Consider the following facts, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union:
“Every 0.01 hours someone in the United States is arrested for having marijuana; Black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested than white people. The United States spent $3,610,000,000 enforcing marijuana laws in 2010.”
Worth it? Almost certainly not.
Why? Marijuana may be illegal, but it’s also pretty mainstream: A 2013 Gallup poll suggests that 38 percent of Americans have tried marijuana, a number that has little changed since the “Just Say No” reefer madness of the 1980s. And while Ronald Reagan had to withdraw a Supreme Court appointee who admitted smoking pot more than a decade earlier, these days there’s hardly anybody at the forefront of public life who won’t admit having dabbled with doobies in their youth. The republic survives.
There are concerns that legalized pot would somehow rob America of its vigor: “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?” California Gov. Jerry Brown asks. Brown’s rationale is almost exactly the same as was used for the failed prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. We never learn.
“I remember in 1977 when Gov. Brown was first in office, we went from indeterminate sentencing to determinate sentencing — we had 20,000 people in our prisons. In 2007, we had 173,000 people in our prisons,” California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed out recently. You start looking at the war on drugs, you look at the corollaries as it relates to mandatory minimums and our aggressive efforts ... to incarcerate our way to solving this problem, it’s failed. A trillion dollars wasted.”
Criminalizing weed makes hypocrites out of otherwise law-abiding Americans, reduces respect for the law and saddles our nation with the expense of prosecution and prison for folks who pose very little threat to society. Thank goodness for the legalization movement.
BEN BOYCHUK (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Website: www.facebook.com/benandjoel. They wrote this for McClatchy-Tribune.