By Norm Stamper, former Seattle Police Chief and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
These days, it seems like everyone is talking in earnest
about marijuana legalization, once dismissed as little more than a Cheech and
Chong pipe dream. Indeed, a new poll reveals
that 53 percent of Americans now support ending marijuana prohibition.
Bolstered by increasing public support for something once considered to be a
political third rail, lawmakers from Rhode
Island to Washington
State have put the issue on the table for consideration. And citizen
initiatives (particularly in California)
are cropping up faster than ditch weed.
These are welcome developments to a retired police chief like me who oversaw
the arrests of countless people for marijuana and other drugs, but saw no
positive impact from all the blood, sweat and tears (and money) put into the
effort. Soon, it seems, cops may no longer have to waste time and risk lives
enforcing pot laws that don’t actually prevent anyone from using marijuana.
Yet, I'm alarmed that the above-mentioned
poll showing majority support for marijuana legalization also found that
fewer than one in 10 people agree that it's time to end the prohibition of
This no doubt makes sense to some readers at first glance, since more people
are familiar with marijuana than other drugs like cocaine, heroin or meth.
However, even a cursory study of our drug war policies will reveal that
legalizing pot but not other drugs will leave huge social harms unresolved.
Legalizing marijuana only will not:
• Stop drug dealers from brutally murdering rival traffickers for the
purpose of controlling the remaining criminal market for other drugs;
• Stop drug dealers from firing on cops charged with fighting the senseless
war on other illicit drugs;
• Stop drug dealers from killing kids caught in crossfire and drive-by
• Reduce the spread of infectious diseases like AIDS and hepatitis, since
marijuana users don’t inject their drug like heroin users (who sometimes share
dirty needles and syringes because prohibition makes it hard to secure clean
• Stop the bloody cartel battles in Mexico that are rapidly expanding over
the border into the U.S;
• Stop the Taliban from raking in massive profits from illegal opium
cultivation in Afghanistan.
Of course, none of this means that our rapidly growing marijuana
legalization movement should slow down.
On the contrary, as the polls show, a majority of Americans understand that
legalizing marijuana will produce many benefits. No longer will 800,000 people
a year be arrested on pot charges, their lives damaged if not
ruined governments will be able to tax the popular
commodity; regulation and revenues will help forge and finance effective
programs of drug abuse prevention and treatment; and those vicious cartels will
lose as much as half their illicit profits when they can no longer sell
Further, once people get used to the idea of allowing legal sales of the
previously banned drug we'll be able to point to successful regulation as a
model for similar treatment of all other currently illicit substances.
Marijuana legalization is a great step in the direction of sane and sensible
drug policy. But we reformers must remember that we’re working to legalize
drugs not because we think they are safe, but because prohibition is far more
dangerous to users and nonusers alike.