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COLUMN

Sin Taxes For Marijuana

Andrew C. Thomas

It only took a few decades, but finally someone at a high level of government is making a bit of sense.

It was recently proposed in Canadian parliament that marijuana be decriminalized -- technically, that possession of small amounts would no longer be a crime and only punishable by warning. This move follows many others around the world recently on the same train of thought -- this past summer, the British government introduced a very similar measure into law by reducing marijuana from a Class B to a Class C drug, and thereby reducing punishments for its possession. The idea has gained popularity from many authorities on justice, since it would allow the police to fight more serious crimes. An astonishingly large percentage of arrests and incarcerations in the United States is because of marijuana possession; convicts of this type comprise nearly 20 percent of the prison population at the federal level.

Decriminalization would certainly lead to a substantial savings of resources, both financial and human. And I think it’s a step in the right direction in the reduction of crime and the advancement of our society. But a more practical, capitalist solution is right in front of us, though very few people high up seem to have proposed it.

Legalize pot completely. Have the government control its production. Then tax the hell out of it.

The precedent is firmly entrenched in history. Prohibition experimentally proved that attempts to ban a substance only lead to an underground criminal movement. There is no doubt at all that this movement exists, and a direct assault through the misguided War on Drugs only seemed to strengthen it. What’s the perfect solution in this new business-motivated government era (before we officially found out how corrupt big business was)? Undercut your competition. In Ontario, for example, wine and spirits are sold through government agencies at very reasonable prices, and the profit goes back into schools, roads and even healthcare. Sin taxes are popular anywhere that a substantial percentage of residents has a moral objection to a product, one reason wine and beer are less expensive in Europe.

Now, some people might question the moral legitimacy of such an action. How can we, as a rational, democratic society, poison our own citizenry with this (cough) weed?

Those people who have such an attitude might want to give up drinking or cigarettes. Between them, tobacco and alcohol take a ridiculous number of lives each year, and yet as a whole we consider these deaths to be an acceptable trade-off for our enjoyment and physical liberty. So why is there such an attitude against marijuana? This is a drug whose powers to end life are far less pronounced than those of our other two favorite sins, and far less addictive than either cigarettes or, for example, opiates.

Some might use the argument that people who try marijuana are more likely to move on to harder drugs. I do not doubt this claim. However, the danger of any study in this area is that important qualifiers might have been left out, such as the fact that home and family situations might also contribute that perhaps drug use was more common in poorer areas. (Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that this is a supposition, not supported by any specific evidence.) If these statistics were elucidated, perhaps we would see that the focus should not be on trying to stop people from smoking pot, but to instead implement social programs to treat the underlying sickness rather than try to remove the symptoms.

The other immediate concern is the spike in marijuana usage that would inevitably follow any legalization. I would suggest that this is the down payment on any change to come. Keep in mind that alcohol is legal, but still controlled: only people over a certain age are allowed to buy or drink it, and its sale is theoretically tightly monitored. Rules would need to be established for marijuana’s safe use: a legal limit for driving, a buying age, and a licensing scheme similar to that of liquor.

Let me finish by disclosing that I do not use marijuana, nor would I be likely to if it were legalized. What I believe in is the fundamental right of choice, especially when my actions, if taken responsibly, are unlikely to hurt anyone, and will be far less harmful on others than the other “sins” we as a collective have chosen to glorify.