Friday, December 15, 2017
Perspective

Time has come to legalize marijuana

I am 71, and I've had three puffs of a marijuana cigarette in my entire life. This occurred about two years ago — not in Florida — and I ended up coughing and hacking so badly that I didn't enjoy the experience at all. I'll never try it again.

Nevertheless, after having long opposed the introduction of additional intoxicants into our social fabric — after all, I was Dunedin's city attorney for nearly four decades — I've come to the conclusion that the legalization of marijuana and its sale at the local convenience store is in the best interests of my country.

The people of Colorado and Washington state have just voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. But both states will face an interesting conundrum for their citizens arising from a conflict between state and federal laws. This is absurd. A substantial part of our population enjoys marijuana and, if no change is made, they will continue to obtain it illegally.

The failed path of Prohibition during the 1920s and 1930s offers a lesson in what happens when authorities prohibit the use of a particular chemical compound that people want. The drug dealers in Colombia and Mexico have not caused us to desire to smoke marijuana; we have done that to ourselves just as we did with alcohol.

Social norms change. As a nation, we need to grow up and recognize that spending billions of dollars to stop something that people want to do is a waste of time and money. I have a son-in-law who is a Coast Guard helicopter pilot involved in interdicting the importation of drugs into the United States. It is my understanding that there only is approximately a 10 percent success rate stopping the flow of drugs. His time and our taxes could be better spent. It is a huge market because Americans want this product. Recreational use of marijuana is now a social norm, particularly for people under 40. If you disapprove, just don't do it.

I believe the course of history and social mores in this country have brought us to the point where the continued illegality of recreational use of marijuana is harming our nation. All the money our government spends on interdiction and prosecution for the use, sale or possession of marijuana is money wasted and tax revenue lost.

Who is benefiting? Those who grow the plant illegally. Those who transport it illegally. Those who distribute and sell it illegally. And the street-level seller, who normally lives in the least desirable part of the community, has the least education, has the fewest prospects tor a good life and has the greatest likelihood of arrest and incarceration.

I would suggest that the use or sale of marijuana is a victimless crime. Marijuana is just another plant which is used for a desired purpose, much like tobacco. You can't logically argue against legalization using a morality argument. We've accepted alcohol, tobacco and gambling — you're already pregnant.

The most common argument against recreational marijuana use is that it will lead to a higher and more dangerous use of illegal drugs. If this is true, why then the general acceptance of marijuana for medical purposes? Wouldn't the same problem be common to both recreational and medicinal uses?

Let's turn to the revenue that legalization would produce. Its sale would yield massive sales tax revenues. Additional taxes could be applied to it as with tobacco and alcohol, and it would still be vastly cheaper than the present street price for marijuana.

Revenue would flow into various levels of government, thus offsetting the need for additional taxes on other products. Instead of the vast costs of trying to control the importation and sale of marijuana in the United States, the country would have an immediate cost savings enhanced by the tax revenues generated from the sale of this product. Everybody wins monetarily, except the drug dealers. They would be out of the marijuana business. Additionally, the cost of incarceration and prosecution of low-level marijuana dealers is entirely eliminated.

If my assumptions and analysis are anywhere near close to being accurate, the answer is easy. Why are the people in Colorado and Washington state so much smarter than we are? Like you, I was raised and encouraged to believe by my society that use of marijuana is an evil. Almost a century ago the majority of Americans must have thought the use of alcohol was immoral or destructive; otherwise would we have had Prohibition? We now have our own prohibition regarding the recreational use of marijuana. Why? We don't seem to be able to learn. Any politician who was to encourage a change in this policy would certainly put himself or herself at risk from the overreaction of people who are not willing to think this thing through. Often we are not willing to recognize the illogic and stupidity of ideas that were imposed upon us over many, many decades. We have been conditioned to think in a certain way.

But I'm tired of letting the bad guys win. I'm tired of paying massive amounts of money to control something that many of my fellow citizens want to use. I'm tired of letting the vast amounts of revenue from the sale of this product go to criminals. I'm tired of criminalizing large numbers of young men and paying the enormous costs of their arrest, prosecution and incarceration; not to mention all the costs of social services that accompany that process and rarely result in any recognizable success.

I'm tired of my country being the loser and the bad guys being the winner. We cannot and will not stop the flow of marijuana into this country or the use of marijuana by millions of our citizens because they see nothing wrong with it. It is time to be realistic and sensible and change our thinking and change the law. Get smarter and get real.

John G. Hubbard, who served as a captain in the Air Force from 1967 to 1971 and as a special agent in the Office of Special Investigations, is a lawyer in the firm of Frazer, Hubbard, Brandt, Trask, Yacavone, Metz and Daigneault in Dunedin. He was Dunedin's city attorney for 37 years before retiring last year.

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