The case for legalizing recreational marijuana use in Virginia

Caveat.  While I have no moral objection to the possession of marijuana I do not espouse breaking the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I believe the marijuana laws in Virginia should be changed but, until they are changed, I encourage everybody to obey the laws as they are presently written.

Strive for five.  I believe the five key reasons for legalizing recreational marijuana use in Virginia for adults are liberty, the failure of the current approach, costs of enforcement – both financially and in terms of racial bias, the economic benefits to the state and the inevitability of legalization.  Each will be discussed in turn.

Democracy, liberty and freedom.  The first and most important reason to legalize recreational marijuana use in Virginia is philosophical.  Our political leaders in Richmond speak in hushed, reverential voices about “Mister Jefferson”.  They then turn around and ignore the fact that a significant majority of Virginians favor legalizing marijuana.  Somehow, our political leaders seem to think that banning a plant against the wishes of a majority of the electorate is commensurate with Thomas Jefferson’s ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom.  Perhaps our General Assembly should start referring to Thomas Jefferson as “ole what’s his name” until they can demonstrate some willingness to adhere to Jefferson’s actual views on liberty, etc.

Pot prohibition has failed.  Federal, state and local efforts to make and keep marijuana use illegal have not curtailed its use.  Our government has been busily trying to ban marijuana since 1937 and raised the stakes considerably with the Controlled Substances Act (which became effective in 1971).   Nearly 50 years after the federal government made marijuana a Schedule 1 “narcotic” its use continues to rise.

Enforcement and racial bias.  The enforcement costs needed to continue the ineffective prohibition of pot are very high.  In Virginia authorities have made 133,000 arrests for marijuana possession over the past 10 years.  10,000 Virginians are convicted of a first time marijuana possession offense every year. In fact, marijuana arrests in Virginia increased over the past year.  Worse yet, the arrests are heavily weighted against African-Americans.  VCU studied the data in 2015.  As NORML calls out, “That study concluded that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population.”  Some parts of Virginia are far worse than that.  “In some counties and towns, such as in Hanover County and in Arlington, Virginia, the black arrest rate was six to eight times that of whites.”  These arrest ratios completely diverge from studies showing that marijuana use is roughly the same between backs and whites.

Economics.  The Kansas City Federal Reserve studied the economic impact of marijuana legalization on the state of Colorado … “In 2017, the state of Colorado collected more than $247 million from the marijuana industry, including state sales taxes on recreational and medical, special sales taxes on recreational, excise taxes on recreational and application and licenses fees.”  Given that Virginia’s population is 42% bigger than Colorado’s a straight line interpolation would suggest $353m in annual taxes in Virginia.  That total does not count the savings from reduced law enforcement nor does it include the potential profit generated for the state if the legal marijuana were sold through Virginia ABC stores.

Inevitability.  Nine states and DC have legalized marijuana.  Michigan and North Dakota will vote on adult use marijuana legalization this November.  This week the entire country of Canada legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Once again Virginia is being surrounded by progress and once again Virginia is standing slack jawed and rheumy eyed as a philosophical island of obstinate resistance to inevitable change.

– Don Rippert.

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21 responses to “The case for legalizing recreational marijuana use in Virginia

  1. I want every hour of police time not spent dealing with small users invested instead on the highways. These idiots are just like the drunks and think they are just fine to drive….

    I guess the unlicensed, private growers and dealers remain on the wrong side of the law, right? And now you’ll have the licensed industry clamoring for more enforcement there….not so sure there is that much law enforcement savings actually.

  2. There is a breathalyzer and a legal BAC standard for alcohol. I think that will need to be developed for marijuana, but I understand it is difficult.

  3. Terrible idea. Saw something a day or so ago about the states having legalized pot have seen an increase in traffic accidents. Duh!

    Hard drugs next???

    And we should listen to what NORML says? Wow…

  4. Two things:

    1- opiod use and deaths are Lower in states where marijuana is legalized.

    2. The most dangerous people on the road these days bar none are the idiots with their phones – check the stats!

  5. Legalizing Marijuana Decreases Fatal Opiate Overdoses, Study Shows

    https://drugabuse.com/legalizing-marijuana-decreases-fatal-opiate-overdoses/

  6. We need to look at drug use – holistically and RECOGNIZE that it INCLUDES abuse of prescription drugs as well as recreational drugs, opioids, etc and that it’s primarily a medical issue not a criminal one especially when our treatment of drugs criminally is not even handed but highly discriminatory with some folks getting 10-20 years in prison while other who abuse drugs – just walk.

