WASHINGTON, D.C.- “The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington State to legalize the recreational use of marijuana has “changed the rules of the game” for the administration of Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto in the (United States)-backed drug war.” – Washington Post
Have the people reached critical mass? A recent CNN/ORC survey showed 55 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana. This coupled with the now fully legal and regulated status it holds in both Colorado and Washington as of January 1. A new era or experiment has begun in the arena of illegal drugs in the U.S. and the supposed war on them.
Facts of the Situation: The Sky Does Not Fall
According to DrugPolicy.Org more than $51 billion are spent on the ‘War on Drugs’ annually, an amount that could fully fund the budgets of the U.S. Foreign Aid, UNICEF and World Food Programme combined. An arrest on a marijuana or drug related offense occurs more than every 42 seconds in the U.S., and nearly one in eight prisoners is behind bars on a marijuana charge.
The health misnomers surrounding pot are varied and misleading. Compared to the proven ill effects of pharmaceuticals and many other legal substances, many studies have shown it to be incredibly benign, with a lethal dose being nearly impossible to reach. There are no credible links to cancer, Alzheimer’s or any other illness. In fact, the latest research seems to prove the opposite. Contrasted with alcohol, tobacco it appears to have many more medicinal and practical values.
There is a precedent for drastic shifts in drug policy such as sweeping legalization, namely the examples of Holland and Portugal’s federal drug policies. Now well into these experiments, many successes have been cataloged, as well as lessons on what works and what does not. At the very least, these examples dispel any argument for the immense and inflated budget directly and indirectly spent in this country fighting drug use.
Drug Cartels Vs. Commerce Boards
Currently, it is known that the illegal status of recreational drugs, namely marijuana, and thereby the creation of a massive black market, is the primary source of funding behind the vicious and extremely powerful Mexican drug cartel, as well as many of those in South American.
These cartels are responsible for some of the worst humanitarian atrocities and acts of terror in Latin America over the last 20 years. This dynamic has also created a climate of an arms race between drug enforcement/border control agencies and these very drug cartels, which has provided the grounds for politicians to argue for an ever increasing budget for the ‘War on Drugs.’
Furthermore, it was reported that the legal marijuana industry was a $1.43 billion industry in 2013 in the U.S. and is expected to grow to $2.34 billion in 2014., a growth rate that would place it as one of the fastest growing industries in the world and a pace that outdoes the growth the smart-phone industry saw, granted not at the same scale.
All of this comes directly out of the black market, and therefore out of the pockets and funding of the cartels, not to mention the benefits of increased tax revenue, and inherent safety nets that come with the ability to regulate the production and commerce.
The Nations’s Beta Testing
In Bruce Barcott’s Rolling Stone article “The Great Marijuana Experiment: A Tale of Two Drug Wars,” he explains the basics and distinctions between the two systems currently developing in Washington and Colorado, stating that both systems are, “beta-testing two distinctive ways of regulating legal pot. For now, Colorado has a simple, vertically integrated medical-marijuana industry where retailers grow and process most of the pot it sells. Colorado will have a flexible limit on the amount of pot that may be grown.
Washington, on the other hand, is breaking marijuana production into a three-tiered system that mimics the alcohol industry, where growers sell to processors, processors sell to retailers, and retailers sell to consumers and the state strictly caps the amount of pot that can be grown.”
As both these systems play out, other states that have proposals of legalization on the horizon. States like Nevada, California, Oregon, and Vermont all look to follow. It becomes crucial to the trend of legalizing marijuana, and eventually all drugs, like Portugal has, that these two regulatory systems, or at minimum one of them works.
If both fail, the momentum of the movement and fodder for opponents arguments will likely end any chance of moving towards ending the War on Drugs, let alone decriminalizing pot use.
“There are a lot of ways this could go wrong,” Sam Kamin, a professor of law at the University of Denver, says. “A rise in DUIs, increased child access, diversion across state lines, and some criminal element slipping into the regulated side of the industry.”
The source is one of the many capitalists now entering the legal marijuana game, looking to cash in on a one of a kind opportunity in a burgeoning market, set to produce several billionaires in the next ten years, if trends hold up.
The direction for now seems to be on the uptick both in the U.S. on the federal and state levels. Eric Holders’ decision to allow licensed marijuana businesses to bank legally for now and U.S. President Barack Obama’s latest off-the-cuff remarks regarding the subject all point towards progress. State legislative proposals, increased investment and capital interest in the industry do as well.
It all hinges on the success and evolution of the experiments in Colorado and Washington. “It doesn’t much matter which system works, as long as one does. Then we’ll be able to mark 2014 as the year control of marijuana passed from drug cartels and weed dealers to government inspectors and shopkeepers,” Barcott said.
For now, marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington, seemingly until Obama leaves office. One could assume given this time window and the timing of election cycles in various states, these beta tests have roughly three years to show skeptics a safe and orderly end to the war on drugs is not only possible, but beneficial.
– Tyler Shafsky