Strange Things Afoot in the Golden State

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Actually, stranger than normal things are afoot in the Golden State. Considering they elected a governor who can’t pronounce “Golden State,” stranger than normal is a stretch in the land of fruits, nuts and O.J. jurors.

But, when Californians step into their voting booths on Nov. 2, they will face a choice which has drawn considerable interest from parties far and wide, most notably from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. 

California’s Proposition 19 is a ballot measure which would reclassify growth, use and sale of recreational marijuana as a legal activity, within certain parameters. (Sorry Spicoli, you still won’t be allowed to get baked in the bathroom before biology.)

Last week, Holder announced that while Californians might give Prop 19 the thumbs up, the administration of President Barack Obama will continue the decades-old tradition of giving it the Federal thumbs down. Specifically, the Feds will:

"…vigorously enforce the Controlled Substances Act against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law."

Does decriminalization really threaten a state in which the doddering Zen Master Jerry Brown is leading in the race for the Governor’s Mansion?  For that matter, does decriminalization threaten a nation in which Barack Obama is President, and one of the top rated programs on television involves the saga of halfwits called “The Situation” and “Snookie?”  Is it possible that we have more pressing concerns than either, or even “J-Woww?”

Of the massive taxpayer dollars dedicated to keeping taxpayers off drugs, about $15 billion go to marijuana enforcement. Marijuana-related arrests are closing in on 1 million annually. Law enforcement man-hours, criminal court calendar backlogs and those insipid “Ad Council” spots which try to convince you that lighting up now might keep you from being President (even though lighting up then didn’t stop Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) all cost time, resources and money. 

For many of you who regularly join me Outside the Asylum, the idea of decriminalizing marijuana is surely anathema. Let me be clear:  I’m merely suggesting that this is a debate worth having. I am NOT suggesting we roll a legal snowball down Narcotics Mountain.

Drugs like heroin, cocaine/crack and crystal meth should remain illegal, despite the potential Social Darwinian benefits of allowing the deserving members of the American herd to engage in self-culling behavior. Anything which makes stabbing yourself in the carotid with a dirty hypodermic needle, shooting the 7-Eleven clerk because he asked why your jaw was rattling like Jimmy Buffett doing a benefit show in Antarctica and washing your face with steel wool is a bad idea in the same vein as: “Don’t worry, our daughter caught a ride with Senator Kennedy.”

Consider legalization logic outside of the burden on law enforcement. This isn’t just an issue for slack-jawed frat boys, mouthy rock stars and the creepy guy with the dreadlocks who spends all day in front of the liquor store smelling like he rolled in something awful. 

Imagine the economic benefits if pot farming was legal. 

Pot is currently the top cash crop in about a dozen states, including Personal Liberty Digest’s home state of Alabama. In fact, it ranks in the top 10 in every state in the union except North Dakota (where it’s 11th).

Marijuana grows like a… well… weed. And I suspect those statistics understate reality. I somehow doubt every Farmer Brown in the hinterlands is entirely forthcoming with the United States Department of Agriculture inspector who drops by to check the sorghum fields.

Instead of $15 billion spent on the War on Weed, U.S. farmers could produce $115 billion in taxable commodity. Perhaps that explains support for decriminalization from Ron Paul, the late William F. Buckley and Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. They recognize $42 billion in wasted total tax revenue when they see it.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution made booze verboten. For the next 14 years, organized crime grew from cottage industry to colossal enterprise. Getting tanked is legal again, while getting stoned is decidedly less so. But anecdotal evidence suggests alcoholics are much more likely to slide into a family of four while doing Mach 2 through the subdivision than the pothead who can’t find the keys to the minivan because they’re in… his pocket.

We’ve been fighting an intramural War on Drugs (marijuana division) for decades. We’ve spent billions on largely ineffective enforcement initiatives and put millions of otherwise non-threatening citizens behind bars, often turning them into hardened offenders by the time they get out. As unlikely as it seems, perhaps California has shown us a better way… dude.

Ben Crystal

is a 1993 graduate of Davidson College and has burned the better part of the last two decades getting over the damage done by modern-day higher education. He now lives in Savannah, Ga., where he has hosted an award-winning radio talk show and been featured as a political analyst for television. Currently a principal at Saltymoss Productions—a media company specializing in concept television and campaign production, speechwriting and media strategy—Ben has written numerous articles on the subjects of municipal authoritarianism, the economic fallacy of sin taxes and analyses of congressional abuses of power.

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