We can’t afford not to do it: Full legalization would provide tens of millions of dollars in economic benefits for the state at a time when the dwindling local economy needs a major boost.
Colorado and Washington State legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012. Oregon voters approved legalization in July 2014, and in February Alaska became the fourth U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana.
At 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 26, pot became legal for the first time in the nation’s capital. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser permitted the historic marijuana legislation to take effect despite the shrill warnings of Republican legislators. Nearly two thirds of D.C.’s voters approved Initiative 71 last November. Under the law, people 21 and older are allowed to possess two ounces or fewer and use it legally on private property. They can even give an ounce or less to another person as long as no money, goods or services are exchanged.
Our next-door neighbors in Colorado provide a perfect case study in responsible legalization. For more than two years the state has allowed adults to possess and cultivate limited amounts of pot, and the economy is booming. According to the Revenue Department, the first 10 months of legal marijuana sales resulted in nearly $40 million income for the state. Despite the apocalyptic predictions of some lawmakers, the crime rate has actually fallen: there’s been a 10.1 percent decrease in overall crime and a 5.2 percent drop in violent crime.
Traffic fatalities continue to decline as well — contrary to concerns about “drugged driving” — and Colorado is currently enjoying its lowest unemployment rate in years. The budding marijuana industry (pun intended) continues to generate thousands of new jobs in the state, while demand for commercial real estate has also increased.
Although New Mexico already has some of the most lenient marijuana laws in the country, full legalization would provide top-down economic improvements in local communities by adding millions to the annual budget. In addition to bringing in much-needed tax revenues, legalization would save the state millions more in resources currently being wasted on law enforcement.
Former Bernalillo County prosecutor Ethan Simon recently told a group of UNM law students that the nation’s drug policy “ ... has failed in every respect and exacerbated every problem it was called on to fix.” Simon spoke on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers who oppose the decades-old drug war. Students for Sensible Drug Policy invited him to speak.
Simon acknowledged that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, due primarily to the crippling War on Drugs. Close to two million inmates sit behind bars in detention facilities across the country. In federal prison, more than half of those sentenced to a year or more were convicted of drug crimes. And huge racial disparities still persist: Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites.
Besides the human cost of the war on drugs, Simon also lamented the truly astronomical price tag for this failed policy: nearly $1 trillion spent since 1971, $70 billion annually. All of it simply “flushed down the toilet” as he put it. “(That’s) twice what we spend on education.”
Last May a report issued by the London School of Economics characterized efforts to eradicate illegal drugs as a “billion-dollar failure.” Five Nobel Prize-winning economists signed off on the report authored by global drug policy experts and supported by leading political figures from around the world. The academic paper, titled “Ending the Drug Wars,” recommends “rigorously monitored” legalization, a redistribution of resources toward health and education programs, and more lenient criminal penalties worldwide.
Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow, Thomas Schelling, Vernon Smith, Christopher Pissarides and Oliver Williamson signed the report. It was also endorsed by British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, former NATO and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and George Shultz, former Bechtel CEO and U.S. secretary of state under Ronald Reagan.
The LSE report unambiguously warned that “the pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global War on Drugs strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.”
New Mexico state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino is once again sponsoring a resolution asking voters to end marijuana prohibition in the state. Senate Joint Resolution 2 recently passed the Rules Committee by a 5-4 vote. The ruling brings it one step closer to inclusion on the statewide ballot in 2016.
For a nation so obsessed with free market capitalism and limited government, Americans have been slow to act on repealing marijuana prohibition thanks to decades of negative propaganda and the false morality of the 1 percent. In a society where toxic substances like alcohol and tobacco remain perfectly legal, highly regulated, and incredibly profitable, isn’t it time to reconsider marijuana?