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Marijuana Is Going to Be Sold One Way or Another -- Question Is, Would You Rather it Be Cartels or Regulated Businesses?

Ask a law enforcement official how having marijuana sold by criminals rather than by regulated businesses is making our communities safer.

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Fast forward to August 25, when 52 people were killed at a casino in Mexico in an attack apparently carried out by members of a drug cartel. In the immediate wake of this tragedy, which is just the latest act of horror in a drug war that has claimed as many as 40,000 lives in that country, President Calderon seemed to abandon his previously asserted notion that there are two possible paths to slowing the marijuana trade – cracking down on users or “legalizing.”

Calling the desire for marijuana and other drugs in this country “insatiable” – which certainly undercuts the argument that prosecuting users can have any effect on demand – he declared: “If [the Americans] are determined and resigned to consume drugs, then they should seek market alternatives in order to cancel the criminals' stratospheric profits, or establish clear points of access [to drugs]. But this situation can't go on.”

“Market alternatives,” he said. This is the new debate in a nutshell. Criminal market vs. regulated market. Is this a hard choice?

We all know that marijuana is an extremely popular drug. (And for good reason, since it is objectively less harmful than alcohol.) Tens of millions of Americans use it regularly and millions of marijuana possession arrests and billions of dollars worth anti-marijuana propaganda has done nothing to change that fact. It is not possible to stop use, but it is possible to steer buyers toward retail outlets that sell regulated products and pay federal, state and local taxes like any other business. Doing so is a no-brainer.

And it is not just that regulated businesses pay their taxes. If we regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, we will also have quality control to ensure against contaminates, labeling so that consumers know the potency of what they are buying, and stores that check ID’s so that young people cannot purchase marijuana as easily as they do today.

So why is there not widespread support for this kind of market shift? The primary reason is that the law enforcement community is more concerned about their own bottom line than in seeing a safer, more controlled distribution system. Between being paid overtime for marijuana arrests, receiving federal funding based in part on the number of these arrests made, using civil forfeiture to seize money and assets, helping to coordinate eradication efforts that do nothing to affect the street price of marijuana, and many other financial incentives, they make a great living off of marijuana prohibition. Simply put, they do not want marijuana prohibition to end – and it has nothing to do with public health or safety.

If members of the law enforcement community were really concerned about public safety, they would spend their time discouraging alcohol use, not marijuana use. They know firsthand which of the two substances is a threat to domestic and public tranquility. Their rabid anti-marijuana appearances on television are so flagrantly self-serving it is an embarrassment to their profession.

Let’s drop the charade. It is time to encourage members of the media to ask law enforcement officials how having marijuana sold by cartels and gangs rather than regulated businesses is making our communities safer. And it is time for all of us to raise the issue in our own communities. Whether you are talking to family members at dinner or an elected official at a town hall, start asking the question:

Who should sell marijuana?

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