Our drug dilemma

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It’s easy to understand why former vice-president Dick Cheney claims that President Obama has been an “unmitigated disaster,” but it’s evident that even his progressive supporters are becoming disenchanted with him.

In the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia regional presidents discussed the effects of drug traffic to the U.S. and the failed policies of fighting this losing battle, suggesting the decriminalization of at least marijuana.

Obama flatly ruled out legalizing drugs as a way to combat the illegal trafficking that has ravaged the region. This is the same president who we thought was forward-looking, using digital technologies and the Internet not only to raise funds for his own campaign.

At some point, as Tapscott and Williams report in their MacroWikinomics (2010), his administration created the Citizen’s Briefing Book to field ideas from the public that could inform his policy platform.

What astonished everyone was the fact that when citizens could voice their opinions, and suggest topics for policy change, the highest-ranking idea was to legalize marijuana, an idea nearly twice as popular as repealing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. And this while we were engaged in two wars and struggling through the Great Recession.

What did Obama do? He roundly ignored popular demand to reconsider federal classification of marijuana, so that its decriminalization or outright legalization will not be taken seriously.

When in doubt, ignore the public. Attorney General Holder agreed to limit federal prosecution, and confused states passed their own legislation regarding the medical use of marijuana.

If there ever an economic common ground between the right and left, between conservatives who want as little as possible government regulations and progressives who want government sanction of social conventions, the case of pot legalization is ripe for harvesting.

If there was ever was a legislative common ground between the old and young, those who need pot for medical use or recreationally as a reminder of the 60s and those who feel the urge to rebel and be cool, the case of legalizing pot should be it.

How many prisoners are incarcerated because of marijuana use? How much does it cost us to deal with these non-violent crimes? Is it turning our inner-cities into safer places?

What if pot were treated like alcohol? What if it were regulated and taxed? Would Latin American drug cartels disappear? Even if not completely, would their business diminish? Could we then divert resources to more productive domestic ends?

All of these questions have been asked for years, but when politicians, like Obama, answer them they shift gears from simple economic analyses to social and moral ones. Why not deal with the economic dimension first, and then worry about social effects?

The hypocrisy of conservative legislators is amazing: inserting government regulation where none should be, making social and moral issues legal ones. Let every family struggle with educating its members on the preference of exercising over smoking, reading over television watching, board-games over Tweeting.

When more Americans support rather than oppose the legalization of marijuana, according to a recent Rassmusen national poll, why does Obama ignore them?

Some estimate that enough taxes will be collected from the sale of marijuana to substantially close the federal deficit. Would you rather increase taxes on all to lower the national deficit rather than impose taxes on marijuana users?

Just as Prohibition failed despite a Constitutional amendment, so the war on drugs has failed. For those arguing about the problems associated with the use of pot, fearing lawlessness and crime, it should be noted that a stoner has the munchies and not much energy to rob.

A couple of months ago, The New York Times reported that the amount of tax collection at the city and state level is becoming more significant in tough economic times. It cited Colorado Springs collecting more than $700,000 in taxes from the medical marijuana industry in 2011. Denver collected $3.4 million last year from sales tax and application and licensing fees, while the state as a whole collected more than $5 million.

Putting all of this in perspective will take time. The Obama administration is giving states mixed messages about its intentions, leaving open the possibility that a crack-down is imminent. Perhaps a strong statement from our local leaders can set the tone of the debate.

Regardless of how much common sense we can expect from Washington, we can be progressive and conservative at once and completely decriminalize marijuana. For those who still worry about its effects, the city is installing cameras downtown: Big Brother will be watching.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS who encourages free love and responsible intoxication. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com