Motion to Inhale

It is well past time that we recognize, as a nation and as a culture, that the history of criminalization of marijuana was engineered by special interests (including the manufacturers of tobacco and alcohol), and that there is no important difference between the recreational use of marijuana and that of other legal but regulated drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol. Indeed, the social costs of marijuana use are probably much lower than the costs of our sanctioned drugs of choice. In terms of lives destroyed, marijuana cannot possibly compete with alcohol and cigarettes. In terms of medical costs, it is certain that the damage done by cigarettes alone surely exceeds anything we could ever expect from the effects of marijuana.

 

I do not believe in “sin taxes,” but I do think that those who choose to use these drugs ought to bear the special costs that accrue from using them. The taxes we have historically placed on the two sanctioned substances probably do not cover the costs, but there is every reason to think that our present opportunity to direct the tax that can be collected on legal marijuana will go far toward paying for the sort of healthcare system this country needs. It would be a good idea to direct our alcohol and tobacco taxes to healthcare and other related social costs that bear a clear relationship to the use of those substances. But we must have the political will to direct that revenue to the proper compensatory programs. It has not existed up to now, and so these taxes, at present, really are “sin taxes.” Their proper use would change things for the better.

 

It goes without saying that treating marijuana users as criminals costs our society plenty and brings no returns in public safety. Marijuana users are not a threat of any kind. Nor do laws criminalizing marijuana bring us a more moral or “upright” society. The effect of criminalization is to single out the young (disproportionately minority males) for entry into the criminal justice system and to ruin the lives of thousands of people every year for doing nothing that is morally worse than having a glass of wine or beer, or smoking a cigarette. A number of states have recently recognized the folly of prosecuting marijuana use, but it is time that the nation legalized marijuana in order to bring retrograde states and communities into conformity with the prevailing standards of the whole country.

 

Legalization places the US government, along with state and local governments, in a position to regulate the growing, manufacture, and sale of marijuana to insure the safety of the public and to control illegal trade. The task is no different from the regulation of tobacco and alcohol and can be enforced just as our laws pertaining to tobacco and alcohol are enforced. Obviously we don’t want minors partaking in marijuana any more than we want them to use alcohol or tobacco. We can hold retailers and/or dispensers accountable. Current dealers can become legitimate businesses and pay their taxes, while law enforcement and the courts and correction systems can devote their energies (at considerable savings to taxpayers) to enforcing and adjudicating important laws. The prospective savings and revenue speak for themselves.

 

If elected, I will write and propose legislation for the legalization of marijuana. Further, with the legalization of marijuana, I propose also to include reasonable protections of privacy for those who use the drug recreationally. It is certainly within the purview of businesses and organizations (especially religious ones) to determine terms and conditions of employment, including making drug testing a condition of employment. But such conditions of employment must be by consent of the employed, upon the commencement of employment, and ought not single out marijuana for restriction unless the organization in question can demonstrate either a historical moral objection to marijuana in particular (as with the Latter Day Saints, who also restrict alcohol, tobacco and caffeine), or can document an impairment caused by private marijuana use (off the clock) that would especially and particularly affect the performance of duties associated with the job. If such cannot be demonstrated, then marijuana ought not be restricted unless alcohol and tobacco are treated similarly.

 

Since some may wonder whether my advocacy of this position reflects a private value or preference, I state publicly that it does not. I have not partaken in marijuana since I was 21 years old. It simply isn’t my “drug” of choice and never was. Prior to that time (about 1982), I was an occasional user and I did inhale. But in terms of full disclosure, I struggled with an addiction to cigarettes for many years, managing to quit a number of times only to relapse. Speaking of the present, I quit smoking cigarettes over eleven years ago and I seem to have succeeded in leaving that problem behind. I continue to enjoy wine and an occasional beer, recreationally. I see no difference in my enjoyment of wine and anyone else’s enjoyment of cannabis. I am the faculty sponsor of the Registered Student organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy, at SIUC, and have served in that capacity for several years.

 

I am aware of friends and acquaintances who do not use cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol sensibly and with proper restraint. I look upon all three forms of misuse as analogous and encourage them gently to learn the needed moderation. I support universal healthcare, including coverage for anyone seeking counseling and rehabilitation for abuse of recreational drugs. These problems are not best handled by law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and the uneven enforcement of the current laws leads to massively imbalanced incarceration of African American and Hispanic males. This racism must stop, and one excellent place to begin to reverse the systemic racism in our society is the legalization of marijuana and other cannabis-based products.

 

The farming of cannabis is already a huge underground industry in the US, and these farms can be brought into the economy, along with the widespread farming of hemp which is currently made difficult by our efforts to suppress cannabis. We have thus turned a potential cash crop (marijuana) into a criminal enterprise while discouraging the cultivation of the best and most useful and most versatile crop in all of human history (hemp). It is worse than stupid to bear these costs and forego the benefits, but Washington persists in its foolishness while, one by one, states catch on. Washington should lead, not be led.

 

In addition, decriminalizing the use of other addictive drugs would accomplish still more in achieving a non-racist criminal justice system. Currently the nation spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually enforcing laws designed to keep various drugs out of the country, and more shamefully, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating those who are addicted to such drugs. Being addicted to heroin and opium derivatives, as well as, opioids, methamphetamine, and other synthetic drugs is a tragedy but it is not a crime in any defensible, moral sense of the word. The decriminalization of using these drugs (including hallucinogens, ecstasy, speed, and various prescription drugs) is the only rational step this nation can take.

 

My opponent, Brendan Kelly, wants to further criminalize and prosecute drug companies for pushing opioids and other prescription drugs that often come to be abused. I know that prosecution is what Kelly understands, but prosecution is not the answer to this problem or a thousand others. Drug companies ought to pay special taxes when it can be shown that their products bring special costs to the populace. That tax money should be tagged for programs that will counteract the special costs, from counseling and rehabilitation to ad campaigns and public education, and should help pay for universal healthcare. Prosecution costs money, especially where the target of prosecution is wealthy and powerful, as are the drug companies. Kelly’s strategy will not work. Taxing big pharmaceutical companies will work.

 

I do not advocate legalization of damaging drugs such as methamphetamine, nor do I believe that law enforcement should cease its efforts to keep drug lords and pushers off the streets. But if an addict can apply to the government for access to the drugs while attempting to overcome the addiction, it would save this country billions of dollars and prevent tremendous social and personal costs to those who are desperate, often poor, and often tempted to enter into criminal activity to gain the needed money to buy their drugs. We must give addicts a choice, a road to a drug-free life that will allow them to become contributors to our economy. A path to redemption and health is our social obligation to those among us who have fallen into addiction. Incarceration is absolutely not the answer to this problem. Our experience of many decades has taught us this. Addicts need help, not prosecution. No one is safer in our society because of prosecuting addicts, and the enforcement of existing laws only serves to raise the prices of obtaining the drugs, enriching drug lords and rendering addicts all the more desperate. Decriminalization of use coupled with dispensing the drugs and addiction/recovery programs would be far cheaper than arrest, prosecution, and incarceration.

 

If elected I will introduce legislation decriminalizing the use of these controlled substances. If successful, the savings to tax-payers may be used to help fund single-payer, universal healthcare. These measures will also strengthen our economy by restoring to the American workforce thousands of citizens every year who would either languish in addiction or needlessly rot in prison, costing us money rather than making us stronger. This nation’s priorities must change and the incarceration culture we have created surrounding drugs is one of the easiest and most effective changes we could to improve our society and our economy.

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