Sunday, October 9, 2016

New Mexico Should End its Marijuana Prohibition

Bennett Hertzler lived in my college dorm freshman year. I didn't know him well. Sweet-natured, gentle guy. In a dorm sweep in the spring of 1965, police found a few marijuana seeds in his desk drawer. He went to jail for years. Miserable experience. He was never the same. Died young.

The War on Drugs grew out of the 1960's.

Many citizens were scared. White and black young people were going around together, and demanding fair treatment for all. Long-haired students listened to strange music and questioned why we were killing Vietnamese. The generation that had lived through the Depression and World War II, and worshiped safety and security, was shocked when its sons and daughters chose change and adventure. 

Now, even the Republican elder statesmen who advocated the War on Drugs acknowledge that it failed. But back then it was a convenient way to control blacks and progressives. Can't bust 'em for their thoughts or words? Catch 'em with a joint.

There never was a good reason for outlawing marijuana. It's more benign than alcohol. The country had tried prohibiting alcohol, for good reasons, but it didn't work. Made criminals of most young people, increased bribery and corruption, and lessened respect for law enforcement. Prohibition made drinking more fun.

Same with marijuana. 

In this year's special session, called so that New Mexico's “leaders” can discuss how to make ends meet with oil and gas income down, Bill McCamley is saying. “Let's legalize marijuana and tax it. It'll add 10,000 more jobs and $400 million to our economy, and probably add $40 million to the state's tax revenues.” (The Governor, having no good answer for our economic woes, is trying to distract us with capital punishment.)

Our urgent need for revenue is just one reason for legalization. We spend $33 million a year processing marijuana criminal cases, when we could be reaping $40 million in taxes.

Marijuana laws, even with lightened penalties for personal use, still destroy lives.

Marijuana does people no significant harm. I've known many people who've smoked grass daily for decades and have remained bright, thoughtful members of society. When I was younger, friends regularly got stoned and went to work. (I never could. Grass was great for manual chores, but try being a reporter when you keep laughing uncontrollably every time you try to ask a question. I gave the stuff up decades ago.)

The claim that marijuana “leads to stronger drugs” is a gross oversimplification. Most of us got hooked on chocolate and drank booze before we tried grass, so you could say the same about those “drugs.” If marijuana has led some people toward stronger drugs, maybe that's because laws undermined the credibility of parents and police and forced us into the arms of the bootleggers. When we could see grass did no harm (and impaired driving far less than booze did) the arguments against it sounded like “if you masturbate, you'll go blind.” 

Instead of destroying kids' lives and undermining parents' and cops' authority, why not reap some of the benefits Colorado and Washington enjoy? 

This shouldn't be a partisan issue. We all need that tax revenue. We all want the government not to interfere with our Constitutional rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness without a real strong state interest to justify that interference.

Here, the smoker's fun can help the States' budget. 

Republicans refuse to hear McCamley's bill. Like kids screaming and covering their ears to avoid hearing that it's bedtime. Hearings on the bill would reveal how sensible it is!

So speak up to your legislator and our lame-duck governor.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 9 October, 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website, and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticisms here or on those sitesAlready a Dr. David Allen has added an interesting comment on the KRWG website regarding the importance of marijuana-related health research being "delayed by politics."  He adds a link to a paper on the endocannabinoid system -- a paper on which I have as yet no opinion, not having read it or having time to do so this morning, but it looks interesting.]

[Is it cynical to conclude that the bottom lines are, as usual, greed tinged with ethnic bias?  By any measure, sustained and significant use of alcohol does far more long-term damage to folks than sustained and significant use of marijuana does.  Demonstrably, as I mention in the column, driving interferes more seriously with driving than marijuana does, and its effects tend to strengthen with the passing minutes and hours, while marijuana's impairment lifts with time.   Yet alcohol is all around, advertised on TV and readily available.  (And I'm not suggesting we try to prohibit it again.  But I will note that in some parts of the country support for prohibition 100 years ago was based on the belief that prohibition would help control the blacks.)  Isn't the disparate treatment of these substances largely that big-money interests would be hurt by making booze illegal, while other folks are making so much money off marijuana's illegality that they'd rather keep the stuff outlawed?  The private prison industry and others would be hurt by legalization, and (again, as with alcohol prohibition) the bootleggers don't want to see any such change.]

[I mention that I don't see this as a partisan issue, but that Bill McCamley introduced a bill recently that Republicans refused to hear.  In briefly researching this column I learned that a bill to legalize marijuana was introduced in Texas last year -- by a Republican, David Simpson.  His essay The Christian Case for Drug Law Reform articulates his position, and should be interesting to any sincere Christian whose doubtful about this issue.  His bill passed the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee 5-1.]

[Will Texas outsmart New Mexico?  I sure hope not.]

[Early this morning as I walked back up to the house from the compost bin, I was greeted by a text message suggesting "Peter Goodman for President, Bill McCamley for Vice-President," but I replied that while grateful for the thought I'd leave that to Bill.]

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