Column: Pot prohibition not helping community

Garett Roush

In the past week and a half, the Coalition of Regulating Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) in Michigan announced they had already obtained over 200,000 signatures to bring marijuana legalization to the ballot in 2018. The CRMLA was given 180 days from May 26th to secure 252,523 signatures, and is currently on pace to shatter that number.

Although the Mitten State is more supportive than ever toward to the idea of legal marijuana, groups like Keep Pot Out of Our Neighborhoods and Schools continue to push prohibition in the state. Such groups are peddling dangerous propaganda against legal pot, and are therefore suppressing a civil and open debate about consumer choice in Michigan.

These anti-choice groups allege that legal marijuana will create a black market for the product. What these naysayers don’t realize, however, is that excessive government regulation enables black markets, not the the other way around.

In Michigan, possessing any amount of marijuana could lead to a misdemeanor, a year-long drug sentence, and even up to $2,000 in fines. Yet, the usage of marijuana in Michigan continues to persist, even with the strict penalties that could come along with it. Which begs the question, do 12.6 percent of Michiganders need to be jailed or fined for a drug that is considered to be safer than alcohol and tobacco?

In 1920, the prohibition of alcohol began in the United States. Although the intention of the law was morally sound, the consequences were unbearable. The entertainment industry took a massive hit, restaurants began to fail, and thousands of jobs were eliminated. Many states relied on tax revenue from alcohol sales before prohibition and therefore were left empty handed when the regulation was enacted. This lead to a reliance on income tax to help fund their programs.

But the worst outcome of all was the violence and corruption within the state and local levels of law enforcement.

Some police officers and prohibition agents saw the possible benefits of illegally selling and transporting alcohol. This developed a lack of trust between the communities and law enforcement. And although drinking levels declined 70 percent in the first few years of the prohibition era, the demand couldn’t be stopped. The illegal manufacturing and sale of liquor throughout this period was so prominent that it earned its own name, bootlegging. This included the operation of speakeasies, the smuggling of alcohol across state lines, and the informal production of liquor which yielded strong alcohols like moonshine and whiskey. Other drug use also began during this time due to the voracious black market. It was just thirteen years later in 1933 when the 21st amendment passed, once again legalizing alcohol in the United States. Americans realized that prohibition was a bust.

And now we see that marijuana prohibition doesn’t benefit our communities either. At the end of the day, drug cartels and gangs are the ones who benefit from prohibition. The mixture of illegality and profitability of marijuana brings billions of dollars to these violent organizations, and there is no incentive for our law enforcement to stop this never-ending cycle. Small marijuana arrests have not only landed Michiganders in jail, but have even led to their property being seized or taken through a program called, Civil Asset Forfeiture. The program, a mechanism utilized by law enforcement officers to seize the assets of Americans before they’re proven guilty, has recently come under attack. It’s clear that something needs to be done, and we can’t sit back as the status quo destroys our communities.

The war on drugs has propped up drug cartels and eroded America’s justice system, an unsavory reality funded by the U.S. taxpayer.

Let’s change that narrative in Michigan. The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act is the best solution for our state’s marijuana situation. The bill imposes an additional 10 percent excise tax on marijuana after the six percent Michigan state sales tax. This brings more tax revenue to the state’s education programs and infrastructure. Under this legislation, it is still illegal to sell marijuana to individuals under 21, it’s still a crime to drive under the influence, and usage is still illegal in public places. This bill is about enacting good public policy, and that’s what it’ll do.

Colorado just exceeded over $500 million in tax revenue, and has created tens of thousands of jobs in the state since introducing legal marijuana.

Instead of giving that money to dangerous organizations and incarcerating nonviolent users in the state, Michigan should use such revenue to strengthen our communities. All Michiganders should want to jump start our state economy, and revitalize our schools, roads and bridges. Legal marijuana can do just that.

Garett Roush is a senior at Syracuse University, and an executive board member with Students for Liberty.