Colorado is considering a fundamental change to the laws concerning marijuana. Instead of continuing to follow the failed “war on drugs” policy of prohibition and criminalization, we are considering regulating marijuana like alcohol through Amendment 64. This raises some fundamental issues. What exactly should we criminalize? When is regulation, rather than criminalization, a superior solution to a perceived problem? Why should a substance be banned? When should it be regulated and made available?
We need to do this in a principled manner, so that reason, not fear, drives the determination of how the law treats actions like possession of marijuana. We must set forth before the nation the reasoned justice of our position. We need to be true to the first principle of American government; we have a government of limited powers that interferes in our daily lives only at great need.
Criminal law is a social contract to protect ourselves individually and society as a whole from harm. We punish people who violate these norms of behavior. When we determine what should be a crime, we must determine what harm we are trying to prevent. For certain crimes that determination is easy. When criminal acts causes harm to life, health or property then it is right and just that we criminalize that behavior (e.g. murder, robbery).
Certain classes of people, like children, are in need of special protection. Therefore, we make it a crime to sell alcohol or tobacco to children. Certain behaviors, like drunk driving, are too risky to permit. Sooner or later a drunk driver hurts someone.
If we enact criminal laws to prevent harm or the risk of harm to individuals or society, then one must ask - how does the private use and possession of marijuana by adults cause harm? Why should the mere possession of marijuana be punished with the full weight of criminal law and requiring the resources of police, prosecutors, courts, jails, etc…? If I choose to use marijuana in the privacy of my own home, what is the harm that concerns the government?
While we rightly condemn DWI, we do allow adults to possess and use alcoholic beverages. If someone wants to drink their liver away the local constabulary will not be breaking down doors with a SWAT team to carry that person away. However, if that same person were to grow a single marijuana plant for his or her own use, those same swat teams would be there to arrest that person, throw them in jail, place their home in forfeiture and subject that person to severe, potentially life long restrictions on access to education and benefits.
Supposing society has an interest in keeping me alive, then logically we set a certain threshold for toxicity and prohibit the possession of anything with toxicity levels higher than that standard. We could start with the toxicity of alcohol. Overdoses of alcohol are fatal. People die from alcohol poisoning routinely.
There has never been a fatal dose of marijuana, so banning marijuana because of its toxicity level is illogical and irrational.
We must consider the costs of long term use. Heavy use of alcohol over time has many adverse consequences. Alcohol and tobacco use have many documented long-term adverse impacts including cancers. There are no documented cases of serious medical conditions with long term marijuana use.
In 2006 the American Scientist published an article on the toxicity of intoxicants. http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/
We should consider the risk of “addiction” defined in a Federal study as “a maladaptive pattern of repeated substance use manifested by recurrent and significant adverse consequences” (http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_i
According to this study marijuana was one of the least addictive substances studied and far less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. Once again, by the standard of addiction, marijuana prohibition is illogical and irrational.
If there is no social harm from the private use of marijuana, then why is it illegal? There is, demonstrably, no rational reason for this. I can buy far more addictive and harmful substances at King Sooper.
In seeking to “regulate marijuana like alcohol” – actually Amendment 64 sets up a more restrictive regulatory environment – the citizens of Colorado are recognizing many things.
Most important, regulating marijuana like alcohol lowers the risk that teens will have access to marijuana. Teens consistently report that marijuana is far easier to obtain then alcohol. The local liquor store requires proof that one is over 21 while the local black market drug dealer does not. Our experience with the legitimate medical marijuana businesses in Colorado shows that these businesses are scrupulous in requiring proof that one can purchase under Colorado law. We will see the same scrupulous behavior from marijuana stores selling to the general public that we see with the legitimate business people in the liquor, tobacco and medical marijuana businesses.
We are tired of throwing good tax money after bad. We have been fighting a “war on drugs” since the Nixon administration. This “war” has been a failure and rests on no logical or rational foundation. As a nation we spend over $13 billion per year prosecuting this war. We prefer to put this money to other uses while gaining the tax revenue that would come from taxing marijuana like alcohol. Our state is desperately short of funds to provide for a good basic education to all our citizens. Amendment 64 allocates the first portion of the taxes collected from marijuana sales to our schools. Moreover, the legalization of hemp and regulation of marijuana will create jobs. There are over 4000 employed in the Colorado medical marijuana industry already.
If Amendment 64 passes we will protect children more effectively than they are protected now. We will increase our tax revenue and create jobs. We will reduce overall addictive diseases. If you share those goals logic dictates you vote yes on Amendment 64.