Thursday, March 25, 2010

Finally, A Sensible Political Development To Write About

With the health care debate sucking up most of the political oxygen, one positive development from the standpoint of personal freedom has gone a bit under the radar - in November, voters in California will get a chance to vote to legalize marijuana. No absurd fig leaves about medical use either - just straight legalization.

I am hoping this is an indication that America is finally ready to move in the direction of a saner drug policy. I'm not a big fan of pot myself, as I dislike anything that enters the body in the form of inhaled smoke, but I've never seen any evidence that it is any more dangerous or socially harmful than alcohol (in fact, what evidence there is appears to indicate just the opposite). As any Econ 101 student can tell you, banning a product which is relatively easy and cheap to produce and for which there is high demand is likely to result not in reduced demand for that product, but in a large black market for it, and you don't need to conduct field research to see that that's exactly what has happened in the case of marijuana. Anyone who's been to a music festival or a lived in a dorm room in the last twenty years can tell you.

Forcing this black market above ground will result in tangible benefits for California - firstly, it will undermine one of the major sources of revenue for the violent Mexican drug cartels that continue to terrorize the U.S.-Mexico border region, and secondly, it provides a major new potential revenue source for the state government, which God only knows is in need of some of those at the moment. At least as far as marijuana goes, I don't find the argument that legalization would encourage people to experiment more than they already do particularly persuasive, and even if it did, I don't think this would be particularly harmful, so these benefits are likely to come at very little tradeoff.

I remain uneasy with proposals to legalize harder drugs - heroin, methamphetamines, and the like are nasty, nasty chemicals with nasty, nasty effects on the human body and on society, and abstract arguments in favor of personal freedom do have to grapple with the fact that people who choose to use these drugs are likely to create huge societal problems by doing so. With marijuana, however, it's likely the most serious problem we'll have to contend with is a shortage of frozen pizzas. So Californians - pass the referendum, then if you so choose, pass the bong.

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