1970s. Did this “send the wrong message” to their kids? Apparently not, since Holland has much lower marijuana use rates among both teenagers and adults than we do (and even less marijuana use than many of their neighboring countries in Europe).

American teenagers repeatedly tell pollsters that it’s easier for them to obtain marijuana than it is for them to obtain alcohol. It’s this fact that’s starting to motivate more and more parents (like Rick Steves) to take a stronger stand against marijuana prohibition. The policy we have in place now is actually detrimental to our young people. Establishing a regulated system that forces you to prove your age in order to purchase it provides an extra barrier. It won’t completely prevent young people from getting it (just as it doesn’t prevent it entirely with alcohol), but it will make it harder.

And even beyond that, we’ve seen far too often where young people become involved in the distribution themselves. For a lot of them, it leads to an arrest, a conviction, and a lifetime of trying to overcome having a criminal record. Yet none of that benefits our society in any way. Everyone in the state of Washington who wants to buy marijuana will always be able to find someone to take that risk to sell it to them. Undercover marijuana drug busts in local high schools have done nothing but waste taxpayer dollars, limit the options of non-violent young people who are guilty of only bad choices, and foster a greater sense of mistrust of the police. If you regulate marijuana sales, the marijuana dealers aren’t in the schools any more; they’re in the liquor store, and they’re checking your kid’s ID.

Improving Drug Treatment

One of the nice features of this bill is that it specifically dictates that the tax revenue from the sale of marijuana goes towards drug treatment. It’s well-established by now that you save money in the long run for every dollar that you put towards drug treatment. Incarceration is the most costly and ineffective way to deal with drug problems, yet it often remains the default position of most politicians.

In addition, treating marijuana the same as alcohol will eliminate another problem with drug treatment centers; that people are sometimes sent there solely because they were arrested for marijuana and choose to go to treatment over jail, even if they have no real need for treatment. Marijuana is nowhere near as addictive as drugs like heroin and methamphetamines. Focusing on people with real problems and not wasting money and beds on the people who don’t need to be there will yield far more effective results in an area where effective results can have pretty significant downstream benefits in helping people become productive members of society again.

Ending our Contribution to Mexico’s Violent War

How bad is the violence in Mexico right now? On October 30, a newspaper in Juarez celebrated the first day in 10 months without a murder with a giant headline announcing that fact on the front page. As we here in Washington were shocked by the murder of 4 police officers, that’s a fairly regular occurrence down there.

This war is being entirely fueled by the money that criminal organizations in Mexico make from marijuana. Even the drug czar’s office admits that over 60 percent of the billions being made by Mexican drug cartels comes from marijuana. Their reach extends well into Washington state, as the illicit marijuana industry brings large numbers of illegal immigrants to the area to tend to plants. Just as when it came to the criminals gangs who ran Chicago during alcohol prohibition, the only way to defeat these cartels is to eliminate the black market that fuels them.

Environmental Protection

The article linked just above gives another good reason to shift to a regulated market for marijuana – the environment. The Mexican drug gangs who supply a large amount of the marijuana in this state will often set up their operations in parks and other wildlife areas, doing a lot of damage to the ecosystem along the way. The cat and mouse game that our law enforcement officials play to try to avoid this is futile and unnecessary when we can be licensing real farmers to grow this crop safely.

Despite all of this, not many people expect this bill to pass. Last session, the legislature couldn’t even pass a decriminalization bill that would have merely made the penalties for low-level marijuana possession more in line with Ohio’s. But this is not for a lack of public support. Roughly half of Washington state residents would support a system of regulated sales for marijuana. So this is a challenge for those who oppose it, whether in the media or in elected office. Lay out your argument against it. Let us know why this bill shouldn’t pass. Marijuana prohibition has continued for decades now without any real coherent explanation for why it should continue. If it’s not time to end it, at least explain to the citizens of Washington why it’s not.

Comments

  1. 1

    spews:

    I wonder if now might be great time to discuss not whther to legalize marijuana but how to do so in the best way?

    Comparisons with alcohol seem to me to be misleading.

    1. Alcohol is a chemical, CH3H2OH, ethanol. Alcohol is actually not generally sold to the public, rather we buy various preparations containing alcohol .. from 120 proof Vodka to chocolates filled with brandy.

    2. Alcohol is a lot more dangerous than THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

    If we were to legalize THC, why would we wanht to focus on reefers? Why not legalize THC like alcohol, as part of a variety of products?

    Of course, this form of legalization may mitigate against the existing State liquor stores. For example, I have trouble imagining going to a sterile state store for some creative, mj laced, eclairs!

  2. 2

    zdp 189 spews:

    I am betting that law enforcement will lobby against this full-force, because pot prohibition is a job engine for them.

    I read once that the 1934 National Firearms Act was passed in part to create work for agents who had become unneeded after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. The same ‘ATU’ agents who enforced prohibition were used to enforce the NFA. (later morphed into the BATF, now the BATFE).

    How about a grand crusade against bicycle theft? The DEA would still be needed for hard drugs, but they could become the BDEA (bike & drug enforcement agency) to compensate for the loss of their pot enforcement biz.

