Johnson on the right track

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Legalization of pot may be good common sense

By Harold Morgan

Legalize marijuana.
There! I said it! In public! Conservative me!
My rationale is simple, though imprecise. The social costs of legal marijuana, however high, would be less than the social costs of illegal marijuana. I have no fancy studies to prove the assertion. But if you look around, especially if you put Mexico in the equation, the conclusion becomes obvious.
The argument isn’t that the “war on drugs has failed.” I accept the logic, offered me 10 years ago by the Drug Enforcement Administration, that “war” is the wrong metaphor. A “war” means maximum resources are devoted to winning. We have never had a real war on drugs.
My guru here is Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who writes the “Americas” column for the Wall Street Journal. Her guru is former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This isn’t Gary Johnson, who ran a middling state in the United States. This is someone who ran a big country and did well.
Cardoso chairs a group of statesmen and intellectuals called the Global Commission on Drug Policy. One commissioner visits New Mexico occasionally. That’s Richard Branson, primary Spaceport tenant through his Virgin Galactic company.
A recent insight from Cardoso via O’Grady is totally obvious. Yet, like much of the obvious, this gets little attention. With marijuana illegal, consumers must deal with criminals.
This sets aside the other obvious item that consumers are, too, breaking the law and are criminals in that sense. But back in the days of Jimmy Carter, people including me who ignored the 55 mph speed limit were criminals.  
The broader point, though, is that society makes a huge mistake to tolerate a situation bringing otherwise regular people into contact with criminal elements.
Sometimes these otherwise regular people get caught. The enduring hassle from the arrest, much less a conviction, is part of the cost of existing laws.
Note that while the claim of our jails being full of people doing time for low-level drug convictions is true, the claim conveniently overlooks that a large portion of those folks pleaded down from higher charges.
In my brief, long ago marijuana flirtation, my supplier was a Washington-based federal prosecutor. This nicely defines the potential for societal rot.
If marijuana was legalized, an absolutely necessary parallel would be a continuing campaign against marijuana use, taking cues from successful DWI campaigns. The campaign would say, this is legal now, but handle with care.
One element of implementing legalization would be what I remember Oklahoma did in 1959, when it became the next to last state to legalize liquor sales after prohibition (Mississippi, always the trend setter, was last).
Oklahoma said anyone arrested for selling liquor during the implementation period was disqualified from legally selling liquor. Bootleggers, who wanted into the legal liquor sales business, got the message.
The drug war of Mexican President Felipe Calderon is absolutely necessary. Today, reports The Economist, killings are down in Ciudad Juárez and up in the state of Nuevo León. Even just moving the bad guys around disrupts business, and that’s good.
Here are the two salient facts about the supply side of the marijuana business. “Cannabis also accounts for almost half the cartels’ revenues, according to an estimate from the Mexican attorney general’s office,” says a May 19, 2010 National Public Radio story. According to “Mexican Drug War” on Wikipedia, “wholesale earnings from illicit drug sales range from $13.6 billion to $48.4 billion annually.”
The futility of American drug policy is long since demonstrated. Continuing our present path is high order hypocrisy.
Former President Cardoso is right. So, strangely enough, is Gary Johnson.
Demand will find supply. That supply should be legally available.

Harold Morgan
New Mexico News Service