First, let me get this off my chest. Decriminalize and legalize are not the same thing. I’ve seen numerous news reports talking about how the General Assembly voted to legalize marijuana yesterday. That’s not true. They voted to decriminalize it. Think of it this way, if you park your car next to a fire hydrant, you will not face criminal charges, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal to do so. Though I bet Mr. Morse and Mr. Kenney have at times wished it carried criminal charges.
Back to the original idea. Yes, the General Assembly voted to decriminalize marijuana and early indications are that the Governor will not veto it. So all this means now is if you get caught with an ounce or less, it’s a fine, you don’t go to jail. I say that the bill doesn’t go far enough. Why not be the first state to completely legalize possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and legalize and license dispensaries and then tax it to the hilt?
Why not? Let’s look at some of the arguments against.
We’ll become a state full of pot heads. Oh right, there’s that. Rhode Island, where all those pot-smoking hippies live. Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean everyone’s going to use it. Tobacco is legal if you’re over 18, but many thousands of people don’t use it. Why will this be any different?
Kids will have easier access to it. I’m not sure how this one is true. Right now, kids can certainly ask around at school and find it if they want to. Very similar to alcohol. I don’t see how legalizing it makes it easier to access if it is properly sold, just like alcohol or oxycontin is today.
It’s a gateway drug. Is it? It seems from all the historical videos and movies I’ve seen, in the 1960’s, marijuana use was pretty prevalent. So why don’t we have millions of grandparent cokeheads running around? Where’s grandpa with his track marks and cashing his retirement checks to get his heroine fix? Plus, it’s not even physically addictive, unlike many of the other things that are already legal today.
People who are high can’t work or drive a car. Yeah, I think we already have laws against impaired driving.
The ATF will come in and bust it up. Maybe. But I’m supposing, and I think Joe Bernstein can confirm either way, that every time the federal government went in on a bust, the local law enforcement was aware and supportive. If the state were to legalize marijuana, the state and local police would have no legal standing to support the ATF’s actions. They’d likely decline. If the ATF were to go forth with a bust anyway, we would need state leadership ready to support those who were arrested, all the way to the US Supreme Court. And that’s really where this issue would belong. The question would be in regard to the 10th Amendment to the Constitution and whether a state has the right to make it’s own laws. Oh sure, there’s that interstate commerce thing, but I see that as just another benefit to Rhode Island. Because it would be illegal to transfer any of the product either in to or out of Rhode Island, we’d be 100% self-sufficient. Grown right here in RI (new business), sold right here in RI (increased pharmacy business), plus the state taxes on top of that. It becomes win-win-win all around. Think of the tourism. People from around the world would flock to Rhode Island to indulge in the legal consumption.
Does that create a bad environment? No more so than nightclubs or bars or casinos do. So regulate that part too. Worried about people smoking it in public? That’s either akin to drinking alcohol in public, which is illegal, or if you’re more on the libertarian side, it’s akin to smoking tobacco in public, which is legal outdoors in most areas. Why would we be any more worried about being a state of pot heads than being a state of drunks where alcohol is legal?
Lastly, what would it do to the black market? It would eliminate it for marijuana. Sure, we’d still have drug dealers for the other drugs, but the small-time marijuana dealers would go the way of bootleggers after Prohibition. This would free up law enforcement to go after “real criminals” and also lessen the prison populations.
So maybe it isn’t a popular stance, but I think the state’s bill to decriminalize marijuana doesn’t go far enough, let’s completely legalize it. If you’re going to argue against that, please tell me why, especially in the context of why alcohol and tobacco should be legal but not marijuana. Unless you’re for banning those as well.