Pubdate: Tue, 03 Sep 2013
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2013 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Neville Cooke


More politicians need to show some backbone in making an economic
case for legalising marijuana. For years, marijuana-legalisation
advocates in Jamaica have trotted out argument after argument in
support of their cause: Prohibition doesn't stop people from using the
drug. Pot's not as harmful as legal substances like alcohol or
cigarettes. Deadly street/gang violence stems from marijuana's
illegality. The youth disparity in marijuana arrests amounts to jobs
discrimination. Marijuana has scientifically proven medicinal
benefits. Lives can be ruined by just one minor pot arrest.

But money, more than moral appeals or anything else, might talk the
loudest in the drive to decriminalise marijuana in Jamaica,
particularly in the current era of budget shortfalls and lingering
economic uncertainty. And with financial concerns helping to fuel the
passage of historic pot legalisation laws, like in Colorado and
Washington State in November - as well as the introduction of a Bill
in the US House of Representatives, would legalise and levy an excise
tax on the sale of the drug - perhaps now is a better time than ever
to convince skeptical politicians in Jamaica of the cash benefits of
getting into the marijuana business.

Hide DescriptionBY NEVILLE COOKE 1/1 The economic argument, at the end
of the day, will probably be the most effective in changing this
terrible policy Jamaica has had in place for too long. In Washington,
despite 75 years of federal marijuana prohibition, the Justice
Department said on Thursday that states can let people use the drug,
license people to grow it, and even allow adults to stroll into stores
and buy it as long as the weed is kept away from kids, the black
market and federal property.

The policy change embraces what Justice Department officials call a
"trust, but verify" approach between the federal government and states
that enact recreational marijuana use.

The fact that legalisation of marijuana would generate a fiscal
dividend does not, by itself, make it a better policy than
prohibition. Legalisation could have many effects, and opinions differ
on whether these are desirable. Both sides in this debate, however,
should want to know the order of magnitude of fiscal benefit that
might arise from legalisation.

Several specific aspects of this argument bear comments. For example,
the budgetary savings that could come from reduced criminal-justice
expenditure on drug prohibition. However, for this component of the
effect to show up in government budgets, policymakers would have to
lay off police officers, prosecutors, prison guards, and the likes.
Such a move would be politically painful, so it might not occur.
Reduced expenditure on enforcing prohibition can still be beneficial
if those criminal-justice resources are redeployed to better uses,
although that outcome will not be easy to achieve.

None of these considerations weakens the broader case against
marijuana prohibition, which has always rested on the crime,
corruption, and curtailment of freedom and civil liberties that are
the side effects of attempting to fight marijuana use with police
officers and prisons. I hope my arguments provide two additional
reasons to end marijuana prohibition: reduce expenditure on law
enforcement; and an increase in tax from legalised sales.

Come on politicians, show some backbone. Jamaica cannot be too
beholden to the United States, United Kingdom and Canada to act in our
own self-interest. Our leaders could use this opportunity to be
proactive in laying out Jamaica's place in what is becoming a legal
and global marijuana market. Let's be proactive.
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