This week Proposition 19 seeks to legalize and regulate the possession and cultivation of small quantities of marijuana. It also enables the state and/or local governments to license and tax larger commercial marijuana-growing enterprises, while enforcing the new regulations with various criminal and civil penalties.
Despite 100 years of marijuana prohibition in California and the U.S. spending an estimated $271 billion on "the War on Drugs" (1981-2002), marijuana is cheaper, stronger and more available than ever before. Prohibition has not prevented or deterred its widespread use; there are still illegal markets worth billions of dollars to organized crime. These markets sustain significant levels of violence in certain countries. Prohibition has clearly failed.
Proposition 19 provides voters with another choice, one that benefits not just those who use recreational marijuana, but the entire state of California and through its influence ultimately, the nation and the world. In particular Mexico and the rest of Latin America would benefit. Because it is they who suffer most acutely from the US enforced war on drugs. If California legalizes marijuana it would enable them to cautiously explore other approaches to regulation.
Some of the Costs Associated with Marijuana Prohibition
Regulating and taxing marijuana would save American taxpayers billions of dollars in law enforcement and incarceration costs. It would also provide over a billion dollars in tax returns in California alone. It would reduce the ever increasing crime, violence and corruption associated with illegal drug markets, not to mention the violations of civil liberties and human rights that occur when large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are subject to arrest. Police would be freed to focus on serious crime instead.
Another major advantage of moving towards a regulated market is that it will enable governments to produce guidelines for the production of marijuana, including labeling the content and strength, while also influencing the strains of marijuana that are grown increasing the percentage of the anti-psychotic component cannabidiol (CBD), which recently has become absent from the vast majority of marijuana strains. In a regulated market the government would also have the ability to control the price, tax and age of the buyer, while also prohibiting commercial advertising.
There is a clear need for change, yet the international drug control system seems increasingly paralyzed and immobile. There is no doubt that moving forward will be difficult, but it is not impossible. Whatever the outcome of Proposition 19, it has taken an important first step to opening a rational and evidence-based debate about drug policies which have remained static for the last 50 years.
The Beckley Foundation is dedicated to providing a rigorous, independent review of global drugs policy and initiating scientific research into both the potential harms and benefits of marijuana. It also promotes the development of a scientifically-evaluated evidence base in order to help improve policy decision making in the future. Recently it convened and published Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate, the first comprehensive review of cannabis use and the policies which control it. The book is a practical blueprint for change and includes a new UN draft convention for cannabis control. The book outlines a full spectrum of alternative policies from de-penalization to a fully regulated legal market.
For more information about Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate or to download its Extended Summary, the Conclusions and Recommendations and the New Draft Framework Convention on Cannabis Control, please visit the Beckley Foundation website.