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A Great Argument for Drug Legalization

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  • A Great Argument for Drug Legalization

    I started a new thread for this rather than just posting it as a reply to the previous thread because (a) it will be fairly lengthy and (b) I'm hoping everyone will read it. Apologies to you Canadians, this is very focused on US law, but since the current US drug laws have an enormous effect on the rest of the world, you may still want to read.

    This past weekend the ACLU of Pennsylvania had its bi-annual membership conference. Our keynote speaker was Howard Woodlridge, a former Michigan police officer who now speaks for an organization called LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). Very interesting guy. He's traversed the country four times on horseback, wearing a t-shirt that says "Cops say Legalize Drugs, ask me why," all to stimulate debate through PR.

    He did a fantastic speech and presented what I consider a pretty airtight argument about why all drugs should be legalized. I thought immediately of the thread from this BB and figured I'd share my notes.

    These may be a little out of order. I'm working from the notepad I used at the conference and I don't have a load of spare time to revise this, so bear with me.

    First off, he started his presentation by first pointing out that while the name became popular in the 1980s, the "War on Drugs" really started in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substance Act, which essentially did for drugs via federal law what Prohibition did for alcohol via constitutional amendment. He asked the crowd, after almost 40 years of the War on Drugs, how many of us felt safer, felt that the United States had improved its drug problem, or had any happy stories to tell about good results from the War on Drugs.

    Then he asked us several questions about the current law in the United States. Under the current laws:

    1. Who sets purity limits for street drugs?
    2. Who sets the age limit to purchase street drugs?
    3. Who sets the distribution points for street drugs?
    4. Who decides where the profits go?

    The answer to all four questions is "The Drug Dealer." Drugs are sold by teenagers, distributed by cartels and gangs, and the funding supports terrorists, cartels, and criminals. The black market creates an employment opportunity for inner-city youth. In many communities, the community "high roller" who has the money, the nice car, the video game systems, the girls, etc is the drug dealer. Kids see this. When he gets arrested or killed, another person steps in to become the drug dealer, and becomes the high roller. This is a very easy cycle to break. If we legalize, the drug dealer disappears.

    Incidentally, the UN estimates that the drug trade is a $500 billion/year industry. This is because of the black market for drugs, but the black market is artificial. We can get rid of it very easily. We have done it before, in 1933.

    Nothing the government can do is going to stop drug use or drug sales. We have two choices. We can continue to allow the bad guys to run and benefit from the market, or we can legalize and let the government regulate it.

    Law enforcement makes no difference; the United States does not have fewer drugs or fewer drug dealers than it did 40 years ago. If anything, drugs are more common, stronger, and cheaper than ever. Every drug dealer who is arrested or killed is quickly replaced. The only net effect of the War on Drugs is that the taxpayers build more prisons. Per capita, the United States currently has more of its population incarcerated than any other society in the history of the world. In Pennsylvania, we are spending $1.6 billion a year maintaining our prisons, and at the rate our incarcerations are increasing there is an immediate need to build two more prisons, at an estimated cost of $300 million each for construction alone.

    A few statistics:

    - 90% of people who sell drugs in America do so part-time to make supplemental income.

    - 70% of all felony arrests are drug related. The majority are for "simple possession," meaning the arrested has a small enough quantity to be used only for personal use, not for distribution.

    - There are 800 thousand arrests per year for simple possession of marijuana, and another 600 thousand for simple possession of other drugs.

    - The US presently spends 70 billion tax dollars each year on drug law enforcement.

    - Since 1970, we have spent over one TRILLION dollars on the "War on Drugs."

    - 80% of all property theft is to get money to buy drugs.

    - Currently, about 35 million people in the United States use illegal drugs.

    - Estimates have shown that, if all street drugs were legalized and the government taxed them at $1 per dose, it would result in $10 billion per year in tax revenue.

