It might be too much to hope (cosidering the vast amounts of money being made in illegal marijuana sales) but there are signs that sanity might yet prevail in the federal government’s War on Drugs. According to an Associated Press report in Salon.com today:
An effort is building in Congress to change U.S. marijuana laws, including moves to legalize the industrial production of hemp and establish a hefty federal pot tax.
While passage this year could be a longshot, lawmakers from both parties have been quietly working on several bills, the first of which Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado plan to introduce Tuesday, Blumenauer told The Associated Press.
Polis’ measure would regulate marijuana the way the federal government handles alcohol: In states that legalize pot, growers would have to obtain a federal permit. Oversight of marijuana would be removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration and given to the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, and it would remain illegal to bring marijuana from a state where it’s legal to one where it isn’t.
How long have I been advocating a similar approach to pot? But instead the Obama Administration has inexplicably taken the opposite tack, cracking down on states that legalized medical marijuana, for example. (Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana.)
I grew up in Jamaica, where marijuana (ganja) is everywhere, and, although it was technically illegal, I saw it smoked on street corners in full view of patrolling cops. In Toronto during the Sixties, most of us young people tried it, but it made my chest hurt the next day, and to tell the truth liquor is quicker (as Ogden Nash observed) so it didn’t have much appeal to me.
As for pot being a “gateway drug,” that’s nonsense from what I’ve observed. Contrary to the message in “Reefer Madness,” smoking pot made me sleepy and disoriented, and it certainly didn’t make me want to try cocaine or (God forbid!) heroin.
By now, the effects of pot smoking have been studied to death, and the consensus is that it’s not as harmful as booze. Besides, THC – the potent stuff in pot – seems to have some medicinal uses.
The relentless persecution of pot smokers and vendors has filled America’s prisons and cost taxpayers billions. Legalizing it would instead bring the government some much needed tax revenue. According to the AP report:
Blumenauer’s bill would create a federal marijuana excise tax of 50 percent on the “first sale” of marijuana — typically, from a grower to a processor or retailer. It also would tax pot producers or importers $1,000 annually and other marijuana businesses $500.
What could be more sensible than that? It’s a win-win proposition as far as I can see.
Colorado and Washington state have already gone ahead and legalized recreational marijuana and Blumenauer thinks that should push Congress to end the 75-year federal pot prohibition.
Washington state officials have estimated that marijuana taxes could earn the state about half a billion dollars a year.
Blumenauer points out that “we’re still arresting two-thirds of a million people for use of a substance that a majority feel should be legal. … It’s past time for us to step in and try to sort this stuff out.”
Amen to that, I say.