The question for voters is not whether marijuana is good. It is whether prohibition is good. It is whether the people who use marijuana shall be subject to arrest, and whether the people who supply them shall be sent to prison. The question is whether the war on marijuana is worth what it costs.
Initiative 502 says no.
If marijuana killed people, or if smoking it made people commit violence and mayhem, prohibition might be worth all its bad effects. But marijuana does not kill people; there is no lethal dose. Marijuana befuddles the mind and stimulates the appetite, but it does not make people commit arson and brigandage.
Some people abuse it, just as with alcohol, but cannabis is less of a social problem than liquor, wine and beer. And society manages those as legal, commercial products.
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What would legal marijuana be like? Consider what has happened in Seattle. The city has become a sanctuary for medical marijuana, with aboveboard dispensaries. Recreational marijuana is readily available in Seattle on the illicit market, and users of small amounts are no longer prosecuted. For several years, recreational marijuana has effectively been decriminalized in Seattle, and there has been no upsurge in crime or road deaths from it.
But even in Seattle, recreational marijuana is still supplied by criminals — by definition. Prohibition creates criminals. In the 1920s, when alcohol was banned nationwide, alcohol money fed Chicago gangster Al Capone just as marijuana money feeds the Mexican gangs now.
Says former U.S. Attorney John McKay, who battled the gangs while in office and supports 502 now, “The enormous demand for marijuana in the face of criminal penalties, which has been in existence for 70 years, is spinning off enormous profits for drug cartels, for gangs, for drug dealers.”
Initiative 502 aims to take the marijuana business out of the hands of gangs. That is what legalizing alcohol did in the 1930s. Alcohol was still an intoxicant, and still dangerous. But at least spirits, wine and beer were produced in businesses that were open for inspection and had to follow the law.
The producer bought insurance and could be sued. Its product was uniform and had the company’s name on it. The executives were members of the community, and they did not shoot each other. Alcohol was sold in establishments that carded buyers who looked to be under 21, on pain of losing a valuable state license.
Parents may ask whether I-502 will make marijuana more available to their teenage children. The answer is to compare marijuana with beer. For teenagers, both are illegal — and available. But which is more easily available, the one that is banned or the one that is regulated? For more than 40 years, the one more easily available to teenagers has been the one that is banned.
Marijuana prohibition does not work. The better policy is to legalize it, license it, regulate it and tax it.
The Times editorial board supports Initiative 502 as a big step in that direction. We present some of our other reasons on this page.