There is little new in the Prohibition argument. This is it: The substance in question (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana) is so obviously harmful when abused, so destructive of family bonds, so detrimental to youthful potential, so disruptive to the fabric of sober society, that its possession and sale should be illegal. Preventing intoxication is a public good, so make criminals of the intoxicated.
It’s partly true. Abuse of these substances is harmful. We have all seen it with our own eyes. But how can the law stop it? Did Prohibition reduce alcohol abuse, make it less costly to society, protect youth, reduce crime and corruption? No. Prohibition of alcohol is widely considered one of the most ineffective and misguided efforts in our history, multiplying criminality, violence, corruption and widening alcohol use simultaneously. It worked so poorly and weighed on society so heavily the effort didn’t last much more than a dozen years before it was discarded as a failure.
We are beginning to see the prohibition of marijuana in the same light. We don’t relish the prospect of marijuana legal and available, but can’t see that its prohibition is accomplishing anything constructive. Marijuana use does not decline. Criminal activity is enhanced. The costs do not fall, but rise persistently. Marijuana has been illegal for so long we have forgotten what the goals are. If they are to reduce its use and limit the disruption of civil society, then it has been an expensive failure.
If voters approve Initiative 502, possession of small amounts of marijuana will be legal for those age 21 or older. It will be grown on state-licensed farms and sold in stand-alone state licensed stores, heavily regulated and taxed, not unlike alcohol. Driving under its influence will be illegal, as with alcohol.
If the law passes, what will be lost? First, the expense of enforcing a futile law — estimated at a collective $211 million statewide in a decade. Lost too will be at least some of the market and profits for the plentiful criminal drug traffickers. If we are fortunate, there will be less of their violence and mayhem. Will marijuana use increase? That’s doubtful. It’s use is already common. Will marijuana use increase among youths, where it is likely to do the most harm? We don’t know. We do know there is no shortage of marijuana among youths already. Under the new law it will still be illegal.
Arguments against the initiative vary in perspective. Much opposition comes from the supposed medical marijuana users, who interestingly find the initiative too restrictive. Many high-profile law enforcement officers support the initiative. Others have genuine concerns, based on experience and instinct, but the arguments weaken in extension. If prohibiting marijuana is so necessary why not criminalize alcohol, a substance arguably more powerful and destructive? We did, and it didn’t work. Prohibiting marijuana doesn’t work either. Voting yes on Initiative 502 is unlikely to make things worse, and just might save us money and anguish. Vote yes on Initiative 502.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.