In November of 2010 – that’s this coming Fall, the voters of California will be give the chance to decide whether they want their state government to continue supporting the marijuana prohibition laws that have been in effect for almost 80 years. Polling results look reasonably good for the legalization effort. That is, if the people who might benefit the most from the policy change can remember to register in time to vote, and then motivate themselves to their balloting places when the time comes. Maybe timing the trip to occur before 4:20 will help?
During the 1920s America experimented with criminalizing the alcohol industry and its customers. There might not be many left alive who were there to see for themselves what a great success that was, but the surviving documentation shows that Hollywood’s dramatizations don’t exaggerate that much. Crime, organized and otherwise flourished. Governmental hypocrisy and corruption set records, and the general public demonstrated that given a choice between lawful civilization and endemic anarchy, they’d rather stay drunk. It seemed that many, or maybe most, of the people that voted for the 18th amendment that banned alcohol were perhaps speaking more idealistically than they were willing to have their bodies behave.
The question must be asked: why didn’t we learn? Prohibition had hardly been repealed before Harry J. Anslinger, a former Assistant Prohibition Commissioner, began leading the effort that eventually resulted in a new job for him, Commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. If you’ve seen the 1936 film, Reefer Madness, one of the signature works of his campaign, then it should be obvious that there wasn’t a whole lot of real information or concern for actual facts involved in the criminalization efforts.
Over time we’ve created a black market industry with possibly greater magnitude and social impact than the alcohol industry during Prohibition if only for its having endured so much longer. In California – particularly the coastal counties north of San Francisco and perhaps including Santa Cruz as well, the marijuana industry is huge and still growing. In some regions it’s by far the most significant source of income. Deny it if you will, but about 20 years ago there was a credible rumor that a California Secretary of Agriculture contributed to his exit from the job by announcing an honest fact he’d uncovered – that the California marijuana crop was the second largest cash crop in the state!
Whether marijuana is bad or good for us isn’t the point. The point is that people do it, they do it to themselves, it’s hardly the kind of menace Anslinger’s disciples would have people believe, and short of implementing and enforcing, oh, the death penalty for its use, there’s not much that’s going to be done about it. We may as well legalize it, tax it, and see what can be done to keep “minors” from using it. After all, the principle arguably works for alcohol and tobacco – far more destructive drugs. Those who disapprove could perhaps focus their efforts on denying access to all reinforcing or positive marketing for all vice products like marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco.
Disclaimer: For the record, this writer does not consume, produce, or generically promote the use of marijuana or any other products of that type. In fact, he thinks they’re ideas of questionable merit and will in most cases discourage their use if asked to comment. However, he does understand and enthusiastically support the right of theoretically responsible people to choose for themselves. Especially when any “harm” they do can be limited to themselves. More simply, if you were to ask me whether it’s all right to smoke pot, drink alcohol, etc., I’d say, “Don’t do it!” On the other hand, if you really don’t care what I have to say about it, then fire one up! Pour another one! Etc. Enjoy yourself! (But in private, ok?)