How about some good news today? This year, reports Time magazine, drug cartels in Mexico stand to lose $1.4 billion.
Why? Because Colorado and Washington decriminalized recreational marijuana in November.
American taxpayers have been financing a drug war with costs past comprehending, and without measurable gains. Now here come voters in two states who have hit organized crime where it really hurts.
Not long after decriminalization of an ounce of pot became law in Colorado, a friend called, curious to know if all hell had broken loose. It took me a moment to realize that, in fact, it hadn’t.
I had to acknowledge that almost nothing had changed, except for most assuredly the state’s police blotters. To voters’ immense credit — 55 percent in both states — what had changed was their definition of crime.
The real crime, they said, was that in 2011, marijuana arrests approached 1 million nationwide — most involving incarceration, each with its court case. Summon the attorneys.
The real crime was diverting police attention from offenses with actual victims to these, which had none. The real crime was shoving more coal into the blast furnace of a criminal justice system voracious for public dollars.
If you like to think only in money terms, something on which many Americans insist, this sounds like a slam dunk.
Back to that friend’s inquiry: Lest anyone assume that Colorado was awash in a fog of THC in the dawning of a new criminal justice day: It wasn’t. It hasn’t been.
For one thing, it’s still illegal to smoke pot in public, and illegal to possess it under age 21. Marijuana remains a very controlled substance, though Colorado and Washington aren’t entirely sure yet how they will control it. In Colorado, people are able to grow as many as six plants. In Washington state, users will have to buy their marijuana from licensed providers.
Up next: how to regulate that, and tax it: more revenue for the states.
Opponents of these measures raised the specter of generations of hop heads. They probably needed to concentrate instead on the hops and barley that make beer so appealing. Intoxication is intoxication.
But when it comes to dependency, let’s acknowledge two kinds that serve almost no one: the narco dollars that make drug cartels so wealthy in Mexico and Central America, and the insatiable demand for resources by the American criminal justice system. Anything that tightens the spigot feeding either is serving humanity.
For a long time Americans have bought into the appeal that marijuana serves as a gateway drug for harder and more dangerous substances. Of course, it is exactly that when coming from the same illegal pipeline. Take that business away from the connection, remove the cartels and pushers from the transaction, and pot is a gateway drug no more.
Of course, many serious questions remain in these trailblazing states. First is how to operate under two sets of law, state and federal, which behold pot differently.
Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has authored a bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It would to shift control over the substance from the Drug Enforcement Administration and to put it under the purview of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, with “Marijuana” making the acronym ATFM.
Meanwhile, other considerations loom, such as the fact that under federal regulations banks can’t handle money obtained from drug deals. This means that even enterprises created by voters in the 18 states that allow medicinal marijuana don’t have a place to put their money.
Some will call Colorado’s and Washington’s dilemma a legal morass. So be it. It’s a better investment of legal minds than more arrests, packed jail cells and criminal court dates.
As a Coloradan, I’m proud to say that’s where my tax dollars go now rather than to manufacturing more felons and puffing the Medellin Cartel up into a presence on a par with General Motors.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.