“Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.” – Will Rogers
COMMENTARY: It’s time to regulate and tax the consumption of marijuana like alcohol. Why? The reasons are compelling, conclusive and plentiful.
The most obvious? Prohibition increases use. When the United States banned alcohol in 1919 consumption initially went down. However, by the time it was repealed in 1932 more people were drinking more alcohol (a 30-40% increase) than they did before prohibition was passed. The same thing is happening with marijuana; as more states tax and regulate, teen use is decreasing at a significant level.
Comparing alcohol and marijuana shows the later is much safer. From 2006 to 2010, the CDC reported that 88,000 people died from alcohol poisoning. Yet a category for marijuana doesn’t exist because overdosing is physically impossible. Furthermore, alcohol has been shown in numerous studies to trigger violent behavior (including domestic violence). Marijuana, on the other hand, is the substance least likely to be used by emergency room patients.
The argument that marijuana leads to harder drug use is simply incorrect. While 50 percent of Americans have tried marijuana, only 15 percent have admitted to trying cocaine. That number drops to 3.6 percent for crack and 1.6 percent for heroin. The National Academy of Sciences, in a report to Congress, stated “because underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common, and is rarely the first, ‘gateway’ to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”
Furthermore, hard drug use in states with legal marijuana will probably decline. After all, if you visit a dealer to buy pot they will always have other drugs for sale. A regulated store selling marijuana will not.
Prohibition increases violence by benefiting cartels and gangs. During the years of alcohol prohibition the country’s murder rate doubled… only to decrease substantially after it was repealed. In Colorado, the same thing is happening now that marijuana policies have been reversed. After a year of taxation and regulation violent crime rates in Denver declined, as have statewide traffic fatalities.
Furthermore, as marijuana has become legal in various ways throughout the United States the price for illegal marijuana grown in Mexico and sold by cartels has dropped by half, giving them less resources for their activities; namely killing people (estimated at 60,000 murders between 2006 and 2012).
Regulating marijuana like alcohol would also be good economically. Currently, when police, court and incarceration costs are combined, New Mexico spends $33 million of your tax money to enforce prohibition. In light of the information presented above, that money would be much better used going after murders, rapists and thieves.
Rather than marijuana revenue furthering violence, money would go to legitimate businesses contributing to the economy. Currently in Colorado, legal marijuana is selling between for $2,000 and $3,000 per pound. This is generating huge economic gains, totaling $700 million.
The outgrowth? Revenue for schools. Colorado’s law requires marijuana taxes to fund education, and is expecting to bring in $100 million in per year from taxes and licensing fees by 2016. This is so much that the government doesn’t know what to do with it, and Colorado residents may actually get a refund.
Last year I introduced House Bill 160, the Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act. It would have allowed private use of marijuana for adults over 21. Republican Party leaders killed it quickly, but I won’t quit. If we want less crime, better schools, and a healthier state let’s stop our outdated prohibition laws and do this right.
Bill McCamley is the state representative for District 33 in Las Cruces, Mesilla, Mesilla Park and Tortugas.