Pubdate: Mon, 01 Nov 2010
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2010 Daily News, L.P.
Author: Stanley Crouch
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)


If Proposition 19 passes in California tomorrow and it is no longer
illegal to sell, possess or grow marijuana, we may have begun
ascending a slope less slippery than opponents of legalizing drugs
might think.

American states spend an estimated total of $50 billion a year on our
penal system. If Proposition 19 decriminalizes marijuana in
California, the entire country will see how much money can be saved
with laws based less on puritanical superstition than on facts.

Then there's the issue of tax revenues: federal and state tax revenues
for alcohol sales exceed $5.6 billion. Imagine if Prohibition were
still in place, and what that would mean for our tight budgets.

An economist at Harvard recently estimated that a marijuana tax could
bring in between $2 billion and $6 billion per year. I'm sure we'd
find something to do with that money.

Of course, the radical idea of legalizing drugs would take deep
thinking, heavy number-crunching and political cooperation beyond any
that we can presently imagine. But that does not make it impossible.

Liberals and conservatives would have to come together in the interest
of reducing criminal activity and bolstering the economy. The result
of such cooperation - legalized drugs - would bring in tax money to
pay for, among other things, drug addiction treatment.

But those stumbling into the whirlpool of addiction would amount to no
more than the percentage of alcoholics who always arrive when liquor
is available and who are, in the end, a small portion of those who
drink. Remember that supporters of Prohibition felt that absolute
decay and disorder were not far away as long as liquor could be bought
in stores.

That didn't come about. Nor will any such thing when drugs are made

During Prohibition, bootlegging bankrolled organized crime. But while
the rise and fall of the bootlegger is an iconic image, it was not
until the class film "The Godfather" that a connection was made
between organized crime and drug sales. In a meeting of Mafia bosses,
one gangster says of drugs: "In my city, we would keep the traffic in
the dark people, the colored. They're animals anyway, let them lose
their souls."

That is not what happened at all. Drugs stayed nowhere. They spread
across the country and have now become established as part of leisure
entertainment. In fact, the trade is driven by casual users, not
addicts. Casual users work everywhere from Wall Street to Main Street
and are not known among those in law enforcement for committing the
kinds of violent crimes we see from desperate and ruthless addicts.

A coalition made up of those with nerve and imagination can deal with
everything that will be arrayed against them. Most of the opposition
to legal drugs is supported by melodramatic images of addled addicts
dominating our streets and making it unsafe to ever leave home.

But things are different than when Prohibition made it possible for
untaxed empires to be created from beer and bloodshed. Now, so many
live on medicines prescribed by their doctors that we know
pharmaceutical substances are not automatically evil.

And if legislators were to make it clear to our largest pharmaceutical
companies how many billions could be made if they took over products
now driven by crime, the money necessary to fight off fear-mongering
campaigns would become available. There is that much profit to be had.

Legality would shatter drug cartels and take illegal employment from
all of the young people who work for drug dealers like insects inside
of an anthill of corruption.

I believe it's coming. The passage of Proposition 19 could begin the
ball rolling. If not then, soon. Never is not an option.

Stanley Crouch's column appears in the Daily News every Monday.
Stanley, who has written for the paper since 1995, has received many
awards for his writing, including a MacArthur Foundation "genius"
grant. His books have been widely praised and he was recently inducted
into the Academy of Arts and Sciences. 
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