The time has come for pot legalization

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Considering that it will no doubt be a tooth-and-nail battle just to get Pennsylvania out of the relative dark ages when it comes to the sale of wine and liquor, state Sen. Daylin Leach is most likely on another quixotic quest to legalize marijuana sales in the state, but we believe his proposal has merit.


Leach, who was joined by representatives of law enforcement, the medical community and the field of agriculture when introducing his legislation, focused on the high cost to the state of enforcing current marijuana laws and the money that could be gained by the state through legalization and taxation.


“The modern prohibition of marijuana does a disservice to Pennsylvania by tying up our resources in the prosecution of its users; by depriving us of the revenue that this marijuana could generate; and by denying the Pennsylvanians suffering from terminal illness access to a natural medicine that could take away their pain,” said Leach, D-Montgomery.


Added Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics officer and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, “Cops see the ineffectiveness and harms of marijuana prohibition up close every day. Keeping marijuana illegal doesn’t significantly reduce use, but it does give tax-free profits to violent gangs and cartels that control the black market.”


According to 2006 figures from the Office of National Drug Control Policy cited by Leach, there were nearly 25,000 marijuana arrests made in Pennsylvania that year, at a cost of more than $325 million to taxpayers. By legalizing marijuana, those law enforcement, prosecution and incarceration costs are largely saved, and Leach says even the most conservative estimates suggest the state could reap at least $24 million annually through taxes on legally sold marijuana.


Arguments against legalization are typically weak, but that didn’t stop Gov. Tom Corbett from trying. His office trotted out the old chestnut about marijuana being a “gateway drug,” though there’s little real evidence that is the case.


Also, the health risks from smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol to excess are much greater than those associated with recreational marijuana use, and the level of aberrant behavior associated with booze is much higher. Do we see scores of people in the newspaper every month because they were found guilty of smoking marijuana and driving under its influence? No. That would be alcohol. Do we see a lot of reports about someone smoking a joint and then beating up a wife or girlfriend, or starting a brawl somewhere? No. Again, that’s usually alcohol at work.


The “war on drugs,” in general, has been an abject failure, ridiculously costly in terms of money and lives. One can understand trying to keep deadly substances out of the hands of the populace, especially young people, but the next report of a fatal marijuana overdose would be the first one.


As Leach said, “For the last 75 years, we’ve been treating people who smoke a plant as criminals. These are people who’ve done no harm to any other person, they’ve done no harm to property. They’ve breached the peace in no way.”


We do differ with Leach in how legalized marijuana would be distributed. He would like to sell it alongside wine and liquor in our existing state stores, to people who are at least 21. We have no argument with the age restriction, but we would like to see the state stores shuttered as part of the privatization of wine and liquor sales in the commonwealth, and we see no reason why responsible retailers could not also sell marijuana, just as they do cigarettes.


The time has come for Pennsylvania to let adults make adult decisions about consuming a substance that carries fewer risks and causes less societal harm than those already approved and taxed by our state and federal governments.


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