COMMENTARY | Many Americans, especially liberals, are heralding recent decriminalization, and even legal acceptance, of marijuana as progress. Colorado has legalized pot and Washington is on its way. Other states are likely to follow soon afterward. Congressmen, and even the president himself, want to end the expensive and productivity-sapping legal and judicial war on marijuana users. Why spend money prosecuting and incarcerating thousands of young people in their productive prime for casually using marijuana, especially when those same people can freely use alcohol and tobacco?
Most political liberals have come to view the criminalization of marijuana, a “green” drug, as government overreach tainted by racial and ethnic bias. They point to scientific studies suggesting that marijuana is no worse than tobacco or alcohol and condemn the sky-high costs of incarcerating non-violent drug offenders.
Yet, despite growing support for ending restrictions on marijuana, a liberal icon has sounded a stern warning against the drug. Former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), of the iconic Kennedy family, is concerned that legalized pot could mutate from a hippie, grassroots industry to a dangerous and oppressive “big marijuana” complex akin to “big tobacco” and “big alcohol,” reports NBC. He warns that big business could target marijuana to underage consumers and cautions that today’s weed is far more potent and dangerous than the hippie stuff of nostalgic recollection.
And you know what? Kennedy’s warnings make sense. No longer in Congress, he’s now taking his anti-marijuana views on the road.
While proponents of legalized marijuana tout its economics benefits, especially the possibility for taxes on the stuff to add generously to government coffers, it stands to reason that business moguls could quickly overtake small, independent growers as America’s suppliers of marijuana. In 2014 you see the wholesome Colorado grower…by 2024 you see big tobacco marketing innocuous-seeming products to naive teenagers. I agree with Kennedy that Americans hardly need another legal addiction into which they can lose themselves.
Though marijuana may not be worse than tobacco or alcohol, need we add it to the mix? It will certainly not decrease the number of addicts.
Kennedy’s goals, explained in his Smart Approaches to Marijuana program, also known as Project SAM, appear surprisingly sound. The former congressman wants to make marijuana possession a minor offense punishable, in the first several instances, by fines. This sort of near-decriminalization would, similar to a tax on legal marijuana, add to government coffers rather than drain from them. Also, it would not lock up thousands of young people in their productive prime, saving much money on prosecution and incarceration and keeping workers in the labor force.
Giant marijuana cartels trying to get millions of consumers addicted to weed is dangerous. And, due to a strong profit motive, will inevitably happen unless vigorously and cleverly guarded against by legislatures. Marijuana may not be particularly harmful, but neither should it be added to our accepted vices without reservation. Kennedy’s warnings should be carefully considered by legislatures at all levels. His views may not be popular, but he undeniably has a point.