Six directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy over the previous 3 administrations penned a cooperative op-ed Wednesday in opposition to California’s Proposition 19 ballot proposal to legalize marijuana.
The editorial, written by Gil Kerlikowske, John Walters, Barry McCaffrey, Lee Brown, Bob Martinez and William Bennett — that’s every United States “drug czar,” including the current one — was published in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday, and argues primarily that social costs incurred by legalizing marijuana would outweigh the potential revenue streams gained by taxing drug sales.
First and foremost, the high-profile anti-drug group contends, a potential marijuana legalization will lead to an upswing in use, particularly among minors:
Proponents of marijuana legalization often point to Amsterdam’s “coffee shop” marijuana sales, rarely mentioning that the Dutch have dramatically reduced what at one time were thousands of shops to only a few hundred — after being inundated with “drug tourists,” drug-related organized crime involvement and public nuisance problems. During the period of marijuana commercialization and expansion, there was a tripling of lifetime use rates and a more than doubling of past-month use among 18- to 20-year-olds, according to independent research.
This issue, they say, could also manifest itself dangerously by putting an increased number of high people on the roads.
While some argue that legalization could save money spent on law enforcement, the drug czars don’t buy this claim, saying instead that such a measure would instead create a complex and confusing set of priorities to police:
Law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana. This proposition would burden them with new and complicated enforcement duties. The proposition would require officers to enforce laws against “ingesting or smoking marijuana while minors are present.” Would this apply in a private home? And is a minor “present” if they are 15 feet away, or 20? Perhaps California law enforcement officers will be required to carry tape measures next to their handcuffs.
Perhaps most interestingly, the narco-foes allege that the potential revenue that could be gained by taxing marijuana sales is overstated due to the fact that cannabis plants can be easily cultivated at home.
Regarding the supposed economic benefits of taxing marijuana, some comparison with two drugs that are already regulated and taxed — alcohol and tobacco — is worth considering. People don’t typically grow their own tobacco or distill their own spirits, so consumers accept high taxes on them as retail products. Marijuana, though, is easy and cheap to cultivate, indoors or out, and Proposition 19 would allow individuals to grow as much as 25 square feet of marijuana for “personal consumption.”
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