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Leave Marijuana Alone!

October 19, 2011

George Skelton at the SacBee writes today about a California Medical Association report that endorses legalizing marijuana.  The report advocates legalizing marijuana, specifically by removing its federal Schedule 1 status as a controlled substance, in order to allow for further study of its beneficial health effects and standardization of its use by doctors to treat various ailments.

Skelton thinks the report is whacky. His argument boils down to two points. First, contra the CMA report, marijuana users don’t represent a large burden on our justice and prison system because they’re less than one percent of the prison population and thus only cost $66mil per year. Second, marijuana’s bad for you.

The second argument is necessarily based on the first, as we shouldn’t put people in jail for doing something that doesn’t hurt anybody. Skelton cites the report’s list of potential negative effects of marijuana use: in the short term, “distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty thinking … and problems with learning and memory”; in the long term, “addiction, anxiety, depression, psychosis, respiratory problems and heart attack”. You know what else can give you all those negative effects? Well, alcohol can do all the short-term effects, as well as a few of the long-term effects. Cigarettes and high fructose corn syrup can do the rest.

My point is that weed isn’t that bad. It can make you lethargic and stupider, but alcohol does that, too. Weed’s effects are nowhere near as bad as other illegal drugs. This article at the American Scientist says there are “no published cases in the English language that document deaths from marijuana” and its lethal dose, if it has one, is higher than GHB, heroin, cocaine, mescaline and – you guessed it – alcohol. California shouldn’t be spending any justice or prison resources on enforcing marijuana offenses, except driving while under the influence or other crimes that could hurt other people. There’s no rational reason to treat marijuana differently than alcohol.

I also doubt that Skelton’s statistics take into account the full cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition. He gets $66 million by taking the number of prisoners incarcerated for marijuana offenses and multiplying it by $50k, the cost of the average prisoner in California. But there are also court costs, police costs, probation costs, incarceration costs for third-strikers whose first or second strike was a marijuana offense as well as recidivists currently incarcerated for violating parole whose predicate crime was marijuana-related. There’s also the societal costs that occur when somebody is unable to be a contributing member of society because of a criminal history resulting from marijuana costs and organized crime, especially in Mexico, that results from marijuana prohibition. I have no idea how much that would be but it’s more than $66 million.

All in all, there’s no reason marijuana should be illegal. My guess is that pretty soon it will be, at least in California, as marijuana advocates may go to the ballot again in 2012. Prop. 19, which would have legalized marijuana in California, was defeated last year.

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