inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

McOSCAR: Death, Taxes and Legalized Marijuana

Several friends were milling about talking over sports and such when our conversation abruptly took a serious turn.

The catalyst for the change was the death certificate in my hand. The deceased was a friend’s 35-year-old former husband and the father of their 7-year-old daughter.

The document told his story: Time of death “Approx-0705,” Immediate Cause of Death “Adverse effect of drugs, ” Interval Between Onset and Death “A few minutes, ” Manner of Death “Accident.”

Odds are marijuana was the gateway drug to his 20-year addiction. Of the many addicts I have known, the majority will attest that marijuana was their first drug of choice.

To quote one young man about his first high, “ The feeling was incredible. All my social anxiety instantly went away.” His descent into addiction was driven by his pursuit of that first sensation.

The conversation then turned to the incongruity between the push to legalize marijuana and the so-called “ War on Drugs.”

It beggars belief that anyone the least bit acquainted with the insidious progression of drug addiction would ever call for the legalization of marijuana, the gateway drug to every more powerful and deadly drug on the market.

What sticks in my craw most is the unconscionable duplicity among certain politicians who attempt to have it both ways: Legalize marijuana for the tax revenue it offers while covering their tail by pouring millions of dollars into the largely symbolic (“We’re doing something!”) and astonishingly unproductive (no measures of efficacy) “War on Drugs.”

In his Feb. 16 Wall Street Journal column, “Super Bowl of Sin Taxes,” Daniel Henninger strikes a similar note.

His topic was sin taxes, specifically legalized gambling and legalized marijuana, and the windfall in tax revenues they generate to state and federal coffers. New Jersey, the U. S. sports-bet capital, took in $200 million in gambling tax revenue last year.

Sixty percent of Americans favor medical and recreational marijuana use. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 18 states and Washington D. C.

New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer plans to introduce a federal legalization bill in April. It has a cannabis tax that starts at 10 percent and rises eventually to 25 percent.

Henninger writes that sin and sin taxes are now passé. Consequently, much of contemporary American government is now amoral.

“After decades of pretense from government about its good intentions, government doesn’t much care one way or the other anymore.”

“Any previous pro-social purpose, “he writes, “has been overwhelmed by the crude need to maximize revenue no matter the source, especially in open-spigot states such as New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.”

Echoing my annoyance he writes, “We are legalizing marijuana just as opioid addiction and overdoses from ‘recreational’ fentanyl skyrocket.

“In virtually all the legalizations of marijuana or gambling,” he continues, “the politicians include language about creating programs for prevention and rehabilitation. It’s boilerplate, a pro forma caveat that rarely delivers.”

Politicians don’t care that a 7-year-old girl lost her father to drug addiction so long as they get the one thing they want—a steady stream of tax revenue from both users and the commercial cannabis interests.

Deaths are simply an acceptable cost of doing business.

Henninger concludes, “When more people understand that the goal of governments today is to take rather than help, as they piously claim, perhaps we can have a sensible discussion about whom to tax and for what purposes.”

A discussion long past due.

Follow us on social media: Twitter: @DV_Journal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

LEACH: Bright Future for Legalized Marijuana in PA

In recent years an increasing number of states, both red and blue, have legalized the sale, possession, and use of marijuana. This is good news, Prohibition has been one of the most pernicious domestic policies in all of American history. It is racist, cruel, heartless, expensive, irrational, and devastating to entire communities. Ending it is long overdue. However, while I am proud to have written and sponsored Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law (Act 16 of 2016), the recreational prohibition still endures, and every day it persists is an injustice.

First, it is important to understand the history of prohibition. A Pennsylvanian named Harry Anslinger was head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics during alcohol prohibition in the 1930s. When that ended, Mr. Anslinger needed a new justification to fund his department. He opportunistically seized on Cannabis and began a crusade to make it illegal. But he didn’t argue that pot was bad for you. Instead, he testified to congress that “Marijuana makes Black people think they are just as good as White people” and “Marijuana makes White women desire sexual relationships with Black men.”