  3. 3

    giffy spews:

    I am 100% in favor of legalization but there is the fact that the more you legalize the less money you raise(but the more you save). Pot is not that hard to grow, certainly not when monsanto or adm can build massive greenhouse operations and put the full weight of agrabusiness behind it. He’ll even very hard to grow plants like orchids maybe sell for 15-20 a plant on average.

    Currently the overwhelming majority of the price of weed is due to it’s illegality. Now we could strictly regulate production like holland does thereby keeping the price high, but then we still have enforce. Or we could put a huge tax on it, but that will fuel a black market.

    I say we fully legalize, but I think then we have accept that any numbers based on today’s enviroment are probably off by a factor of 10-20.

  4. 4

    spews:

    @2
    How about a grand crusade against bicycle theft?

    I’d actually like to see a greater emphasis on identity theft, cybercrimes, and human trafficking. This is something I probably should have mentioned in the original post, thanks.

  5. 5

    Alki Postings spews:

    Keep in mind if it is legal VERY few people (% wise of population) will grow it. You CAN make your own vodka or wine now, but it’s easier to buy it. Granted we’re talking about a plant, not a refined product, but even with that, 98% of people will still buy green peppers and corn at the store rather than grow it themselves for space/time consideration.

    If I’m only going to smoke or other ingest pot every now and then (like alcohol currently) then it’s not worth it to me to grow my own, just EASIER to buy a small amount when I want it. That will be true for nearly all people. If you DO want to grow your own for YOUR consumption fine. Selling it is a different issue, regulations there just like if I wanted to sell my own wine made at home.

  6. 6

    rhp6033 spews:

    ” am betting that law enforcement will lobby against this full-force, because pot prohibition is a job engine for them.”

    Even more so in a number of small communities, especially along major freeways or U.S. highways that have used the seizure laws to create the biggest industry in town. There are some towns where the police force is bigger than the population, every officer drives an expensive “drug seizure” vehicle, and every out-of-towner gets pulled over for some imagined offense or another, inevitably resulting in a search of their car and seizure. If there’s nothing there when they start the search, something miraculously appears in the course of the search.

  7. 7

    Blue John spews:

    #6. “…and every out-of-towner gets pulled over for some imagined offense or another, inevitably resulting in a search of their car and seizure.”
    Do you have links to stories about this or is just anecdotal?

  8. 8

    Nindid spews:

    This may all be fine in reality, but that has very little to do with politics.

    I think that the biggest impediment to the regulation of marijuana is that it is a major part of the culture wars. Until the baby boomers and their obsession with Vietnam and the dirty hippies go away or diminish, this will be a very hard issue to get traction on regardless of the merits.

  9. 9

    rhp6033 spews:

    OFF TOPIC LOCAL NEWS UPDATE:

    Last night, Boeing Commercial Airplane Group executives confirmed to customer airlines that the 787 will have first flight “next week”. In seperate communications to 787 customers that have ordered the 787, Boeing is targeting next Tuesday, Dec. 15, or next wednesday, Dec. 16th, for first flight, weather permitting. I asked about the weather limitations, and according to one source, they need a 5,000 foot ceiling of visibility and no snow or ice on the runway.

    The biggest concern for a delay could be caused by ice or snow on the Paine Field runway this weekend, which might cause a delay in the high-speed taxi tests currently scheduled to take place at that time.

  10. 11

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 7: Lee’s already on it at # 10, above.

    At the time I was thinking about a 60 minutes segment on a town, I think it was in Arkansas, which only had a couple hundred or so residents but brought in millions of dollars in “drug seizures” every year. In most of the cases they didn’t even bother to prosecute the suspects, but kept the cars and insisted that the suspects sue and “prove their innocence” before the cars would be returned.

    Of course, the cost of any such lawsuit would be substantial, and very difficult , especially when the suspect is from out-of-state and the hearing would be held in front of a local judge, who’s neutrality might be suspect.

  11. 12

    rhp6033 spews:

    I’m not saying that every police force or every officer engages in such conduct. I’m not even saying that most of them do. But there are a few police departments – hopefully only a few – which are taking advantage of the drug seizure laws to create a mini-industry for themselves. God help you if you find yourself driving through one of those towns.

  12. 13

    Blue John spews:

    Thank for the links.

    One of the attorneys involved, David Guillory of Nacogdoches, told the Tribune he combed through county court records and found nearly 200 cases where Tenaha police had seized cash and property from motorists. In only 50 of those cases were drug charges filed. But that didn’t stop police from seizing cash, jewelry, cell phones, and even cars from motorists not found with contraband or charged with any crime.

    “If you are not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to fear.”
    Don’t you just wish Marvin, Mark or Cyn would get stopped by the cops there, just for the educational experience.

  13. 14

    spews:

    i’m behind you 100% on this goldy.

