There is a new bi-partisan bill in congress, co-sponsored by none other than Ron Paul and Barney Frank (there’s a combination you won’t see often). They have written a bill that lets the states decide on legalization of marijuana within their borders and limiting federal authority ONLY to interstate transport of weed. As weird as the combination of sponsors is on this bill, I think they have made some valid points.

First as a federalist, I believe the Federal Government has taken too many powers from the state. Pushing the responsibility for legalizing/outlawing marijuana back to the states would be consistent with the regulation of other intoxicants such as alcohol. States currently have the power to regulate, tax, or even outlaw the sale of liquor within their states. The Feds are still heavily involved in production, licensing and taxation, but that’s primarily oriented towards collecting the tax revenue due on the product. Limiting the Fed’s power to only interstate traffic of pot seems more in keeping with the original intent of the Interstate Commerce Clause which in my opinion has been much abused to grant Federal authorities far too much power.

Which leads to my second reason for supporting this move. Revenue. Marijuana as a product has a strong demand. So much so that people are willing to risk prison to supply the vast black market that exists for it. If the state and federal governments were to tax legitimate commerce in the plant, the billions generated would go a long way towards solving many of the current budget problems.

A third point is the opposite side of the revenue stream, spending. State and Federal agencies spend huge sums on futile attempts at stopping the import and distribution of marijuana. Not to mention the costs associated with prosecuting and jailing those who are actually caught in the marijuana business. Decriminalizing pot would free up prison space and reduce the need to build new prisons in many areas leaving room for more serious felons.

And perhaps the biggest benefit to bringing commerce in marijuana into the legitimate world is removing the profit from organized criminals. The hundreds of killings along the Mexican border would stop. Without the profit motive from the illegal selling of reefer, the gangs would have no reason to go on their killing sprees.

What are the downsides?

Perhaps marijuana use would increase…. but perhaps not. After the repeal of prohibition people thought alcohol use would be out of control, but it didn’t happen. Yes there were some celebrations when it became legal but alcohol sales didn’t pass pre-prohibition levels until the 1960’s and per-capita use has never returned to the old levels. While no one can guarantee that the same would happen again, it is likely that history will repeat itself.

Dazed and confused?

The only real reason I haven’t fully supported legalization of drugs is the damage they do to individuals. I have relatives who have wasted their lives in pursuit of the next high. It’s sad and pathetic to witness. But the illegality of pot has not slowed them in the least. I’ve also known people who have wasted their lives with alcohol. I think they’d have done the same, prohibition or no. I don’t really have a good solution to addiction problems (well 12 step programs are sometimes effective), but I’m certain that criminalizing marijuana has done nothing to stop them.

Don’t hold your breath.

Whether you agree with me or not, don’t get too excited about this bill. It just isn’t likely to pass the house, let alone become law. So relax and perhaps go watch a movie.

Brian Hibbert
Midwestern conservative, Precinct Committeeman, county GOP Executive Committee secretary and currently a candidate for the Board of Trustees at Illinois Central College.
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