Pot Smokers Should Oppose Marijuana Legalization
California’s pot smokers have been in characteristically jubilant spirits recently. Even as the state’s cigarette smokers, fast food eaters, and SUV drivers are increasingly maligned and legislated against, Joe Joint is increasingly tolerated. (Strange, because there is almost certainly a large percentage of Californians who identify as both potheads and Burger King addicts.) A measure to legalize recreational marijuana use in California will likely appear on the ballot later this year - this despite the fact that there is no state in the country more hostile to the Marlboro man and his ilk.
California’s “stoner community” is about to encounter some unkind bud, however. For legalization will only succeed in making their habit more expensive, more restricted, and less pleasurable.
California’s pot smokers should first realize how privileged their position currently is. Defacto decriminalization has occurred in many communities here already, meaning that people buy and smoke marijuana with impunity and without fear of legal sanction. What’s more, California’s marijuana fiends can engage in their hedonistic habit without having to pay taxes, submit to onerous regulations – or even produce picture ID at purchase time.
It should give pause to California pot smokers that someone like myself, who wants to make it more difficult for people to smoke marijuana, will probably vote in favor of legalization. But this is because I realize the effects that legalization will have.
To begin, consider the language that the pro-legalization movement is using in pushing its case. Rather than base its argument on abstract (and admirable!) principles such as freedom or personal responsibility, the leading pro-legalization group is instead arguing its case based upon the argument that California needs to “tax and regulate” cannabis consumption. In a sense, then, the argument for legalization is based on the notion that the current marijuana market is too “unregulated” – that is, too free. The state needs a piece of the action! Moreover, as we’ve seen countless times, one of the leading tactics that states take to discourage a behavior – especially here in California – is to levy taxes on it. Upon legalization, there can be no doubt that Sacramento, aware of the health care costs that chronic marijuana smoking incurs, will tax marijuana sales to the point of in-affordability. A “yes” vote on marijuana legalization is also a “yes” vote for higher marijuana prices. Whither the money for munchies?
Consider now the “regulate” portion of the pro-legalization argument. As things now stand, Californians of any age can buy marijuana of any potency, from anyone, at any time. After legalization, marijuana sales will be regulated like alcohol: there will be age restrictions, restrictions on the potency of the product (“sure, we want people stoned, but not that stoned!”), and restrictions on who can sell the stuff. The free-for-all that California’s marijuana smokers have enjoyed for the past decade will be subsumed under onerous levels of regulation and bureaucracy.
One of the most insipid peans to the “greatness” of marijuana smoking is Peter Tosh’s reggae classic “legalize it, don’t criticize it.” But the clarion call of today’s pot smokers should be, “criminalize it, don’t criticize it.”