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My Turn: Legalize and tax marijuana

For the Monitor
Published: 2/25/2017 12:04:53 AM

Marijuana is already legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. It has been decriminalized in many more. New Hampshire is the only remaining New England stronghold of the Franklin D. Roosevelt-era war on marijuana.

New Hampshire House Bill 656 would end marijuana prohibition here, making us worthy of our “Live Free or Die” license plates. As in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia, state representative Glen Aldrich’s bill would treat marijuana as we treat alcohol. Instead of funding drug cartels and corruption, marijuana would provide tax revenues.

The New Hampshire State House, usually a body with a strong Republican majority, has passed marijuana legalization or decriminalization bills seven times in recent years. Democrat governors successfully fought the bills each time.

This session, support for legalization is bipartisan. While the House bill has four Republican co-sponsors, the legalization bill currently in the Senate (SB 233) has five Democratic co-sponsors and two Republicans. Both houses have noticed that polls show New Hampshire voters solidly in favor of harm reduction and fiscal responsibility in drug policy.

Gov. Sununu campaigned on marijuana decriminalization, promising to reverse Lynch and Hassan’s inflexible commitment to the drug war. He is expected to sign this session’s decriminalization bill, HB 640. But why not finish the job? Why go only halfway back to civilized society?

Decriminalization will reduce the number of users wasting time in prison, but it won’t stop law enforcement resources being wasted chasing marijuana suppliers. Nor will it create any tax revenue, or reduce the illegal profits, or improve drug safety.

HB 656 estimates that legalization will produce $21,028,438 for New Hampshire in tax revenue. But the indirect fiscal benefits will be far larger. Thousands of people will remain employed instead of in jail. Prison populations and costs will drop. Law enforcement resources can be used to solve burglaries, robberies, rapes and murders.

Progressives called Prohibition the Noble Experiment in the 1920s. As an experiment, Prohibition worked. It proved that government control caused more harm than the drug. Murder rates skyrocketed, deaths and blindness from contaminated alcohol became common. Organized crime grew. Boardwalk empires ruled urban political machines.

When the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, murder went down. Methanol poisoning was no longer a threat. Organized crime went into recession.

There was also the intangible benefit to civil society when the fear of paramilitary alcohol raids ended. Police and society were reunified, instead of being split into an occupying army versus “civilians.”

Everyone knows the benefits of legalization. So why, in 2017, are we still being drafted into FDR’s anti-marijuana jihad? Politics. Politics, and decades of bureaucratic inertia.

Power is the opiate of politics. When politicians could no longer sate their power addiction with alcohol prohibition, they turned to other drugs. Harry Anslinger, FDR’s head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, launched a nationwide campaign to outlaw another drug (and fight the menace of jazz music). He made lurid, racist claims: that blacks and Mexicans were driven uncontrollably to murder and rape by marijuana. In 1937, FDR signed marijuana prohibition into law.

Organized crime bosses immediately restarted their Prohibition-era smuggling organizations to serve new customers.

John F. Kennedy continued FDR’s policies into the 1960s, re-appointing Anslinger in February 1961. Anslinger continued to warn Americans about the dangers of jazz music, blacks and Mexicans until he retired in 1962.

Richard Nixon got into the drug war business in 1971. He realized that the drug war could be used to suppress white antiwar college students, the way previous administrations had used it to suppress Chinese, Mexicans, African Americans and jazz musicians.

Since Nixon, illegal drug money has funded the Taliban, the FARC, the Mexican cartels, and many other warlord regimes.

So here we are, in 2017, with a massive problem caused by obsolete laws and a huge leftover bureaucracy. Our choice is quite simple: Recreational drug profits can be taxed and pay for infrastructure and schools – or we can keep subsidizing organized crime.

It takes only a minute to call or email your state representatives and state senator. Let’s get both parties to work together to pass HB 656 and SB 233.

(Bill Walker works for medical-imaging database company M2S in West Lebanon.)


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