Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Marijuana Legalization Advocates Soon to be Challenged by Winners of War on Drugs

As a political junkie, it is fascinating to watch two issues - same sex marriage and marijuana legalization - becoming ripe before our eyes. For years, advocates of both positions could not even get a 3 am time slot for politicians to consider their issues.  Now they find themselves thrust into prime time slots where they are poised to make the case for their issue to the public and elected officials who are suddenly willing to listen.

The issues are surprisingly similar. Both issues involve question of liberty and are pet issues for that professed party of liberty, the Libertarians.  For years, the public's positions on the issues seemed set, i.e. as in dead set against.  But in the past few years, polls show sharply increasing public support for same sex marriage and pot legalization, a fact that even Republican politicians are taking notice of.  Even more significantly, polls show a huge generational divide, with younger people supporting and older people against.  Regardless of one's position, it is hard to overlook the stark fact that opposition to same sex marriage and marijuana legalization is literally dying out.  I am not aware of a single issue, with such a generational divide in attitudes, in which the pendulum has swung back to the older generation's views.
Local activist Bill Levin is a leader in the legislative
effort to legalize the use and sale of marijuana.

Here is a prediction.  The fight on marijuana legalization will be far, far more bloody than the fight over same sex marriage.  Mind you, same sex marriage legalization has opponents on the right, primarily religious conservatives, who believe that extending it to same sex couples would undermine traditional marriage.  They are politically sophisticated and motivated.  The fight for same sex marriage won't be easy.

But I believe the fight over marijuana legalization will prove to be tougher and more lengthy than the battle over same sex marriage.  Advocates of reform argue the "War on Drugs" has left no one a winner, that criminalization of marijuana has cost society a great deal, and that pot is no more and maybe less harmful than alcohol use.  Additionally, they cite to the cost of prosecuting and incarcerating pot users and sellers, and point out that, if taxed, marijuana could bring in a windfall to a treasury strapped for funds.

However, contrary to the claim otherwise, the War on Drugs has not been a loser for everyone.  There have been profits to be made from marijuana being illegal.  Local law enforcement officials - prosecutors and city and county law enforcement agencies primarily - have made a fortune for their agencies off of civil forfeiture.  Many of these civil forfeiture seizures, piles of cash, cars, TVs, computers, etc. are made possible because of the criminalization of the sale and use of marijuana.  As pointed out by an Indianapolis Star expose, the proceeds from these civil forfeiture proceedings are simply being pocketed by law enforcement officials without little oversight on how the money is spent.  Further, even though the law requires that law enforcement remit proceeds in excess of the law enforcement action, the Star's reporting showed local law enforcement officials were simply ignoring the law to keep ALL of the civil forfeiture proceeds they seized.

In short, you have a lot of locally politically powerful individuals - most significantly elected county prosecutors, county sheriffs, and mayors - who are going to fight tooth and nail to keep the civil forfeiture money flowing into their agency's coffers.

Then you have the private corrections industry.  To make money, these corrections companies need a continual flow of "customers," i.e. both people who are accused and convicted, coming into their jails and prisons.   Many of those incarcerated, whether for the original offense or a probation violation, are locked up on marijuana offenses.

The corrections industry is likewise politically powerful. The industry hands out a lot of political contributions to incumbents in particular. They often hire ex-law enforcement officials and politicians who might have political clout on their own.

In short, the opponents of same sex marriage are motivated by an idea they don't agree with.  While some opponents of marijuana legalization are truly motivated by opposition to the idea, much of the organized, politically-powerful opposition is motivated by all the money made off of the criminalization of the sale and use of marijuana.  They are the winners of the War on Drugs.

In politics, when it comes to motivation, money trumps ideas.


Cato said...

The Republicans cannot build a winning coalition any longer among the authoritarians, corporatists, and religious zealots.

The Republican Party is going to have to move to Liberty if it wants to be relevant a decade from now. Right now, the only interesting and meaningful fights are occurring in Democratic party primaries.

Flogger said...

I see no good reason why we could not have "Civil Unions" with the same rights as are bestowed on Married people. If a Church decides they want to a ceremony for Civil Unions or Marriage that's fine.

It is frustrating that we have our politicians with a ring in their nose being led around by Bible Thumpers on the issues of same sex marriage, Civil Unions and evolution.

It is certainly a sad day in America that we have a "Prison Industry."

Legal Pot could have similar restrictions as the Alcohol Industry.