William Martin, of the Baker Institute, is the first of seven writers addressing the question of cannabis legalization. Here’s an excerpt:
“A better way would be to legalize marijuana outright, to remove any taint of lawbreaking and reduce the chances of capricious or discriminatory enforcement. What would that mean? It would surely include the right to grow one’s own, though most people, especially urban dwellers, would prefer to let someone else handle that side of things. Any system of legalization would involve quality control, regulation of sales and taxation. It would also retain penalities for illegal behavior related to the use of the drug, such as DUI, and it would continue to prohibit use by minors, for whom the drug holds far greater potential for harm.
Nevada in 2006 and California in 2010 came close to legalizing marijuana, with more than 45 percent of the vote in both cases. Voters in both Colorado and Washington State have a chance to legalize marijuana in the November elections. Current polls show a 47-38 percent lead for legalization in Colorado and a 57-34 percent positive margin for Washington’s Initiative 502. Even if both measures pass, federal prohibition of marijuana will remain in effect. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has cracked down on some medical marijuana growers and dispensaries in California and elsewhere, despite state laws permitting these operations, not to mention President Obama’s early pledge not to use federal forces for such actions. Challenging large and important states on policies favored by a growing majority may call for reassessment of such actions.
Texas is not likely to consider legalization in the foreseeable future, but it could and should. The largest and most powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations use Texas as both a major market and vital conduit for shipping drugs into the United States, forming alliances with local gangs that handle sales in their territory and move the drugs outward to other regions. Legalizing marijuana would not only dry up the Texas market for illegal pot; it would also greatly reduce contact with customers who might be enticed into buying cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. In the process, it would strip the cartels of billions of dollars they now use to extend their power and would disrupt the chain of delivery from the Texas/Mexican border northward. It would not break them — they would still have other drugs, other markets and other operations — but it would weaken them. They obviously regard the profits from marijuana trade as large enough to justify murder. As long as prohibition remains in force, they will struggle to control one of the world’s most profitable enterprises, and the carnage will continue.
If Texas, famous for its independent spirit and conservative mien, were to legalize marijuana, the world would take note, and great and beneficial change would sweep across the country.
* * *
Mr. Martin’s full original column is HERE. William Martin directs the Drug Policy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute. Portions of this essay are adapted from his October 2009 Texas Monthly article, “Texas High Ways,” available on the Baker Institute website at http://bakerinstitute.org/publications/texas-high-ways.