Pubdate: Mon, 09 Dec 2013
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2013 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Walter Olson
Note: Walter Olson, a Frederick County resident, is a senior fellow
at the Cato Institute.
Page: 17


When Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur, who's running for
governor, unveiled a proposal to tax and legalize sales of pot, most
of the reactions from Maryland politicians were muted - with one
Frederick County delegate providing a characteristically explosive

"It's my firm belief that marijuana makes you lazy and stupid, and
while this may really encourage Delegate Mizeur's base, my base are
the hard-working taxpayers of Maryland who are probably not the ones
who are smoking marijuana and being lazy," Frederick County Republican
Del. Kathy Afzali told WHAG-TV, the NBC-affiliated TV station in Hagerstown.

I'm still trying to tote up how many different people Delegate Afzali
managed to insult with that sentence. Start with General Assembly
colleague Delegate Mizeur herself and her supporters. Then there are
all the people who've tried marijuana but may not regard themselves as
lazy or stupid - a list that might include such public figures as Bill
Gates and Michael Bloomberg as well as the past three presidents.

Now, to be sure, to borrow a line from William F. Buckley Jr.,
following Delegate Afzali around in search of tactless remarks is like
following a lighted fuse in search of an explosion: one never has to
wait very long. But her Frederick County colleague Del. Michael Hough,
generally a more carefully spoken conservative leader, likewise erred
on the side of dismissiveness. Mr. Hough told reporters that he
wondered "what [the bill sponsors are] smoking" (sorry, but that dig
got tired years ago) "because it sends a terrible message quite
frankly to our young people out there."

That's one view. The other view is: What kind of message does it send
to young people to menace them with a criminal record that could haunt
them through life for low-level possession?

The fact is, opinions have changed. A recent Goucher University poll
found Maryland residents now support legalization of marijuana by a 51
percent to 40 percent margin, right in line with national opinion
trends in which Gallup now finds support above 50 percent for the
first time. The Goucher poll also found Marylanders overwhelmingly
support more modest liberalization steps such as prescribed medical
use of marijuana and non-jail consequences for low-level possession.

With Colorado and Washington voters having chosen last year to
legalize cannabis, the debate is headed our way. It's one that raises
questions of individual liberty and the proper role of law: What
business is it of the government what citizens do behind closed doors?
And in a state with no shortage of serious crime, is this what we want
police working on? Whatever your answers to these questions, it's hard
to claim the current approach is working.

Ms. Mizeur's proposal offers one jumping-off point for such a

"We would have cultivators, retailers and laboratories in the state
under a new regulated market, where we bring the underground market to
the light of day," the Montgomery County delegate has said, comparing
the failures of pot prohibition to those of alcohol

Of Mizeur's Democratic rivals, neither Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown nor
Attorney General Douglas Gansler is willing to support full
legalization. On the Republican side, neither Harford County executive
David Craig nor Anne Arundel Del. Ronald George is willing to go for
broad legalization either. But the Associated Press intriguingly
quotes Mr. George as saying "he isn't necessarily opposed to the
concept of allowing adults to use marijuana." Businessman Charles
Lollar, a longer-shot candidate with the most strongly conservative
base of the three, is reportedly undecided. (A fourth Republican,
Larry Hogan, has said he plans to get in the race in January.)

Reform could have potentially major fiscal impacts for Annapolis. A
2010 paper for the Cato Institute on The Budgetary Impact of Ending
Drug Prohibition estimated that $132 million in Maryland public
expenditures in 2008 were attributable to prosecution, police
assignments and other costs of marijuana prohibition. That's not
counting the productivity losses we suffer when arrest, jail or
probation throw kids off the college or work track. Under Delegate
Mizeur's plan, the state would actually see tax revenue.

Voters may not have made up their minds, but they're going to want
reactions that rise above insults and dismissiveness.
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