The Highs and Lows of Marijuana

Californians were wrong to vote against legalizing marijuana. The state should treat drugs in the same way as alcohol and tobacco: granting freedom to the individual and sanctioning the harm done to third parties.

The electorate in the State of California voted against legalizing the cultivation and consumption of marijuana by a majority of 53% against 47% on November 2, 2010, a decision that, in my opinion, is wrong. Legalization would have constituted an important step in the search for an effective solution to the problem of crime linked to drug trafficking that, as it was recently officially announced, has caused a chilling total of 12,000 deaths in Mexico in 2010.

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This solution lies in the decriminalization of drugs, an idea which until relatively recently was unacceptable to the bulk of public opinion convinced that police repression of producers, sellers and users of narcotics was the only legitimate method for ending such a plague. The reality has been revealing what is illusory in this idea. Research has shown that, despite the astronomical sums invested, and the huge movement of funds to combat it, the market for drugs has continued to grow. It has extended across the world, creating cartels that are immensely powerful, both in military and economic terms. As we have seen in Mexico ever since President Calderón decided to take on the drug bosses and their bands of mercenaries with the army as his weapon, the cartels are able to fight state governments as equals thanks to their power, while they infiltrate state governments through corruption and terror.

The millions of Californian voters who did vote to legalize marijuana are an auspicious indicator that there are a growing number of us who think that it is time to change policies regarding drugs. The time has come to reorient efforts, from repression to prevention, cure and information, in order to end the enormous levels of crime that prohibition creates, and the havoc that drug-trafficking wreaks on democratic institutions, especially in developing countries. The cartels can pay better salaries than the state, and in this way they can neutralize members of parliament, police, ministers, bureaucrats, or even have them at their service. They can finance political campaigns and acquire media outlets that defend their interests.

In this way, they provide employment and sustenance to many professional working in legitimate industry, business and companies through which they launder their vast profits. This dependency of such a large number of people on the drug industry creates a tolerant or indifferent mood in the face of everything that the industry brings with it. That is, degradation and the collapse of the law. This is a path that leads, sooner or later, to the suicide of democracy.

Of course, legalization of drugs will not be easy. At first, as its critics point out, it will bring with it, without a doubt, an increase in consumption, particularly among young people. Because of this, decriminalization only makes sense if it is accompanied by intense informative campaigns about the risks and damage related to drug consumption. These campaigns would be similar to those that have helped reduce tobacco use in almost the entire world. It also requires parallel efforts to rehabilitate and cure victims of drug addiction.

The most positive and immediate effect, however, would be the elimination of the criminal activity that prospers solely thanks to the outlawing of drugs. Much like what happened to the gangsters who became all-powerful and filled Chicago, New York and other North American cities with blood and the dead during the years that prohibition on alcohol was in place, a legal market would finish the big cartels. It would take their vast business away from them and ruin them. As the drug problem is fundamentally an economic one, its solution must also be economic.

Legalization will bring considerable resources to states in the form of tax contributions. If these are used to educate young people and to inform the general public about the damage that narcotics consumption does to your health, it can have an infinitely more beneficial and more far reaching result than a repressive policy, which, apart from causing dizzying violence and filling everyday life with insecurity, has not reduced levels of drug addiction in any society by one iota.

In an article published in The New York Times on October 28, 2010, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof cites research presided over by Harvard professor Jeffrey A. Miron, which calculates that legalizing only marijuana in the United States will bring some $8 billion in taxes to the state coffers each year, while at the same time saving a similar sum that the state invests in repressive policies.

In just a few years, throwing this gigantic injection of resources into education, principally in schools in poor and marginalized neighborhoods - where the large majority of drug addicts come from, would drastically reduce drug trafficking in this sector of society, the largest cause of bloodshed, juvenile delinquency and breakdown of families.

Kristof also cites the conclusion of a study carried out by former policemen, judges and public prosecutors in the United States, which confirms that prohibition of marijuana is the main growth factor for violent gangs and cartels that control sales and distribution of drugs on the black market, who reap “immense rewards” from it. For many young people living in African and Hispanic-American ghettos, who are already hard hit by unemployment provoked by the financial crisis, the possibility of earning money quickly through illicit activities becomes irresistibly attractive.

Opponents to such a move tend to counter these logical arguments for decriminalization with a moral argument. Should we, they say, surrender to crime for all cases in which the police prove themselves incapable of catching criminals, and make legitimize that crime? Should this be the response, for example, to pedophilia and domestic and sexual violence, phenomenona that instead of decreasing in number, are on the increase everywhere? Should we put down our weapons and surrender, legalizing these things because it has been impossible to eliminate them?

We should not confuse water with oil. A state with rule of law cannot legitimize all crimes or offenses without negating itself and becoming a barbaric state. And of course, a state has the duty to inform its citizens of the risks that they run by smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and severely sanction and penalize those who cause damage to others by indulging in these activities.

But it does not seem very logical or coherent that if this is the policy that all governments adhere to for tobacco and alcohol, they do not also follow it for drugs, including soft drugs such as marijuana and hashish. This is despite the fact that it has been more than proven that the latter two do not have a very pernicious effect on health. Their effect may even be less damaging than excesses of tobacco and alcohol.

I do not like drugs, soft or hard, in the least, and truth be told, someone on drugs, much like a drunk, seems to me to be quite unpleasant, as well as annoying and boring. But people who pick their noses in front of me also profoundly disgust me, as do those who use toothpicks, or eat fruit with the pips and the peel; it does not occur to me to ask for a law that prohibits these things, punishing those who do them with prison sentences. Because of this, I do not see why the state would need to stop an adult who is of sound mind who wishes damage themselves by, for example, smoking joints, snorting coke or taking ecstasy, if this is what they like or if it relieves their frustration or laziness.

Freedom of the individual cannot mean the right to only be able to do good and healthy things. It must also means the right to do things that are not good and healthy, on the condition that these things do not do cause harm to others. This policy, applied in the cases of tobacco and alcohol consumption, should also apply to drug use. It is extremely dangerous once the state starts to decide what is good and healthy or bad and harmful, because these decisions interfere with individual freedom - a fundamental principal of a democratic society. This path can lead unknowingly to the disappearance of individual sovereignty and to a covert form of dictatorship. And dictatorships, as we know, are infinitely more deadly than the worst narcotics.