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Lawrence Reed Columnist

Published Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just say no to the marijuana war

The most potent mind-altering drug isn’t one that you stick up your nose or inject into your arm. It’s called the truth. In spite of your best efforts to sometimes keep it out, it tends to migrate straight to an important internal organ that biologists identify as the brain — but it can take a long time and a tortuous route to finally get there. The war on marijuana is a case in point.

Before you jump to conclusions, please note: I don’t smoke the stuff, and I don’t encourage anybody else to unless they derive some personal pleasure or medical benefit from it, and as long as they don’t harm anybody else when they do. I just don’t believe the best way to deal with a popular plant involves cops, helicopters, raids, shoot-outs and prisons. Marijuana has killed far fewer people than swimming pools. It’s the war against it that does all the violence.

On Nov. 6, voters in Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana for recreational use — the first such statewide votes in U.S. history. My first thought when I heard the news was a single word: Hallelujah! Maybe now, at least in those two states, more law enforcement resources can go toward crimes that actually have victims.

The evidence has been staring us in the face for years. Laws against the growing, possession or use of marijuana have been a colossal and expensive failure. Anybody who wants it can get it, easily. The war against it is no more effective or desirable than alcohol Prohibition was in the 1920s and early 1930s. Until we threw in the towel on that fiasco, we spent a fortune in a doomed and senseless effort to keep people from their booze, and we shot up the streets in the process. Organized crime was the biggest beneficiary because the cops were busy jailing the less fortunate competition.

Thanks largely to our marijuana laws, we prop up Mexican drug cartels with billions in artificial profits. The associated violence in Mexico on both sides of the border kills and maims thousands more in any one year than marijuana itself has in the last century. More than 40,000 people are languishing in jails and prisons right now on marijuana charges — virtually all non-violent offenders— at an average cost of more than $20,000. What on earth do we have to show for all this stupidity? Nothing but pain and sorrow and diminishing public treasuries, not to mention the liberties we’ve lost because of property forfeiture and other intrusive police powers.

If we banned milk, we would produce precisely the same effects. The streets would be full of milk pushers. The milk business would go to the Al Capones of the world instead of your local grocer.

But anybody who wanted to drink milk and pay the price would get it anyway, right down the street next to the police station.

It would be charitable to say the war on marijuana is a failure or a futile effort. It’s a human tragedy. Just say no to it.


(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N.Y., and Atlanta.)

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