By Keith Stroup
From Prohibition to Over-Regulation
There was a time, not so long ago, when the most vocal supporters of prohibition did their best to explain why they felt the criminal prohibition of marijuana was justified, exaggerating the potential dangers of marijuana smoking and claiming the sky would fall if we stopped treating marijuana smokers as criminals. Adolescent marijuana use would skyrocket; millions of stoned drivers would suddenly be unleashed on the nation’s roads, putting all Americans at risk; and smokers would stay home all day getting stoned and eating junk food, instead of supporting their families.
But as more and more Americans experimented with marijuana, they, along with their family and friends, discovered those dire warnings were pure bunk and support for legalizing marijuana continued to increase. Today, close to 60% of the public supports full legalization, regardless of why one smokes.
Reefer Madness 2.0
Our opponents could see the writing on the wall. Their continued support for prohibition was falling on deaf ears, so these self-appointed “experts” decided on a policy of acknowledging prohibition has been a failed public policy, even while raising new concerns to slow down the inevitable.
Today we find our political opponents raising “big marijuana,” a term they coined to demonize this new industry, as the new boogeyman from which they want to protect the helpless and misguided American public. Marijuana itself now is not so bad after all, but apparently the need to protect the young, and those who, left to their own devices, might smoke more frequently than these moral referees would like, justify regulating the industry as if we were dealing with nuclear waste, not marijuana.
According to this new version of “reefer madness,” legal marijuana must be highly taxed to discourage use and maintain high black-market prices. It must only be marketed by small, non-profit producers, or state-licensed stores, who presumably would not seek to maximize the potential profits from selling marijuana to the extent that “big marijuana” would do.
These “reefer madness 2.0” folks want regulations (legal marijuana at the state level is already one of the most heavily regulated industries in America) banning advertising (ignoring the Constitutionally protected commercial free-speech rights); limiting the frequency that consumers can purchase marijuana and the amount they can buy; imposing excessive taxes based on the level of THC; and otherwise using every option short of criminal penalties to discourage marijuana smoking by adults.
In other words, they want to create a “nanny state” for marijuana regulation. Opponents to legalization apparently believe they can convince a majority of Americans that the economic system we have always enjoyed in this country should not apply to the marijuana market.
Just a Stalling Tactic
Of course, none of this is an honest, straightforward position. These are the same people who praised prohibition, and claimed it was working, until that opinion became massively unpopular. It is a strategy intended to slow the inevitable progress towards legalization across the country, and to further extend prohibition, despite the public opposition to it, while these “experts” tell us how the marijuana market should be regulated.
It is simply a stalling maneuver.
The leader of this new opposition is Kevin Sabet, a former staffer at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), who, along with former Congressman (and self-acknowledged prescription drug abuser) Patrick Kennedy, formed Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) in response to the legalization initiatives adopted in Colorado and Washington in 2012. Their stated purpose is to protect all of us from the dangers presented by this new industry.
According to Saber, “We’re opening the doors to allowing a new, powerful industry to downplay the effects of a substance they will be profiting off of and to downplay the effects of addiction … Big Tobacco was a disaster for our country in terms of the marketing machine that was activated while the government looked the other way for a century,” he says. “Do we want to repeat that with yet another substance? And one that in fact, unlike tobacco, produces intoxication and therefore leads to car crashes, workplace accidents, school dropouts and mental illness?”
“This is deep in my veins,” says Sabet, acknowledging his zealotry. “I feel like it is my calling.” Perhaps more accurately, it is his attempt to continue to get rich off the backs of marijuana smokers.
Another supposed new convert to ending prohibition (“At some point you have to say, a law that people don’t obey is a bad law.”) but who wants to treat marijuana like some contagious disease that threatens the public health, is Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University, who has argued for the “grudging tolerance” of marijuana. Like Sabet, Kleiman is another consultant who gets rich warning of the dangers of marijuana and advocating for extraordinary regulations for the industry, even as he concedes prohibition has been a failure.
According to Kleiman, this would be his perfect system: “If you want to buy (marijuana), you should sign up as a buyer, you should probably take some kind of minimal test like a driving test to make sure you know what you’re talking about and then you should be asked to set for yourself a purchase quota on, say, a monthly basis. How many joint-equivalents a month do you want to use? Give us a number. Every time you make a purchase, that purchase will be recorded against that quota. And if you bought as much this month as you said you wanted to be able to buy this month, the clerk will say “I’m sorry the order was refused.”
Somewhat ironic that these individuals who make their living from marijuana prohibition would themselves complain that others might make their living off of legal marijuana. And at a time when most Americans complain about “big government” interfering with the rights of the individual in all manner of ways, it is strange indeed to hear this discord from those who look to “big government” to protect us from ourselves.
Sometimes it is those who claim they oppose marijuana prohibition who pose the biggest threat to the establishment of a legalized market that meets the needs of consumers, who want a high-quality product that is safe, convenient and affordable. It is time for these “do-gooders” to step aside and allow marijuana legalization to flourish in America.
Those of us who smoke marijuana can manage for ourselves; we do not need their “help”.