    He didn't go into a lot of explanation on this, but he cited the Swiss approach to drug law as the best in the world. Apparently the Swiss approach drug use solely from a public health stance. If someone is arrested for drug crime, they are sentenced to rehab, not to prison. As a result of their drug law reforms, the Swiss have just about eradicated problems like property theft for drug use, overdose deaths, transmission of contagious disease via shared needles, and of course imprisonment for possession. Many other nations are implementing the Swiss system in their own laws. The Swiss government, during the Bush years, offered at their own expense to send four experts from their government to testify before Congress on what they have done and why it works. The Bush administration declined the offer.

    Wooldridge then addressed some of the most common questions that come up when he presents this argument.

    - Q: Won't legalization result in increased use? A: The fact is that many countries have already legalized some or all drugs, and none have seen an increase in use. Furthermore, LEAP has a panel of medical addiction experts who sort of laughingly state, "there is no one in this country who wants to try heroin, who is waiting for it to be legalized." Anyone that reckless is already using.

    It is also important that this is a solution to crime, NOT to abuse. People are using and abusing today, and the law is not preventing it. Ending drug prohibition will not stop use or abuse. It will, however, alleviate our terrible problems with crime.

    - Q: Does legalization mean that the government says drugs are safe? A: Look at alcohol and cigarettes. The government can legalize and tax products that are unhealthy without endorsing their use. There would still be limitations on drugs - for example, Wooldridge recommends that states outlaw all advertising and that distribution be limited to state-stores, the way PA currently treats liquor.

    - Q: Won't we see an increase in drug-related violence like intoxicated driving, domestic abuse, etc? A: Once again, there is no reason to believe drug use would increase, and therefore no reason to think that the frequency for these crimes would increase. We already see these offenses, and they would remain illegal. There is abundant reason to believe that with police freed up from chasing drug users in their homes and chasing drug dealers, they would have more resources to catch drunk drivers, wife beaters, etc.

    Wooldridge made a big point of how the "War on Drugs" harms public safety by distracting law enforcement. In the case of marijuana, he says this is an easy argument. "Would you rather have the police chasing drunk drivers, murderers, rapists, and child molesters? Or Michael Phelps and Willie Nelson?"

    It is also notable that there exist only two drugs that CAUSE aggressive behavior in humans. One is PCP. The other is alcohol - which is a factor in an estimated 80% of domestic violence cases.

    - Q: Will this really do away with drug dealers? Won't there still be a black market? A: Yes. There is precedent in prohibition, but also in the legalization of the "numbers racket" as the lottery. The reason the mafia has lost so much power and influence in the US is because the government systematically legalized those things the mafia was making its money doing illegally. When the government legalizes, the black market simply can't compete.

    - Q: Okay, I understand legalizing pot, but you really want to legalize hard drugs like heroin and crack? A: Wooldridge says he always responds to this the same way. He says, "I'll tell you what. You decide which drugs you want to see the drug dealers establishing policy for, which drugs you want to see sold to raise money for al Qaeda and the Taliban and the drug cartels, which drugs you want to see sold on the street by teenagers, and cut with whatever poisons people choose. You make that list, and those are the drugs we'll keep illegal."

    Wooldridge also talked about his own experience lobbying for legalization in Washington, and how he is opposed by two lobbies: pharmaceuticals and law enforcement. Law enforcement not because they feel that prohibition works - most cops will tell you it doesn't - but because various FOP and police unions have estimated that if drugs are legalized it will result in 50% of all LE officers losing their jobs - primarily prison guards and administrators. Estimates say that 50% or more of all prisons may be closed if drugs are legalized. Also, 40% of all defense attorneys would be out of a job.

    The pharmaceutical lobby opposes legalization because they fear the competition. Marijuana in particular is a stunningly effective pain killer that is not physically addictive, and is incredibly cheap to grow and manufacture. Major money stands to be lost by the pharmaceutical companies if drugs are legalized.

