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Carl Hiaasen: America’s war on pot has gone up in smoke

  • Miami Herald
  • Published Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, at 5:52 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, at 5:52 p.m.

The war on marijuana is going up in smoke, and it’s about time. There is no bigger waste of money and resources in all law enforcement.

Failure is too polite a description for the long campaign to eliminate the pot trade in the United States. A colossal flop is what it is. After four decades and billions spent, marijuana is easier to get, and more potent, than ever.

More than 40 percent of all Americans older than 12 have tried it, and at least 30 million people smoke it every year. The most recent national drug survey found that 18.1 million Americans had used it during the previous month.

Pot is now medically dispensed in 18 states and Washington, D.C. It’s the largest cash crop in the nation’s largest agricultural state, California.

A legitimate pain reliever for cancer victims, “medicinal” marijuana is now available for an assortment of other symptoms, some of them conveniently vague and impossible to discount. It’s not terribly hard to get a prescription.

In November, voters in Colorado and Washington dropped the pretense and approved the adult recreational use of weed. Other states will follow in coming years.

Absurdly, the government still classifies pot as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, the same as heroin and cocaine. Federal law prohibits medical marijuana use, and the Obama administration has taken action against dispensaries in California.

It’s a lost cause, and an expensive one. Any true fiscal conservative should be outraged by the waste and futility.

States are rewriting their marijuana laws because that’s what makes sense. Regulate it, tax it, and make a ton of money from it.

Another benefit of decriminalization is liberating overworked police and prosecutors, whose talents are being misspent on dumb, dead-end pot cases. Most Americans would prefer to see drug agents shutting down meth labs and pill mills, which actually kill people.

Some drug experts fear that more lenient laws will increase consumption and abuse. Others believe a lawful marketplace will prove safer. Regardless, the saturation level of reefer is already high.

In 2011, according to FBI statistics, a marijuana-related arrest occurred every 42 seconds in the United States. That’s how abundant the stuff is.

Many of those who were busted were casual users or small-time sellers. Those who get prosecuted on minor pot charges disproportionately tend to be Hispanics and African-Americans, not the white college kids who are toking up a storm. Cannabis laws have always been selectively enforced, and lots of people are sitting in jail who shouldn’t be there.

The current useless Congress is unlikely to tackle marijuana reform, but the Justice Department could do all taxpayers a favor by letting each state decide for itself.

Making pot legally available to adults will require caution. Colorado and Washington state are wrestling with the logistics of sales and supervision. Tough penalties are planned for driving while stoned, or providing the drug to minors.

Inevitably, though, more states will ease their marijuana laws. Money is why; potential revenues from taxing pot cultivation and sales are too substantial to forgo.

Watching America’s legalization movement with gloom are the Mexican drug cartels, whose vast profits from grass smuggling will wither with the loss of their most lucrative market.

Pot smokers would just as soon buy it from a licensed dispensary, but they will definitely keep buying it, no matter what the government does.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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