Las Vegas Sun

October 18, 2019

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Marijuana opponents missing big picture in argument about black market

Colorado Pot

Brennan Linsley / AP

With the Colorado state capitol building visible in the background, partygoers dance to live music and smoke pot on the first of two days at the annual 4/20 marijuana festival in Denver on April 19, 2014. The annual event is the first 420 marijuana celebration since retail marijuana stores began selling in January 2014.

If you can find a connection to the black market, you can purchase a lot of things there.

Jewelry, guns, custom wheels for your car — you name it, and somebody’s probably stealing it and selling it illicitly. Even laundry detergent became a plentiful black-market product a couple of years ago because its resale value was high enough that thieves could sell it for money to buy drugs.

But the vast majority of people choose to buy products on the regular market. Why? Maybe they consider it immoral to buy stolen goods, or perhaps they don’t think saving a few bucks is worth the risk of going to prison after being caught with hot merchandise.

For Nevada voters, this is a critical point to remember in preparation for next month’s balloting on legalization of recreational marijuana.

Opponents of the proposal are making a big deal out of the fact that legalization in Colorado has failed to eliminate the black market for marijuana in that state. For that and other reasons, they contend, Nevada shouldn’t follow Colorado’s lead on legalization.

It’s an argument that makes no sense.

Here’s why: Legalization will steer business away from criminals.

By passing the ballot question, voters would give recreational marijuana users a lawful avenue to obtain and consume the drug. And like the vast majority of buyers of car wheels or jewelry or Tide laundry soap or whatever products, the bulk of users will take the legitimate option as opposed to continuing to buy from the black market.

Legalization won’t eliminate illicit dealers, but they’ll no longer be the only game in town.

For proof, look no further than the explosion of marijuana businesses in Colorado and other states that have decriminalized recreational use of the drug. It clearly shows that a large portion of the public would much rather do business legitimately than with street gangs and drug cartels, because entrepreneurs wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to open stores if their products weren’t in heavy demand.

This is all plain common sense. Given the chance, most people would be delighted to avoid the possible consequences of buying on the black market, like being ripped off, shot, stabbed, arrested or all of the above.

Nevada voters shouldn’t let opponents distract them from that truth.

Look, there’s always going to be a black market for marijuana. There’s still one for liquor, even more than 80 years after the repeal of Prohibition. (For proof, Google “arrested for buying stolen liquor” and see how many hits you get.)

Which brings us to another key point: If legalization isn’t an acceptable means of contending with the black market, what would opponents consider a good alternative? Continuing the modern version of Prohibition, the War on Drugs? Gee, that’s worked really well. Billions of dollars spent, untold numbers of marijuana users locked up, gross inequity in the ethnic makeup of prison populations, and for what? Marijuana remains in huge supply and demand.

Opponents have raised some points worth debating about decriminalization, including concerns about increasing the availability of the drug to children.

But their point about the black market isn't worth the breath it would take to argue it. Just because legalizing marijuana won't eliminate illicit sales doesn't mean the state should keep the status quo, in which the black market is the only one for recreational users.

Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.

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