Oregon — Authorities seized $3 million worth of illegal Mexican drug cartel marijuana in Josephine County, $1 million in Marion County, $2 million in Deschutes County. An astonishing $1 billion was found just across the border. In the words of Sen. Everett Dirksen, “Pretty soon you’re talking real money.”
Accepting the estimate that less than 15 percent of the illegal crop is found, there really is “real money” out there, and that’s just the wholesale value.
The Mexican drug cartels consider that 15 percent as the cost of doing business, and they quickly turn the remaining crop into “real money,” selling it to the Americans who readily seek it out, and then just as quickly they ship the money off to Mexico.
So, not only do we lose those billions of dollars to the criminal world, we also lose the millions of dollars a year wasted just in Oregon in the fruitless effort to prosecute marijuana use out of existence. The overall affect of these efforts is to provide the Mexican gangsters with an extraordinarily effective free price-support program for which they surely thank the stupid gringos as they laugh their way to “the bank” with our money.
Given the situation, one might forgive the stupid gringos for thinking that there must be a better way to deal with the domestic market than assigning it to the gangsters.
Fortunately, many gringos do think so, and for a good reason. There really is a better way. Legalize marijuana.
The benefits of legalization are manifold.
The first, of course, is that money spent for marijuana would be removed from foreign criminal enterprises and kept within our economy, allowing it to circulate and increase commerce in other goods. Without the billions of dollars derived from unlawful marijuana sales, the Mexican cartels are deprived of their primary reason to be here. It would be easier to starve the cartels out than drive them out.
Second, there are clear savings for law enforcement by not wasting funds on the annual marijuana eradication efforts and the ongoing arrest, prosecution and incarceration of otherwise law-abiding adults, increasing funding for more important, currently underfunded activities.
While the monetary rewards of marijuana legalization are obvious, other less obvious rewards are as important. Primary among these is the ability to forge a new relationship between our overextended law enforcement friends and the significant number of citizens who use marijuana. Domestic criminals would lose the partial protection accorded them by responsible marijuana users being reticent to report crimes to the police because of the real fear that they would become the ones arrested.
Other societal benefits also would come about. Those whose task is to educate our children would no longer be forced to lie about marijuana as part of a perhaps otherwise useful drug education curriculum. Families would no longer be split apart by the state to “protect” children from the artificially defined “child abuse” supposedly caused by their parents’ marijuana use. The social and monetary costs of those actions are nearly incalculable. Those who pass our laws could spend more time on genuinely pressing statutory needs.
OK, how do we go about legalization? Two areas to address are private production for personal use and commercial production for sales to those who do not self-supply.
Addressing commercial production, one useful idea proposes regulated, licensed production of marijuana by private persons and sales through state liquor outlets. Proceeds would be distributed to various state programs as part of their annual budgets. Other possibilities not currently addressed are a free-market approach, with the state’s role limited to quality assurance and tax collection, or the state acting as both producer and distributor and retaining all proceeds.
Private production for personal use would not necessarily provide any monetary returns to the state, but laws could be formulated to do so. Initiatives in 1988 and 1990 called for a small payment to various state programs in return for the right to produce marijuana for personal adult use. Such a concept has a strong precedent in Oregon’s 10-year-old, highly successful Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. In that act, individuals with medical marijuana cards pay a $100 annual fee to the state in return for the right to produce marijuana for their personal use.
Oregonians have volunteered to me that they would happily pay the same for the right to produce their own marijuana for recreational use. I suggest that this process is a useful beginning move. Oregon should step up and become the leader in marijuana reform again. Oregon should make that beginning move.
Laird Funk of Williams has been an advocate of marijuana reform efforts since 1983.
Author: Laird Funk