Pubdate: Fri, 26 Oct 2012
Source: Las Vegas Sun (NV)
Copyright: 2012 Las Vegas Sun, Inc
Author: J. Patrick Coolican


More People Are in Favor of Legalization, and Like Voters in
Washington and Colorado May Do This Election, the State Should End the

Let's talk pot.

Perhaps the most consequential decision faced by voters in three
Western states, other than control of the White House, are voter
initiatives that would legalize marijuana.

Polls suggest voters in Colorado and Washington may approve
initiatives to do so while Oregonians are more reluctant.

This would be a welcome retreat in the most foolish front of the Drug
War, and one that would likely mark the beginning of the end of
marijuana prohibition.

"If any of them pass, it will be the first time since the widespread
prohibition of marijuana that any state pulled back," says Morgan Fox,
a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates reform.
"It will be a really big deal."

If these states legalize marijuana, Nevada, which has tried and failed
to legalize in the past, should consider doing the same. I'll return
to that later.

Marijuana prohibition is becoming less popular by the day. A Gallup
poll last year found that 50 percent of Americans favor legalization,
a first. Just as astounding is the trend, as support has doubled in
about 15 years.

Demographics help explain this, as there were 45 million Americans
between 18 and 29 as of 2009, with more coming. These people are more
socially liberal than their parents. What they realize is that it's
just not a big deal.

There's also growing skepticism about the effectiveness of marijuana
prohibition, and it's coming from conservatives. William F. Buckley,
the late godfather of conservatism, was long a voice against
prohibition, but lately it's become a chorus of conservatives. This
shouldn't be surprising. Although marijuana is often associated with
the lefty counterculture of the much reviled 1960s, the drug war
requires big government resources to achieve its dubious ends. It is
expensive and inevitably leads to the abuse of government power.

Conservative columnist George Will recently gave a full airing to the
idea of legalizing not just marijuana but "hard drugs," as well: "(I)t
is not unreasonable to consider modifying a policy that gives hundreds
of billions of dollars a year to violent organized crime."

Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review and
longtime critic of marijuana prohibition, wrote recently, "Exhaustion
is finally setting in with the enormous human and fiscal costs of
attempting to eradicate the ineradicable."

What costs? According to the Drug Policy Alliance, more than 850,000
Americans are arrested every year for marijuana-related crime,
including 750,000 for possession only. This contributes to our having
the highest incarceration rate in the world. We spend $51 billion per
year on the drug war.

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron concludes that legalizing marijuana
would save federal, state and local law enforcement about $8.7 billion.

(Am I the only one baffled by story after story about Metro police
making another pot bust while Sheriff Doug Gillespie complains about
budget constraints?)

Miron also estimates that if taxes on marijuana were commensurate with
current alcohol taxes, the levies would raise another $8.7 billion.

Obviously, legalization would come with public health risks. But
consider alcohol, which kills 40,000, not even counting
alcohol-related homicides and accidents, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco, meanwhile, is responsible for
1 in 5 American deaths, or nearly 500,000 people per year when you
factor in victims of second-hand smoke.

How many people die from smoking pot, eating munchies and playing
video games? Basically zero.

Despite all this evidence, the politicians remain way behind the
public. Enforcement is such a failure that most people who want to
smoke pot do so without thinking twice, but they aren't about to come
out of the shadows and join a movement to pressure the politicians.
(Plus, ha ha, they might be too lazy.)

Meanwhile, Democratic elected officials, who should be pushing this
issue, are cowards, feebly whimpering in the face of anticipated
attacks that they are the pot party. They all fear the inevitable TV
ads about "Congressman So-and-So has gone to pot."

So that leaves state initiatives.

The problem with this route is that it will create a messy conflict
with the federal government, as we've already seen with medical
marijuana. For the sake of argument, however, let's assume the feds
don't put up a major fight. In that case, it will be a huge deal if
Washington and Colorado approve state-licensed marijuana stores. It
will be a source of unending fascination by the national press.
Although Washington and Colorado would still prohibit marijuana use in
public places, marijuana tourism can't be far behind. Catch that? Tourism.

Think of the possibilities.

Some Colorado business leaders are opposing the measure because they
don't want Colorado to become known as the pot state. (To which I
might reply: Too late.)

This is certainly a risk for Nevada. Our "What happens here" image has
created its own branding challenge as we also try to be known as
something other than a pleasure capital.

The train, however, is leaving the station. In a decade, I'm guessing
marijuana will be legal in a dozen states or more. It would be a
strange break with our libertarian tradition if we weren't one of
those states.

If our quickie-divorced, prostitute-procuring, degenerate gamblers
want to chill their frazzled nerves with a marijuana cigarette, who
are we to tell them they can't?
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