Las Vegas Sun

June 16, 2019

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J. Patrick Coolican:

It’s time for Nevada to legalize marijuana

More people are in favor of legalization, and like voters in Washington and Colorado may do this election, the state should end the prohibition


Courtesy Metro Police

Metro Police raided a sophisticated marijuana grow operation inside a house located on the 800 block of Vegas Valley Drive Monday night, seizing more than 200 plants with a street value of $700,000.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Carpenter Canyon Marijuana Raid

Law enforcement officers haul away plants during a raid of a marijuana grow operation in the Carpenter Canyon area of the Spring Mountains on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Let’s talk pot.

Perhaps the most consequential decision faced by voters in three Western states, other than control of the White House, are voter initiatives that would legalize marijuana.

Polls suggest voters in Colorado and Washington may approve initiatives to do so while Oregonians are more reluctant.

This would be a welcome retreat in the most foolish front of the Drug War, and one that would likely mark the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition.

“If any of them pass, it will be the first time since the widespread prohibition of marijuana that any state pulled back,” says Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates reform. “It will be a really big deal.”

If these states legalize marijuana, Nevada, which has tried and failed to legalize in the past, should consider doing the same. I’ll return to that later.

Marijuana prohibition is becoming less popular by the day. A Gallup poll last year found that 50 percent of Americans favor legalization, a first. Just as astounding is the trend, as support has doubled in about 15 years.

Demographics help explain this, as there were 45 million Americans between 18 and 29 as of 2009, with more coming. These people are more socially liberal than their parents. What they realize is that it’s just not a big deal.

Click to enlarge photo

Marijuana filled a room at 2440 Turtle Street in Pahrump in August 2011. The alleged operator of the grow house was 28-year-old Amos Cavallo.

There’s also growing skepticism about the effectiveness of marijuana prohibition, and it’s coming from conservatives. William F. Buckley, the late godfather of conservatism, was long a voice against prohibition, but lately it’s become a chorus of conservatives. This shouldn’t be surprising. Although marijuana is often associated with the lefty counterculture of the much reviled 1960s, the drug war requires big government resources to achieve its dubious ends. It is expensive and inevitably leads to the abuse of government power.

Conservative columnist George Will recently gave a full airing to the idea of legalizing not just marijuana but “hard drugs,” as well: “(I)t is not unreasonable to consider modifying a policy that gives hundreds of billions of dollars a year to violent organized crime.”

Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review and longtime critic of marijuana prohibition, wrote recently, “Exhaustion is finally setting in with the enormous human and fiscal costs of attempting to eradicate the ineradicable.”

What costs? According to the Drug Policy Alliance, more than 850,000 Americans are arrested every year for marijuana-related crime, including 750,000 for possession only. This contributes to our having the highest incarceration rate in the world. We spend $51 billion per year on the drug war.

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron concludes that legalizing marijuana would save federal, state and local law enforcement about $8.7 billion.

(Am I the only one baffled by story after story about Metro police making another pot bust while Sheriff Doug Gillespie complains about budget constraints?)

Miron also estimates that if taxes on marijuana were commensurate with current alcohol taxes, the levies would raise another $8.7 billion.

Click to enlarge photo

Metro Police released this picture from a raid on a marijuana grow house discovered in the 8300 block of Fox Brook Street.

Obviously, legalization would come with public health risks. But consider alcohol, which kills 40,000, not even counting alcohol-related homicides and accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco, meanwhile, is responsible for 1 in 5 American deaths, or nearly 500,000 people per year when you factor in victims of second-hand smoke.

How many people die from smoking pot, eating munchies and watching Colbert? Basically zero.

Despite all this evidence, the politicians remain way behind the public. Enforcement is such a failure that most people who want to smoke pot do so without thinking twice, but they aren’t about to come out of the shadows and join a movement to pressure the politicians. (Plus, ha ha, they might be too lazy.)

Meanwhile, Democratic elected officials, who should be pushing this issue, are cowards, feebly whimpering in the face of anticipated attacks that they are the pot party. They all fear the inevitable TV ads about “Congressman So-and-So has gone to pot.”

So that leaves state initiatives.

The problem with this route is that it will create a messy conflict with the federal government, as we’ve already seen with medical marijuana. For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume the feds don’t put up a major fight. In that case, it will be a huge deal if Washington and Colorado approve state-licensed marijuana stores. It will be a source of unending fascination by the national press. Although Washington and Colorado would still prohibit marijuana use in public places, marijuana tourism can’t be far behind. Catch that? Tourism.

Think of the possibilities.

Some Colorado business leaders are opposing the measure because they don’t want Colorado to become known as the pot state. (To which I might reply: Too late.)

This is certainly a risk for Nevada. Our “What happens here” image has created its own branding challenge as we also try to be known as something other than a pleasure capital.

The train, however, is leaving the station. In a decade, I’m guessing marijuana will be legal in a dozen states or more. It would be a strange break with our libertarian tradition if we weren’t one of those states.

If our quickie-divorced, prostitute-procuring, degenerate gamblers want to chill their frazzled nerves with a marijuana cigarette, who are we to tell them they can’t?

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