Make pot legal, and we'll benefit

The Fresno Bee (Updated Tuesday, August 3, 2004, 9:59 AM)

Ah, there's nothing quite like summer in the Sierra.

Mexican drug cartels.

Hidden marijuana gardens.

Camouflaged rangers armed with M-16 rifles seeking out hoodlums toting AK-47s.

Know what?

We can end this desecration of national parks, the threat to public safety and the drain on taxpayers by dumping the prohibition on adult marijuana use.

Before explaining why America should abandon its failed war against marijuana, I'll answer the big question.

I've smoked dope. More than once. Unlike Bill Clinton, I inhaled. Then, like millions of other baby boomers, I matured a little bit and stopped. But if I had kept smoking marijuana, why is it the government's business?

Adults in this country use alcohol and tobacco without fear of being arrested or having to obtain those drugs from criminals. Marijuana shouldn't be any different. The worst thing about it is that it's against the law.

By deeming cannabis illegal, we waste $10 billion to $15 billion a year turning citizens into criminals and compound that mistake by turning over the cultivation, distribution and sale of the drug to gangs.

Make pot legal, and hikers don't have to worry about getting shot because they stumble into a marijuana grove in Kings Canyon National Park.

Make pot legal, tax it and regulate it -- as we've done with alcohol, tobacco and gambling -- and everyone but the drug cartels is better off.

A marijuana tax could pay for drug education. Why is a declining percentage of Americans addicted to tobacco? Because it's been drummed into our heads tobacco is bad for us.

The tax also could help fund schools and public safety. Freed from chasing down otherwise law-abiding pot-smokers, police could focus more on violent criminals.

Farmers would benefit, too. Instead of growing food and fiber subject to market volatility, they'd have a guaranteed cash crop. There might not be a better place than the San Joaquin Valley -- with its long growing season and fertile ground -- to grow the stuff.

One objection to legalizing pot is children would have more access to the drug. Actually, they'd have a harder time getting it. Legal pot would reduce the black-market trade, and approved sellers would risk losing lucrative licenses by making underage sales.

Besides, how could pot become any easier to get than it is now? Two Fresno middle school teachers I talked to last week said it's readily available on their campuses.

Legal pot sounds like a radical idea, but it isn't. William F. Buckley Jr., flag-bearer for American conservatives, says marijuana prohibition is costly and hypocritical.

Last month in National Review Online, Buckley wrote: "General rules based on individual victims are unwise. And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend. If all our laws are paradigmatic, imagine what we would do to anyone caught lighting a cigarette, or drinking a beer. Or -- exulting in life in the paradigm -- committing adultery. Send them all to Guantanamo?"

In other words, our marijuana laws smell like they were written by someone smoking too much pot. They need reform.

The columnist can be reached at bmcewen@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6632.



By Bill McEwen