    There were other facts and figures as well, but none that I wrote down. If you're interested, I'd strongly encourage you to check out LEAP, and especially if you want to become a member or a speaker for the organization. I have been absolutely won over by their argument, but at this point this is very much a PR issue. Politicians don't want to approach the issue because the public is generally very skeptical. However, the tide is shifting. More than 70% of Americans polled say they consider the War on Drugs to be a failure. Nearly 50% say they favor legalizing marijuana, and in many states that number is far higher. There have been some shifts in drug policy under the Obama administration. The largest is that Obama has directed the DEA to stop raiding people who have legally obtained their marijuana under prescription in the 13 states that have legal medicinal marijuana - this was not the case under Bush, you could still be (and many people were) arrested by federal agents for pot they had bought legally under state laws.

    Also, Massachusetts has taken the first bold step toward legalization of marijuana by reducing simple possession to a civil and not a criminal offense, meaning that offenders pay a fine but do no jail time, nor do they establish a criminal record. However, Mass residents are still subject to federal laws, and I'm not clear on what the Obama DEA will do about these offenders in federal court.

    The bottom line is, we need to spread the word and share this argument. No one is saying that drugs are a good thing, but what we are saying is that the "War on Drugs" is far worse, and does more harm to our society than legalized and regulated drugs would do. I'm doing my part to spread the word - I'd ask that all of you do the same.

  • #2
    I work for an Ag Company, and some how we got talking about this the other day and one of my co-workers pointed something out to me that I had never considered before.

    I have always thought that there was significant tax money to be made on legalizing pot and the taxing it... The problem is that even if I COULD go to the store and pick up a pack of "joints" or what ever, if its legal ... Pot AKA Weed Grows EVERYWHERE, and further because its a Weed it is NOT hard to grow, its not even hard to make it extremely potent. If it were legal to cultivate it myself I could do just that , and I wouldnt need to buy it, once again circumventing any "tax" benefit that the government would see.

    Just one thought there are a lot of other interesting points in your comments ...

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    • #3
      Hulu - Family Guy: Bag of Weed

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      • #4
        That being said.. do you grow your own tobacco?

        I dont know the exact laws up in Canada.. but i know we are certainly more relaxed in tems of possesion and what not.. Legalization is certainly one way to help everyone get out of the recession!!

        Legalize prostitution and we can rely on Sex, Drugs and rock and roll to save the day!! (I keed, I keed)

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Stryker908 View Post
          I work for an Ag Company, and some how we got talking about this the other day and one of my co-workers pointed something out to me that I had never considered before.

          I have always thought that there was significant tax money to be made on legalizing pot and the taxing it... The problem is that even if I COULD go to the store and pick up a pack of "joints" or what ever, if its legal ... Pot AKA Weed Grows EVERYWHERE, and further because its a Weed it is NOT hard to grow, its not even hard to make it extremely potent. If it were legal to cultivate it myself I could do just that , and I wouldnt need to buy it, once again circumventing any "tax" benefit that the government would see.

          Just one thought there are a lot of other interesting points in your comments ...
          Most vegtables, tobacco, herbs, ect are very easy to grow yourself.

          For city areas where you do not have much ground though you get into growth costs such as lighting, ventilation, ect.

          If the tax is kept low it is just easier to go to the local store and buy a pack for like $10 then grow your own. Sure growing woudl be cheaper long term but it does require some work....

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          • #6
            Originally posted by soulpatch View Post
            Sure growing woudl be cheaper long term but it does require some work....

            And you 'pot heads' ain't exactly known for your ambition................



            ; )

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Thumper View Post
              And you 'pot heads' ain't exactly known for your ambition................



              ; )
              Pothead I am not. have not touched it in years and when I did it was rarely....

              However I see the plus side to legalizing it and taking some of the power away from those who run the black market.

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              • #8
                once again circumventing any "tax" benefit that the government would see.
                I think it's been said a couple of times, but there are lots of things you can do at home yourself...it's simply a matter of time, money and energy. Growing your own would mean planting, feeding, watering, harvesting, processing, etc...there's a lot of work involved.

                Better yet, if you're interested in growing it yourself, start a little home business. You can do it in your basement. You'll still be paying sales tax...

                Didn't I bring this up a few weeks ago in another thread as an answer to our financial woes?

