Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I Support the Full Legalization of Marijuana

One of the biggest issues in this election is getting very little attention - the full legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana.  Even more disappointing, the subject is being pejoratively dismissed as "too liberal for Maryland" based on old poll numbers and anecdotal comments.  This is an important issue and a serious one; more serious than the juvenile "munchie" jokes that trail the subject whenever it is discussed.  I hope you have thought about it and wrote this post to tell you where I stand.

As you can see from the title of this post, and what has been published in The Baltimore Sun, I support full legalization, taxation, and regulation of cannabis with the same regulatory framework as alcohol.  As recently discussed at a CDC forum, alcohol is the more appropriate comparison, as opposed to tobacco, due to the comparable manner in which the substance is used. 

Maryland has already taken a half-step towards this outcome in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.  Note that there is still a civil fine, making possession as much of a criminal act as speeding down 95.  And herein lies my biggest concern - we have effectively given the green light to possessing something that is illegal to grow and illegal to sell.  Moreover, we have created an environment that will foster black market sales of an unregulated substance.  In Maryland, we use a sales tax based on the premise that intrastate commerce should generate revenue to the state.  Marijuana is currently exempted from that premise.  Regardless of your position on marijuana, the current state of things is untenable. 

Admittedly, the arguments against full legalization are legion, but vapid and full of fear-mongering.  The most prominent among which is the most annoying - let's let other states do this first and see how it goes.  I may be able to accept this if there were some metrics by which we were to evaluate "success".  Revenue?  Colorado has raised $3.5 million in four months.  Crime statistics?  In Colorado, crime is down.  Social mores and the American way?  The American flag still flies over Denver.

Acknowledging that marijuana itself has not been shown to be particularly harmful, opponents argue that it will open the door to further drug use and criminal activity.  I would suggest that marijuana is not a gateway drug - breaking the law is a gateway act.   When we draw arbitrary lines in the sand that are crossed with impunity due to the inability to enforce laws on the personal activities of our citizenry, we welcome further law-breaking under more dangerous circumstances.  I have no interest in engaging those who want to talk about the "slippery slope".  This discussion is about the legalization of marijuana; no more, no less.

And then we get to the elephant in the room - the expense and devastating consequences of warehousing Maryland's poor in prison under the auspices of declaring a "war on drugs".  We spent $1.6 billion on Maryland prisons and corrections last year.  What do we have to show for locking up nonviolent drug users?  What potential is being lost by putting our youth in jail?  Whatever concerns that are raised by legalization of marijuana, can they be much worse than what happens to young men who are sent to prison for the sale of the same?

I fully expect this issue to be addressed in the General (as my opponent in the Primary has yet to spend a dollar talking about the issues).  I want those of you who feel the same way I do to know I'm with you.  And for those who feel differently, I want you to know I will always listen with the opportunity to be corrected when I am wrong.  But this issue is far too important to be ignored.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!