Since Jan. 1, it has been legal to buy and sell marijuana in Colorado and Washington states. News reports predict that this is the first step toward nationwide acceptance of this drug as a legal product on par with alcohol. If our countrys experience with lotteries and gambling is any precedent, those reports are likely correct.
How can that be? Federal law provides for up to one year in jail for a first conviction for possession of any amount of marijuana.
The answer is prosecutorial discretion. In much the same way the federal government allows certain illegal aliens to continue to live openly in our country, a memorandum from the Department of Justice directs U.S. Attorneys to defer to the states (with some exceptions) in enforcing laws pertaining to marijuana.
Twenty states allow the sale of marijuana for medical purposes. I have seen interviews with people dealing in medical marijuana. The smirk on the interviewees face is always telling. Medical purposes is understood by all to be a very elastic concept.
In a recent column, The New York Times David Brooks described his own experience with marijuana as a teenager and went on to say that he and his friends mostly just grew out of it. He concluded that permissive laws such as those passed by Colorado and Washington are likely to lead to a citizenry that is less prudent and temperate. He is likely right.
President Obama was candid about his own use of drugs in his younger days. At a time when he was about to embark on his political career, Obama wrote in Dreams From My Father that, Pot had helped, and booze, maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Can there be any doubt that the DOJ memo was approved by the very top of the administration?
If Barack Obama had been unfortunate enough to have been convicted of possession of marijuana, could he have gone on to study at Columbia University and Harvard Law School and eventually become president?
Ron Paul has had consistent views on drugs over the years. He believes that Washingtons War on Drugs has been a total failure and a waste of hundreds of billions of dollars. He goes on to say that federal drug laws should be repealed and that drugs should be decriminalized.
Paul points out that our country had no federal laws against drugs for 140 years and that during such time there were fewer problems with addiction and related crimes.
Like Brooks, I would prefer to live in a country where governments discourage habits that sap at the qualities that have made this a great country. However, I agree with Paul on this issue. It is a matter of the greater good or the lesser evil.
I believe those who say that illegal drugs are readily available in almost all communities in the United States. As such, the net effect of the War on Drugs has been to make drugs more expensive and immensely profitable for those who think laws are just an inconvenience in furthering their trade.
A look at one day of arrests in Wake and Durham counties finds that 18 of 60 arrests were for drug-related offenses.
As such, it is not just the budget of the Drug Enforcement Administration ($2.87 billion in 2012) that is wasted. We are spending billions more in arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people in the enforcement of drug laws. Surely, that money could be put to better use or, even better, it could remain unspent by the state and in the pockets of taxpayers.
Contributing columnist Marc Landry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org