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                • #9
                  I'm sure Super Thumper will debate this and if he proves me wrong, good...I don't actually know for certain. At any rate, I believe...BELIEVE...that making alcohol is illegal without some sort of license or something to that effect. That being said I'm sure they'd do the same for marijuana. And, if it's illegal to do it yourself, but you can just go to the store, it negates the whole "if it's legal why would I buy it when I can grow it myself" argument that removes the taxation consideration from legalization. Also to the note of law enforcement officials being laid off (Task force officers/prison guards or administrators) I believe that yes, it would be a shame for those people to lose their jobs but if they're made unecessary by the law changes to drugs that's even fewer people on the government payroll that would allow the government spending to go into other areas. It's sad, but at this point anything to get our local governments some extra cash is a good idea IMO. And I currently live in a city where they've laid off 90 officers and are laying off another 125 because the budget just doesn't support that many officers even though we're already undermanned.

                  And excellent post Keelty

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                  • #10
                    Thanks, BFly. All I was thinking while I was listening to this presentation and writing notes was how I couldn't wait to get back and post it on the GSBB. This is by far the largest forum in which my voice is heard, and I knew a lot of you guys would appreciate it. I can't take credit for the content tho.

                    As to the "grow your own" conversation, first off I'd point out that I'm not suggesting it should be legalized BECAUSE it can be taxed, but that the tax revenue is an added bonus - on top of the massive amount of government expense we'd save by not funding the War on Drugs.

                    As others have pointed out, people can grow almost anything at home, but even in farm areas there's still a healthy market for tomatoes, tobacco, watermelon, pumpkins, cucumbers, etc. Most people would rather buy than grow - or do both. The western world has largely moved away from the culture of "let me grow a supply of [x] and keep it on hand" to a culture of "let me buy this on Friday afternoon for the party I'm having that evening."

                    My expectation would be that the we'd actually see the overall number of people "growing their own" decrease rather than increase. Currently it's both a way to get weed on the cheap AND a way to avoid purchasing illegally. Legalizing would remove one of the biggest motivators to grow pot at home.

                    As for making your own hooch, that's a state issue (the states' rights argument re: drug legalization and policy is one I didn't bring up in my original notes, but it did come up, and Woodlridge said it's often very successful with conservatives). My understanding is that in most states it's legal to brew your own beer or wine as long as you don't sell it without a license, and a fair number of people do so, but that it's illegal pretty much everywhere to distill your own hard liquor. That has more to do with the inherent danger in distilling liquor though, and not with the possession of "unlicensed" hard alcohol. This Yahoo question [surprisingly] has a good explanation as to why home distilling is illegal.

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                    • #11
                      Daniel Tosh put it best: "I wish pot was legalized, so stoners wouldn't have anything else to talk about."

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MGordo View Post
                        That being said.. do you grow your own tobacco?
                        Tobacco requires VERY specific growing Conditions Marijuana grows in just about any soil


                        Map of Tobacco Farms in the US

                        VS Pot which will grow in EVERY state in the union .... (Even Alaska...)

                        Originally posted by soulpatch View Post
                        Most vegtables, tobacco, herbs, ect are very easy to grow yourself.

                        Not most, some, but they also dont "fruit" as regularly as Marijuana does thus making them difficult for "on demand" usage


                        Further there is already a very well established underground market and "farmers" of this product...

                        Sure if you legalize it you will allow legitamat farmers to the produce the crop and drive the price down

                        Imagine how much work farmers would need to protect their crop? You would need armed guards out in the fields 24 hours a day....

                        Lets face it, nobody is driving to Iowa to steal ears of corn for dinner.... But if you wana get high and you can drive 30 min to a pot farm.....

                        I think what you would have to do is make the sentencing for drug crimes "with out a license" MUCH more sevier....

                        But what do you do with all the people in Jail on drug convictions? Are they suddenly free?

                        What if while in prison they commited a Secondary crime inorder to survive?

                        The can of worms that something like this would open up FAR out weighs any potential benefit...

