Musings: Politics and pot

The Pennsylvania Legislature has an opportunity to do the right thing, the re-legalization of marijuana. Yes, re-legalize. Remember, it wasn’t always illegal to grow, sell or use the plant.

But the legislature is made up of politicians. So, what are the odds that they actually do the right thing and for the right reason?

It’s long past time to re-legalize cannabis and a newly introduced bill in the state Senate is actually a decent one. That piece of legislation came from Sens. Daylin Leach and Sharif Street, both Democrats. Their bill —SB 350 — would allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate and use cannabis. The bill also allows for sales from licensed retailers, not state stores, and for adults to grow up to 10 cannabis plants for personal use. It would expunge prior marijuana convictions and allow for marijuana deliveries and for social use lounges at approved dispensaries.

Leach, of Montgomery County, refers to the bill as “the best bill in the nation.” He explains SB 350 here. That site also links to a draft of the bill as well as a place to become a citizen co-sponsor.

But this will likely turn into another showdown between Democrats and Republicans. It will also show who believes the movie “Reefer Madness” was a true story rather than fake news of 1936, a government encouraged propaganda film that fed off depression-era fears and racial bigotry.

SB 350 was introduced shortly after Gov. Tom Wolf, also a Democrat, came out in favor of recreational adult use. And that came after Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s “recreational marijuana tour” to all 67 counties in the state. More than 10,000 attended some portion of the tour and 44,400 comments were made. A report from the tour said 68 percent of those who attended favor legalization and 82 percent of the comments were in favor of legalization. A copy of the report can be found here.

Republicans are pushing back. In a recent press release, the GOP House Leadership said it’s disappointed and frustrated over Wolf’s public stance.

The release cites a perceived opioid epidemic (though no numbers have ever been released about what constitutes the epidemic) and, of course, the Republicans trotted out the bogus boogie man of marijuana being a gateway drug.

Bogus? Yes.

Granted, most heroin users did try marijuana first — perhaps as many as 95 percent of them did so. They also tried alcohol before heroin but no one is seriously talking about bringing back alcohol prohibition. But let’s look at the numbers from the opposite direction.

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, indicate 123 million Americans have tried marijuana while 5.3 million have tried heroin. That means cannabis users outnumber heroin users 20-1, with only 4.3 percent of cannabis users trying heroin. If marijuana really is a gateway drug, that figure would be much higher.

The GOP release also said the state needs to focus on reducing violent crime. At least here they tacitly admit that marijuana use is not a violent crime.

But let’s get back to the numbers from the Fetterman report. They indicate at least 70 percent of people questioned want recreational marijuana legalized. But the fact that a majority of people might want that is not the reason to re-legalize it.

That a majority of people want or don’t want something is not a reason for legislation for, or against. Majority opinions are only important to politicians who want votes. Majority rule does not protect a minority. The reason to re-legalize cannabis is that governments have no moral right to tell supposedly free adults what they may or may not voluntarily consume.

Prohibiting things that people want is counterproductive at best. It breeds black markets and violence. Consider the first era of drug prohibition when alcohol was the banned substance. What happened? There was the growth of organized crime, drive-by shootouts, turf wars for mobster-controlled beer sales. There was also the advent of bathtub gin, homemade booze that, we’re told, blinded and killed people. But the federal government upped the danger ante when it began poisoning industrial alcohol that killed an estimated 10,000 people who drank the poisoned alcohol.

Let’s move into the current era of prohibition. What happened when the federal government cracked down on cocaine? Drug runners came up with crack cocaine, which some people call the “bathtub gin of the drug war.” And the government in the 1970s sprayed marijuana fields with paraquat, an herbicide that causes lung damage.

The current era of prohibition also gave rise to drug gangs and cartels. Ending the government’s drug war will put them out of business. Ending marijuana prohibition will be a step in that direction.

There is also a House bill, HB 1899, sponsored by Delaware County Democrat Rep. Dave Delloso. He has said marijuana would bring in about $1.6 billion that he wants to see go toward education. He is also a Teamster who “ wants to keep state control over the marijuana market to keep the good union jobs afforded to state liquor store employees [sales in state stores],” according to a Delco Times story.

Will recreational marijuana become re-legalized in Pennsylvania? Yes, it’s just a matter of when. Will it be done for the right reasons? Likely not. While it should be done for reasons of liberty, most politicians only pay lip service to that concept. It will be done for votes and to raise more tax revenue.

A note of caution on that, legislators. California taxed marijuana to such a high degree that it’s actually cheaper to buy it on the black market. And even SB 350 has at least one fundamental flaw. People who want to grow their own — up to 10 plants — have to pay the state a $50 fee and renew it annually at that same fee. Funny, how people who make their own beer or wine don’t have to pay a fee. Neither do people who have gardens for other herbs.

Yes, it will become legal, even if for the wrong reasons Still, SB 350 is a step in the right direction. Now if we could only get politicians to do the right things for the right reasons, that would be awesome.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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