Thus, a policy steeped in racism was born. Even though cannabis use is approximately the same among all races, if you are Black, you are four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana-related charges than if you are White, and once arrested, are five times more likely to be incarcerated. Every year 20,000-25,000 Pennsylvanians, largely people of color, are thrust into the vortex of the criminal justice system. This often prevents them from continuing their higher education or from getting a job, permanently altering the trajectory of their lives.

Compelling arguments in favor of prohibition are difficult to find.

Some argue that marijuana is bad for you. But even if cannabis is in some way unhealthy, it is not the role of our criminal justice system to force healthy choices on free individuals. Cigarettes kill over a thousand Americans per day in truly horrific ways. Yet cigarettes are legal in all 50 states.

Comparing marijuana to alcohol shows even more starkly how irrational our policy is. Alcohol directly kills 95,000 people per year. Marijuana has no lethal dose. Zero people die of cannabis poisoning or overdoses each year. Alcohol is physically addictive, to the point that withdrawing from alcohol addiction too quickly can itself be fatal. A person can develop a habitual dependency on marijuana. But nobody quitting it will have delirium tremors or die. People using alcohol are often violent and reckless, cannabis makes people relaxed and mellow. There are virtually no reports of domestic violence committed by people under the influence of marijuana. Yet not only is alcohol legal in Pennsylvania, but it is also actually sold and promoted by the state itself.

The ban on cannabis also causes crime far more serious and violent than simple possession of marijuana. Because prohibition prohibits a legitimate and regulated market, it forces those who use cannabis to support an underground black market. Such a market can’t be governed by the courts and police like other businesses are. Instead, it is, of necessity, governed by criminals, drug syndicates, and violence. Eliminating prohibition will (like with alcohol), over time, end this illicit market. But under current law, every dollar that isn’t going to a licensed, vetted, regulated entrepreneur, ultimately goes instead to a violent drug cartel.

Some falsely argue cannabis is a “gateway” to harder drugs. Sure, maybe a high percentage of heroin users previously used cannabis. But an even higher percentage of heroin users previously drank milk. The point is that looking at what a hard drug user previously did is in no way proof of causation. A better metric is to look at how many marijuana users go on to use heroin. That is approximately 3 percent. The same studies that show this also show that alcohol is a far more effective gateway drug than cannabis. Yet nobody is calling for the return of alcohol prohibition.

Certainly, there will be some people who use marijuana irresponsibly. They may choose to get high rather than go to work, or they may drive while under the influence. However, in the states that have legalized recreational marijuana, there is no evidence that the rates of DUI-related car accidents or injuries have increased.

Responsible marijuana users shouldn’t pay the price of the small percentage of people who are negligent. We don’t turn people who drink beer or wine with dinner at home into criminals because some people drive drunk. That would be unfair and nonsensical. Marijuana users should be treated the same.

Legalization would benefit society in numerous ways. We’d save hundreds of millions of dollars per year if we didn’t have to arrest, process, prosecute, incarcerate and monitor people for smoking a plant that makes them feel giddy. But the economic benefits don’t end there. Cannabis is currently a  $35 billion per year industry. With the right legal changes, that could, within 5 years, grow to be a $75 billion per year industry. This will create literally millions of new jobs. So rather than destroying people’s careers, we’ll be giving them opportunities.

The best argument for legalizing marijuana can be found in the states that have already done it. The sky has not fallen. The world has not ended. Instead, well-regulated grow houses, dispensaries, cannabis lounges, and delivery businesses are thriving. People are freer. The prison populations are being reduced and tax dollars are coming in, instead of pouring out. This is clearly the direction in which history is going. It is time for Pennsylvania to step into this brighter future and consign cannabis prohibition to the ash-heap of history, where it belongs.