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                        • #13
                          If they committed a "survival" second offense, then they should be retried for the second offense as it has now become the primary. I know what's coming next with this statement...but if it's something that needs to be done, then it's something that needs to be done. Of course it's going to back the jailhouses up years and years, but look at the Death Penalty states...how long are their lines for people waiting appeal after appeal after appeal to get denied before they can be executed...I don't think it'd be much difference for the retrials. The relief of millions (or thousands, whatever) of people imprisoned for having a little baggy of weed because it was 4/20 is enough in my mind because that's how many billions of tax dollars that we no longer have to spend supporting someone who did something that was at the time severely illegal enough at the time to be considered a felony.

                          As for the independent brewers, I did completely have yet another dumbass moment in not recalling that my brother-in-law has his own little brewery and he gives us samples every now and then...damn good stuff. I was just thinking about the special I saw on History about the DEA officers that were hunting down illegal distilleries in places like Tennessee and Arkansas and destroying them. So, to correct my err and redirect this I believe that independent growers, much like the independent brewers of the 20s/30s would go down simply because as Keelty said, why do all the work when you can have someone else do it for you?

                          And, as far as the armed guards for the pot farms... That would be quite the site.

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                          • #14
                            funny i was thinking about this exact topic 2 weeks ago while watching a show about vice cops. They showed a group of cops staking out a pot dealer and busting his customers. They had 8 cruisers and probably a dozen cops bust this old guy who went in and bought 2 grams of pot. Imagine the cost of that single bust......12 cops tied up for atleast a half hour (what does a vice cop make per hour)....every cruiser was running during the bust with lights flashing (cost of fuel) plus the guy they busted probably couldnt afford a lawyer so one would be provided by the state, processing, if he has a prior he goes to jail so the state pays for him to do his time, plus once hes out hes on probabtion which the state pays for the probabtion officers. All because the guy bought 2 grams of pot and was going home to sit on the couch and smoke a joint. Yup the government got its moneys worth on that bust

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Stryker908 View Post
                              Imagine how much work farmers would need to protect their crop? You would need armed guards out in the fields 24 hours a day....

                              Lets face it, nobody is driving to Iowa to steal ears of corn for dinner.... But if you wanna get high and you can drive 30 min to a pot farm.....
                              I'd be interested to see how much the average produce farmer loses to theft from the fields. It absolutely HAS to happen, I can't imagine how it wouldn't. But when you grow in the kind of quantity that farmers do, it's statistically insignificant when a few people sneak out with some of your crop.

                              I think what you would have to do is make the sentencing for drug crimes "with out a license" MUCH more severe....
                              There is a very common misconception that people have that stronger penalties = more deterrent = fewer people do it, that almost never holds true for any kind of crime. What actually ends up happening is that you create career criminals as the result of relatively minor infractions. I do see what you're saying though, and I think a system similar to what we currently have with alcohol / cigarettes is appropriate. The point is to have a deterrent - and once again, if the police are not chasing after every kid with a dime bag, there's more time to enforce the other laws.

                              But what do you do with all the people in Jail on drug convictions? Are they suddenly free?

                              What if while in prison they commited a Secondary crime inorder to survive?

                              The can of worms that something like this would open up FAR out weighs any potential benefit...
                              You raise two valid questions up above, but then you draw an inductive leap and fall back on the all-too-common "this is too complicated to even think about, so it can't be worth it." I'd suggest that if you really want answers to those questions, look at what was done after Prohibition ended. What happened to imprisoned bootleggers? I don't know the answer to that question.

                              As to those who committed secondary offenses, I could see an amnesty for anyone imprisoned over simple possession, just as a for instance, but if someone committed a murder or an armed robbery, in my mind those crimes would have to stand. But I'm not the one who would be making that decision, nor am I a lawyer or a law enforcement professional, so that's just my opinion.

                              I do think, though, that the argument LEAP makes demonstrates that we do need this change. The War on Drugs has no benefit at all, does grievous harm to our society, and provides an easy funding source for the bad guys.

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