    @3 Giffy:

    Currently the overwhelming majority of the price of weed is due to it’s illegality. Now we could strictly regulate production like holland does thereby keeping the price high, but then we still have enforce. Or we could put a huge tax on it, but that will fuel a black market.

    this is true. growing greenhouse marijuana in a greenhouse has to be easier than brewing bathtub hooch. the real world price of marijuana is much lower than the black market price.

    i don’t much like the idea of the us government flexing its muscle as the biggest fucking cartel in the world. but what are you going to do?

  14. 15

    spews:

    @14 Why not a free market???

    IF we could simply treat MJ the way we treat oregano, garlic and sugar , then WA state could file broad patents on likely products we would ne feelthy rich!

    One way to do this might be to play the right’sconflicting interests against each other. MJ as a product likely has a multibillion dollar market potential, assuming that it is NOT limited to commie-socialist state stores.

    Limiting sales to state stores has another bad impact … it would limit innovation. There is, for example, no reason not to add THC to chocolate and the resulting products and, besides THC itself there other perfectly natural endogenous THC-like molecules that might have an even greater market.

    So, ………..

  15. 16

    spews:

    The bill will also utilize the existing mechanisms in place for regulating wine and hard liquor to establish a distribution system that makes our existing state run liquor stores the sole distributor.

    Hear, hear.. A regulated marijauna/hemp industry means licensed growers, distributors and retailers. Nothing but benefits to the taxpayer of this state – everything’s a positive: higher quality products at regulated thc content, lower incarceration rates, lower burdens on the criminal justice system, increased tax revenues and lower justice system costs..

    Once it’s done people will wonder why so many billions were misallocated for so many years.

  16. 17

    Michael spews:

    Legalize marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The bill will also utilize the existing mechanisms in place for regulating wine and hard liquor to establish a distribution system that makes our existing state run liquor stores the sole distributor.

    This sounds good.

  17. 18

    Marvin Stamn spews:

    13. Blue John spews:
    Don’t you just wish Marvin, Mark or Cyn would get stopped by the cops there, just for the educational experience.

     
    Thanks for your good wishes.
     
    I had a speed problem when I was 17-19, I’ve seen the insides of a few different jails/courts.

  18. 19

    dvd spews:

    In Amsterdam, the per gram rate is between 5-9 Euros or 150 to 270 euros an ounce. At a conversion rate of 1.47x, that comes to about $220 to $396 USD per ounce.

    Assuming my math is correct, are those prices that far off from what people pay right now in the States?

  19. 20

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    Ya know, there’s an outside chance we could actually have marijuana legalized within the next 10 or 20 years.

    ‘Bout time!

  20. 21

    spyder spews:

    As alki points out in #5: then it’s not worth it to me to grow my own, just EASIER to buy a small amount when I want it. That will be true for nearly all people.

    Indeed this is true. Growing quality product is no different that all other aspects of agricultural work. Legal growers in CA find they are working five to six solid months a year per crop harvest; their activities include: all manner of soil preparation, choosing the best strains to grow in each environment, constant monitoring of water and fertilizers, pest and fungus controls, daily trimming back of non-budding aspects, and so forth. It is the one reason that the medical marijuana dispensaries are in business, most people would much rather drive to the club than grow their own.

    Also a word on products as mentioned by SJ. CA clubs and dispensaries currently sell a broad range of products that contain fairly regulated doses of THC. They range from liquids (milk to honey to infusions), to candies (truffles chocolates, lozenges), to prepared food additives–as well as a great diversity of indica and sativa bud strains.

    Assuming my math is correct, are those prices that far off from what people pay right now in the States?

    These prices are in the current ball park, but you have to remember that most of the Amsterdam products are imported, whereas here in the US the available agricultural landscape is far more grower friendly. I would think the range of future legal ounces could easily fall around $150 (not counting for the current value of a dollar).

  21. 22

    zdp 189 spews:

    Lee spews:
    I’d actually like to see a greater emphasis on identity theft, cybercrimes, and human trafficking.

    My modest proposal was of course tongue in cheek; your proposals are much better. I would definitely like to see ID theft emphasis. But I’m not sure that would work out, since the average cop might not have the computer acumen.

    As far as human trafficking, I suspect it’s rare in the US. WA enacted a human trafficking law in 2003 and went 6 years without a single conviction (PI article here. They finally did get the first conviction in the recent West Seattle pimp trial.

    I had a good friend who worked at several of the local asian ‘spas’ and she says that there is no ‘human trafficking.’ At least 4 or 5 such places have been busted in this area in the last couple years, with no hint of trafficking.

    My opinion is that the trafficking angle is mostly a cover for vice cops targeting garden variety prostitution. The idea of ‘sex police’ is despised by many, so they raise the trafficking angle to justify their work.

    Same thing with underage prostitution. There was a recent ‘Operation Cross Country’ with over 700 arrests, but less than 10 percent of the arrests involved minors.

  22. 23

    Blue John spews:

    @18. Marvin Stamn
    What’s that old saying…

    A liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested. A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.

  23. 24

    spews:

    @22
    Good comment. I think you’re right about the human trafficking, but while it may not have much of an effect within Washington state, it does happen more often in the places where our drug money ends up (Mexico, for instance).