Virtue from Vice

Nothing more aptly applies to the phrase “beating a dead horse” than the legalizing marijuana debate. The common sense arguments for its legalization have been repeated ad nauseam for at least the last 40 years. But I read a Chicago Tribune article last Tuesday (I apologize for not having a link, but really the article is irrelevant)quoting a Richard Nixon appointed commission, “marijuana is relatively harmless and possession of less than an ounce should be legal.” Let’s resolve this inconsistency.

When the constitution was an embryo, Alexander Hamilton realized the federal government had to tax. One of the first federally mandated taxes was the whiskey tax and Hamilton’s reasoning was basically: from the consumption of that vice would come virtue i.e. government revenue. This philosophy, of course, continues today via the heavy liquor and tobacco taxes…and the profits reeled in via casinos. The government is able to extract good from people’s “bad” behavior. If this works for liquor, tobacco, and gambling, let’s make this work for marijuana, too.

So how about this idea, just as private companies operate casinos (Harrah’s), breweries (Miller), and tobacco production (Marlboro), while the government makes a substantial sum of money off those companies’ profitability, why not apply that practice to the sale of marijuana. Akin to drinking, enforce a minimum age, and make it a fineable offense to smoke marijuana and/or be intoxicated in public. Apply heavy fines for excessive possessions ($1,000 for more than an ounce, $5,000 for more than two ounces, $10,000 for more than three, etc. ?– but never jail time.); the main difference being that all money brought in via taxes and fines helps fund general education, drug education, law enforcement, etc. (it really doesn't matter which one). Just to be clear, the dollars I applied to the fines above are arbitrary and I don't necessarily believe it would be right for such fines to be in place, but I'm willing to compromise.

Nobody can argue that our governments (federal, states, and many local) are all struggling with deficits. Nobody will argue that our education systems are under funded or that educating kids about drug use is a bad idea. Nobody will argue that prisons are overcrowded and heavily tax our citizens (free marijuana convicts and don’t bring them back). Nobody denies that selling marijuana is major source of revenue on the black market, especially for gangs. And as the aforementioned report states, it is dishonest to argue that marijuana embodies a dire health threat. We have desperate deficits and starving programs, yet we still have a plump, ripe fruit just waiting for us to….

-- Steve Cieslewicz