    We just had a blog post about crime and policing in the “projects”. People who are poor can make money selling drugs – and will kill each other – competitors but far more of them are caught on the streets doing petty dealing with no violent records and then they get sit off to prison to cohabit with violent offenders. No surprise when they get out – they’ve learned how to be violent.

    There is no question, what-so-ever, that most drug abuse is bad for society… and needs to be discouraged but the way we’ve gone about it is to expand out the harm – draw more and more folks into the criminal justice system – 1/2 or more of those in prison are there over some kind of drug involvement – and the thing is – most of the eventually get out and return to the streets – now with additional impediments to getting a job – Ex-convict and so they go back to what they can do – to survive – and even more folks are drawn up into it – including their families – and even more kids without their dads – on the streets and raising hell in the schools.

    In my view – we could not be dealing with this in a more ignorant way – we shoot our own selves in the foot – over and over because we want to “punish” not rehabilitate.

    • Your points are well taken but just to be clear …

      My commentaries have been exclusively focused on a plant – marijuana. In my opinion, all other illegal drugs are a different matter requiring a different discussion. People who say that legalizing marijuana is the first step to legalizing everything crack me up. I suppose legalizing handgun possession is also the first step toward legalizing the personal ownership of nuclear weapons too.

  7. How do you rehabilitate stupidity, Larry?

  8. DJR: We’ve discussed this here before: if pot is legalized, which I agree it should be for all 5 reasons you cite, the regulation of it post-legalization must NOT merely be copied from Virginia’s regulation of alcohol distribution and sales, complete with all the opportunities for political interference and influence and corruption — the examples in Europe, now Canada, and our western legalization States show how much better it could be.

  9. With reasonable evidence that marijuana use between blacks and whites is quite close, it is extremely disturbing to find more arrests of blacks. Because usage rates are close and arrest rates are not, this is reasonable evidence of racial discrimination. This needs to be remedied. This is not phony statistics as is being used by Ann Holton and her crowd.

    And I agree with Acbar that we need to regulate marijuana usage very differently than we do alcohol. No more crony capitalism.

  10. Great post by Don, and great discussion. Thank you Don.

    Regarding TMT comment”

    “With reasonable evidence that marijuana use between blacks and whites is quite close, it is extremely disturbing to find more arrests of blacks. Because usage rates are close and arrest rates are not, this is reasonable evidence of racial discrimination. This needs to be remedied.”

    I agree, but ask this question: Is this is always “reasonable evidence of racial discrimination?”

    For example, compare the reasonable policing of high crime neighborhoods versus the time spent in low crime neighborhoods. Is it not reasonable to assume that the police would be necessity be more active and intrusive in a high crime neighborhood, irrespective of race, than in a low crime neighborhood? If that be true, would not the police in responding to legitimate crime come across more ancillary illegal activity in the latter neighborhood not by reason of their discrimination, but by reason of the police simply performing their duty? What should they do then? Look away or ignore, and let the illegal problem grow unchallenged?

    • Let me correct typos and dyslexia in last para. above:

      For example, compare the reasonable policing of high crime neighborhoods versus the time spent in low crime neighborhoods. Is it not reasonable to assume that the police would necessity be more active and intrusive in a high crime neighborhood, irrespective of race, than in a low crime neighborhood? If that be true, would not the police in responding to legitimate crime in the high crime neighborhood come across more ancillary illegal activity there not by reason of their discrimination, but by reason of the police simply performing their duty? What should they do then? Look away and ignore it, and let the illegal problems grow there unchallenged?

    • I would hope the police working in a high crime area would focus more on crimes against persons and crimes against property more than picking up people in possession of marijuana. Of course, there would be situations where the police observed someone high on marijuana or carrying a big back of it. And sales of illicit drugs are different from possession and use.

      But, bottom line, I think other crimes (except for sale) are more important to enforce in high crime areas.,

      • I agree generally with that. I was focused on sales, and would hope that would be the case with police, except unusual cases such as illustrated in Canadian video, akin to drunk driving.

        And here again, in case of sales, you’d expect more arrests in a high crime area if only because police concentrate their resources there as properly they should, although even this is disputed by some, and labelled discrimination. I think instead it’s protecting law abiding citizens who live there.

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