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Prohibition 2.0 Making a Mess of Marijuana Legalization. Just Get Out of the Way

Newsweek AMPLIFY - Prohibition 2.0

The major purpose of legalizing the production and sale of recreational cannabis (beyond decriminalizing possession) must be removing it from the contraband markets.

Keeping marijuana as contraband is a subsidy for criminal organizations, and consequently a source of corruption in law enforcement in the U.S. and violence in Latin America.

Also, having marijuana in the same distribution channels as that of hard drugs creates the real "Gateway." Of course, contraband markets have no quality control, so the products may be contaminated with dangerous substances.

And finally, contraband markets don't pay taxes or otherwise benefit legal businesses the way alcohol subsidizes the restaurant business (which certainly needs all the help it can get.)

There are already several real-world problems that are making a mess of the various state legalization programs that are keeping most of the cannabis sales in the contraband markets.

  1. Over-regulation. Millions of people, including yours truly, have been using contraband marijuana for over 50 years without any serious adverse health consequences. The requirement that recreational marijuana that is being sold in legal state dispensaries has to be tested can raise the cost, enough to make it noncompetitive in price-sensitive markets. Reputable merchants and branded product producers in competitive markets have strong incentives to maintain quality.
  2. Restrictions on growing. There are thousands of experienced small scale growers who currently supply their local markets that should qualify for realistic permits for legal growing. Large growers will necessarily require more permits, but the process should be streamlined and depoliticized. Currently, there is a shortage of legal marijuana and a surplus in the contraband markets.
  3. Retail sales. There is no reason that recreational marijuana cannot be sold anywhere that alcohol and tobacco are sold. By any measure, cannabis is much safer than these widely sold substances.
  4. Consumption. Restaurants, coffee shops, and other venues should be able to allow the use of cannabis in their establishments.
  5. Taxation. When you are in the business of milking businesses for tax revenues, everything looks like a cash cow. Legal marijuana markets need to be lightly taxed, especially in the beginning.
  6. "Social equity" and "Reparations"? All power to the politicians who get to decide who owes what to whom.

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles' attempts at "social equity'' have produced much confusion and huge expenses for everyone in its attempts to decide who gets licenses and where the businesses should be.

See: L.A. revamps rules for cannabis licensing, hoping to redress harm from war on drugs.

As I like to say, the only law that always works is the Law of Unintended Consequences. This long struggle over how to help the poor victims of marijuana prohibition has simply raised the cost of licensing so much that only well-financed (usually white) businesses can afford the time and money to get the permits.

Finally, the general idea of "Reparations" is a controversy beyond the marijuana issue; however Evanston, Illinois has a new program that seems to be... "racist."

According to ABC News:

"The plan calls for using $10 million collected by the city in cannabis sales taxes over an estimated 10 years to provide African American residents with housing assistance and economic development benefits. As of the 2010 Census, the Black population of Evanston was about 13,400 people...

According to Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who has led the effort, details for the first "remedy policy" are nearing completion: a $25,000 direct benefit payment to purchase a home. Those who qualify for such a check, according to the current proposal, are Black residents who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 or their direct descendants.

"We are going to lead with housing," said Simmons, because homeownership is considered a "benefit that would build wealth," putting Black residents on the path toward bridging the "wealth gap..."

Over 70% of Evanston's marijuana-related arrests were among African Americans, even though they are less than 17% of the population, according to Simmons.

"If there is going to be some benefit to the community from legalizing marijuana, then it certainly should be targeted to the Black community most damaged by this overpolicing," Simmons said.

So the council acted quickly, approving the reparations fund in an 8-to-1 vote.

Nkechi Taifa, an attorney and member of the National African American Reparations Commission... said "that since marijuana has been central to 'a criminal punishment system that disproportionately sent Blacks to prison,' it is "poetic justice" that cannabis serve as "the same entity that is seeking to close the Black-white wealth gap."

Evanston could "provide a blueprint for the rest of the country," Taifa said.

The use of taxes specifically to benefit one race and not others would seem to be a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says (in part)

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Although, as I have said many times over the last several decades, the origins of marijuana prohibition were certainly racist in its origins and in its enforcement, but African Americans were not the only victims. As the use of "marijuana' for cannabis demonstrates, it was also aimed at Latinos, specifically "Mexicans", but poor whites, and occasionally even rich whites were also victims.

Back in 1992, millionaire Donald Scott was shot dead in his Malibu home in a botched no-knock raid. It seems that no one is safe from Drug War predators. The police had lied to get the warrant.

Never mind deciding which unfortunate African American victims are fortunate enough to get the "Reparation", why should cannabis consumers have to be the ones who have to pay for it? After all, presumably, cannabis consumers of all races were opposed to arresting cannabis consumers.

Should we tax tacos to compensate Latinos for the fact that they are also over-represented in marijuana arrests? Or maybe we should tax sushi restaurants to compensate Japanese Americans who were "interned" during WW2? Sarcastic, but seriously...

In fact, the best way to compensate the victims of marijuana prohibition is simply to get out of the way and let everyone compete on a "level playing field", and open marijuana businesses anywhere there is a bar, restaurant, or bodega with minimal taxation.

That would also save Evanston a lot of attorney's fees.

  • Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and owner of Best CBD Planet.
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