Friday, June 24, 2011

It's Friday, I'm in love.

A group of six house members, led by Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA) and perennial presidential hopeful Ron Paul (R-TX), have introduced legislation to federally decriminalize the use of marijuana and allow individual states the right to set their own laws governing the possession, sale and use of the drug within their respective borders.  Under the proposed bill, individual states could legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, and federal funds would be shifted from the enforcement of marijuana laws to other, more important uses.  This bill is the first of its kind introduced in congress since the beginning of marijuana prohibition to end the federal criminalization of marijuana.

Why is this important?  Well, for a few reasons.  First, the unlikely pairing of Barney Frank, a staunch liberal democrat, and Ron Paul, a fiscally conservative, yet libertarian-minded social republican is a strong symbol of the bi-partisan agreement that state sovereignty is something that not only should be restored, but is going to be increasingly essential for maintaining a strong democratic republic going into the future.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle have long pontificated a "smaller government," "less spending" ideology, and a big part of actually putting the rubber to the road on those statements is giving the individual states both the freedom and the responsibility to handle issues that are directly resulting in bigger government on the federal level and more spending. 

Second, federal regulation of marijuana is a multi-billion dollar endeavor that has unquestionably been a total failure of epic proportions.  40 years after Richard Nixon declared war on marijuana, use of the drug has seen no significant reduction, prices have remained as competitive as ever and the availability and quality have increased.  Basically, 40 years of federal marijuana prohibition has given us cheaper, better and more readily available pot... that's about as big of a failure as you can possibly get, short of it just being free and growing wild in people's front lawns. 

Additionally, shifting the responsibility for setting and enforcing drug policy to the state level removes the fiscal burden from the government, and allows resources like the DEA to focus it's efforts on higher priority threats, such as domestic terrorism, for example.  Being able to reallocate the manpower and resources of the DEA to the DoHS would be a huge boon to protecting national security.  Placing the responsibility on the states allows the people of those states the freedom to set their own policies based on their law enforcement priorities.  If the people are fine with absorbing the cost of continuing marijuana prohibition through higher state taxes, they are free to make that choice.  However, if they would prefer instead to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana and generate revenue for their state instead of incurring more costs, then they have that freedom as well.

There is also the issue of incarceration and prison overcrowding.  The U.S. is the world leader in incarceration of it's people.  More people per capita are incarcerated in America than any other country.  A significant number of those people are imprisoned on marijuana-related charges, both at the state and federal level.  Shifting the legal responsibility for drug policy to the states would immediately free all federal marijuana offenders, freeing up a lot of space for, say, actual threats to national security.  Get all the pot dealers out of the federal prisons and you have more room for terrorist conspirators and enemies of the state.  At the state level, prison overcrowding is a huge problem pretty much nationwide.  Releasing all the marijuana-only inmates would free up desperately needed prison space for violent offenders, many of whom are being released early due to overcrowding, only to commit more crimes and go right back into the system.  The savings not only in terms of housing marijuana offenders, but in spreading law enforcement resources thin to investigate, arrest and prosecute marijuana offenders would be huge, and those savings would directly result in more effort being put on real criminals, dangerous offenders who are a far greater threat to public safety.

Tax revenue generated by legalized, regulated marijuana sales cannot be underestimated.  In California alone, marijuana is estimated to be anywhere between a $14 and $20 billion dollar a year industry, and those numbers are surely conservative estimates because there's no reliable way to quantify every clandestine grow operation in the state, or just how much pot is bought and sold on the illegitimate market every day.  Just a 10% tax on that revenue would generate nearly $2 billion a year for the state.  That's significant money, and it's only a reflection of the current size and scope of the marijuana industry in the state.  Under a legal, regulated system, marijuana revenues could very easily double, and thus so would the tax revenues it generated.  Not to mention the benefits of related industries, such as finally allowing industrial hemp to be grown in the state.  California currently has a large cotton industry.  If those cotton farmers switched to industrial hemp instead, they would see 10 times the yield of usable fiber per acre, as well as the additional benefit that refining the seeds into oils yields.  Industrial hemp also requires less water - a huge issue in a water-starved state like California - it is pest resistant and more resilient to the impact of environmental changes.  Basically, it is a superior cloth fiber crop to cotton in every way, and it has a myriad of uses beyond that.  These are benefits that cannot be overstated in an ag-driven economy like the one in the central valley of California, or any other farm-based economy in the various other states in the union.

But, at the end of the day, whether you are pro-pot or not, the significance of this bill is really in the fact that it seeks to begin the long-needed reversion of policy creation and enforcement to the state level.  The federal usurping of state's rights has created such a glut of government spending, government growth and inefficiency that has not only hurt our nation in terms of cost to taxpayers, but it has hurt the individual states, because relying on the government to enforce sweeping policy in all 50 states is a fool's errand, and you can look right at the decades-long war on drugs for proof of that.  The federal government is terrible at enforcing policy that should have been left to the individual states all along, always has been and always will be.  The sooner our government can start handing those responsibilities back to the individual states, the sooner those states can start effectively setting and enforcing policy, and the sooner the government can see a huge decrease in spending, a reduction in that "big government" that everyone loves to hate and an increase in resources that can be better used to protect national security, secure our borders, or basically anything other than busting hippies with plants in their basements.

See, it's about weed, but it's not just about weed.  It's about saying that the government is going to start respecting state sovereignty again, something our founding fathers adamantly sought to protect.  It's about letting states handle state business and letting the feds handle federal business.  It's about delegating authority where it needs to be delegated, instead of trying to micromanage the entire country - a policy that has only resulted in more debt, bigger government, more inefficiency, more waste, less effective policy enforcement and and overall weaker republic.

I might think Ron Paul's fiscal policies are nightmarish and would ruin our country, but when it comes to his social ideals, I love the guy.  He's one of the only voices in the Republican party that truly speaks up for personal liberty and eliminating "big government" oversight and interference in our personal lives.  Whether it be the grossly ineffective war on drugs, the prevention of marital equality for gays, the needless regulation of our own safety or the unconstitutional pushing of a distinctly Christian moral agenda, Ron Paul has consistently stood up for the rights of the individual to decide what is in their own best interest, so long as they aren't infringing on the rights of others to do the same.  At the same time, I may not fully agree with Barney Frank's policy ideals either, but as an openly gay member of congress, his stance on personal freedoms and liberty is clear and I agree with it 100%.  He too has long supported marital equality, personal accountability and restoring the rights of the individual states to set and enforce their own policies regarding these things, rather than imposing the heavy, woolen blanket of big government oversight on everyone.

It might still be too soon for the "Paul Frank" bill to become law.  Already, the Fox News turd machine is mocking the bill and misrepresenting it to help ensure it's failure and once again marginalize Ron Paul as a fringe nut so he can lose yet another Republican primary race, but, as Bob Dylan sang "The times, they are a-changin'."  The time is long overdue for the federal government to start relinquishing rights and responsibilities back to the state level, to start letting the individual states set and enforce their own policies in regards to community standards and intangibles that never should have been the federal government's responsibility to enforce in the first place.  The people, by a large majority, support restoring state sovereignty in regards to issues like drug and vice policies, enforcement of community standards and regulation of rights and policies that vary too much from state to state to be simply and easily delegated under the blanket lawmaking policy of the federal government.  They might not all support legalized weed, but they all support leaving that decision up to the states, and not "big government."

Maybe everybody just needs to smoke a joint and think about how much deeper this "Frank Paul" bill is than just a bill to legalize weed.  It would blow your mind, man.

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