Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Thursday, November 02, 2006

State Question 7

This is an initiative to legalize marijuana. I won't quote it in full because that's more typing than I want to do. Basically, it lets you buy and hold up to an ounce of marijuana (comparable to about a pack and a half of cigarettes), and increases the criminal penalties for people who cause death or injury for driving high.

I'm voting NO.

You might think that's an odd way to go, if you read my post below, railing against nanny-statism. Hey, I never said I'm a purist libertarian.

This is not something I feel very passionately about, one way or the other. I don't smoke pot, I don't plan on smoking pot, and if my kids ever smoke pot, what I will do to them will be much, much worse than anything the cops could do.

That said, I don't find any of the arguments in favor of legalization compelling. A few examples (from the sample ballot mailed out to registered voters):

"Our marijuana laws do not work. Despite over 10,000 marijuana arrests in Nevada during the last three years alone, marijuana remains widely available and easy to get."

Sure, but most crimes are fairly easy to commit. Armed robbery is pretty basic: grab a gun, stop someone in a bad part of town, grab their wallet, run. Maybe the cops will catch you, and maybe not. Violating copyright is extremely easy, and you're extremely unlikely to get caught. Even murder is pretty simple -- you're just a lot more likely to get caught because the police will pour more resources into catching you. None of which suggests we should legalize any of those things.

"Once we regulate the marijuana market, we create the opportunity to tax it and establish safeguards that are currently lacking."

This is a favorite argument: if we legalize it, we can tax it, and get more revenue. How odd that libertarians (who should be philosophically opposed to elaborate schemes to get more tax dollars out of people) should rely on it so heavily. But it's also completely false. The fact is, this Question would legalize marijuana on the state level, but not the federal level. We can't tax anything if the feds keep coming and seizing the supply and prosecuting the vendors. And although Gonzalez v. Raich was a terrible decision (holding that Congress has power to criminalize marijuana in spite of a California making it legal for medicinal purposes), it's the law of the land. The feds can come in and shut down the operation before Nevada can tax a single sale.

The counter argument is that the feds don't usually worry about marijuana -- at least not in small (1 oz) quantities. Well that's because it's a waste of federal resources to do what local cops can and should be doing -- busting the small time dealer on the street corner. But this Question doesn't legalize the dealer on the corner, it allows sales only in certain licensed buildings (like smoke shops, which I suspect is a good place to get weed anyway). If there's a standing building with a sign on the front that says "buy pot here!" the feds will care. Especially because there will necessarily be an inventory in that building -- a stash that makes it worth the feds' time to go grab it and prosecute.

In other words, until the feds decide they don't want to bust pot sellers, Nevada doesn't get any tax revenues whatsoever.

"We believe that after decades of marijuana laws that don't accomplish what they were meant to -- yet cause real societal harm by financing violent gangs and drug dealers, destroying the lives of otherwise law-abiding Nevadans, and wasting precious police resources -- it's time for a new approach."

There's a lot in here that is objectionable. They never explain what the laws are designed to accomplish. The complete cessation of the prohibited conduct? If that's the goal, no criminal law has ever worked, because people still kill, steal, rape and cut tags off of mattresses. If the goal is to send a policy statement to citizens that certain behavior is unacceptable, then I'd say the laws work just fine. They argue (I assume correctly) that marijuana finances violent gangs -- then why not de-criminalize all drugs? Why stop with pot? The phrase "otherwise law-abiding Nevadans" is also nonsense. If I kill my family, but otherwise comply with the laws, are the murder laws then unjust? I'm not equating murder with firing up a fatty, I'm just saying that the argument begs the question.

Again, I'm not passionate about this matter one way or the other. I just don't see any persuasive reason to tinker with the laws in this case. Furthermore, as the proponents of Question 7 point out, pot has already been legalized in some jurisdictions -- if legalization is the panacea it is supposed to be, we'll soon know it after watching those jurisdictions to get some solid evidence, rather than speculation about the effect that legalization will have. It's not like we're in a hurry, or anything.