Opinion

Legal pot means less drug violence | Editorial

Fewer severed heads in the desert. That’s one compelling reason to vote in favor of Initiative 502, the marijuana legalization and regulation measure.

If passed, the law would legalize the possession of marijuana for Washington adults. It would create a legal limit for driving under the influence of pot, similar to the DUI standard for alcohol. The only marijuana that would be legal to sell in the state would be grown by licensed Washington growers and sold in marijuana-only stores operated by regulated businesses. There would be a 25 percent sales tax, with 40 percent of the revenues going to the state general fund and local jurisdictions, and the remainder dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care.

One of the more outspoken sponsors of I-502 is former Republican U.S. Attorney John McKay, who saw firsthand the failure of marijuana prohibition and the violence unleashed by the enormous black market on the ubiquitous bud. He argues that decriminalizing the casual use of pot would increase public safety and allow law enforcement to dedicate scarce resources elsewhere.

We shouldn’t forget our neighbors to the south. The illegal trade in marijuana in the U.S. has turned parts of Mexico into war zones. Until this year, Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, near the Texas border, was known as the murder capital of the world, largely because of rival gangs fighting over the pot trade. In 2010, 3,115 people were murdered there, an average of about eight a day. The gangs targeted police officers, city officials and journalists. Bodies were displayed in horrific fashion.

Our government estimates that 60 percent of the drug cartel’s profits come from marijuana sold in the United States. Our appetite for the drug is paid for in lives lost elsewhere.

Legalizing pot in Washington state wouldn’t completely solve the problem with drug-related violence in Mexico, but it would be another step in the march toward a more rational and compassionate federal policy on dealing with the drug.

Those opposed to legalization worry that it would lead more people, especially young people, to smoke pot. Studies conducted in other countries showed that usage didn’t rise after decriminalization, but that’s really beside the point.

Smoking marijuana is generally not a good thing, though some may argue medicinal benefits. The government should dissuade people from dulling their brains in a cloud of stinky smoke, but not by throwing them in jail. Instead, follow the example of the battle against tobacco.

 

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