The pointlessly tortuous path to marijuana legalization

There are ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana scheduled for the November elections in Colorado and Washington. The polling that I've seen, here and there, doesn't leave me bursting with optimism, but the measures do appear to have realistic chances of passage. If either state passes it, it would be in direct conflict with federal law. As the saying goes, "there's the rub."

As far as that federal law goes, some progressives are taking heart in recent indications that the Obama administration may at least not be entirely hostile to some degree of sane reappraisal.

...President Obama joined more than thirty other heads of state from throughout the Americas in Colombia for the Summit of the Americas. For the first time ever, a major focus of the summit was the need for alternative strategies to the failed war on drugs. After decades of being brutalized by the U.S. government's failed prohibitionist drug policies, Latin American leaders are saying "enough is enough."

Two major developments came out of the meeting. President Obama reiterated his position that exploring drug war alternatives is a legitimate topic for debate, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos proposed the establishment of a taskforce to ensure that future drug policy deliberations consider all options, not just variations on failed drug war strategies.

The real progress in all of this, of course, is in overall U.S. public opinion. From Gallup, last October:

A record-high 50% of Americans now say the use of marijuana should be made legal, up from 46% last year. Forty-six percent say marijuana use should remain illegal.

(A recent Rasmussen poll had approval for legalization in the mid-50s. But, I never accept the Ras's numbers as legitimate, even when they are cooked in ways that appear to indicate public support for my views.)

The problem, electorally - and we see this with gay marriage, as well - is that those most likely to support it, are statistically the least likely to get their irresponsible butts to the polls, when needed. And a lot of the pompous old fools that always do vote, hate weed because they associate it with racial minorities, hippies, and other undesirables. In fact, their own kids and grandkids are as likely to be using it as anyone, but you know how conservatives are, with their cognitive dissonance.

The arguments in favor of full legalization are so strong that it's just infuriating, though entirely unsurprising, that it hasn't happened already. I'm noting two recent items that got my attention:

- Regarding the incredible waste of resources inherent in continuing existing policy.

We, the undersigned, call your attention to the attached report by Professor Jeffrey A. Miron, The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition. The report shows that marijuana legalization - replacing prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation - would save $7.7 billion per year in state and federal expenditures on prohibition enforcement and produce tax revenues of at least $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like most consumer goods. If, however, marijuana were taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco, it might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually.

The fact that marijuana prohibition has these budgetary impacts does not by itself mean prohibition is bad policy. Existing evidence, however, suggests prohibition has minimal benefits and may itself cause substantial harm.

- A damn good idea regarding what to do with a lot of that revenue.

Finance the education of new poor but outstanding students with the tax receipts on the marijuana industry, helping restore some of America's former upward mobility.

These steps would not only solve the student debt crisis and allow universities to lower tuition, but would strengthen higher education in the US and allow us to remain competitive with Europe and rising nations in Asia (we are not keeping up).

I'm sorry to say that I was no angel, in my younger days, and if I had that time over again things would be different, but one result of that is that I can say, on the basis of a lot of experience, that marijuana is by far the least harmful (I emphasize that I didn't type "harmless) of the mood-altering chemicals in common use, and that definitely includes alcohol and prescription pills.

All of which makes the Obama administration's assault on medical marijuana so perplexing and disheartening. I'm not going to righteously rant about that, as plenty of others are already doing so. And, that being said, he's done a lot of good things, and I'm certainly not withholding my public backing, or vote, on the basis of this. There is evidence (cf. support for gay marriage) that he can be persuaded in positive ways.

Maybe if someone could just get with the guy, in the Oval Office, and turn him on to some seriously "killer weed"...