Sunday, April 5, 2009

Legalize di weed

The most raised issue among the questions submitted by the public for President Obama's innovative virtual town hall meeting in March was the legalization of marijuana as means of stimulating the economy.

A study released in 2006 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis asserts that marijuana is the United States' most valuable cash crop - despite its illegal status. Many proponents of legalization contend that continued prohibition costs the government billions of dollars in law enforcement and detention and forfeits millions in potential tax revenue.

Anti-legalization groups and the government counter that marijuana's cash value should not outweigh the violence associated with its trade. Of course, the trade of alcohol was also carried out with great violence during the years of prohibition. (Famed gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran came to notoriety during this period, making their fortunes in smuggling alcohol.) There is, in fact, no historical evidence of much of a 'trade' in marijuana prior to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which resulted in its ban. An obvious argument is that it is the prohibition that causes the trade to be violent. With the same regulations and controls as for tobacco and alcohol, legal marijuana farming, distribution and sale is not likely to sustain the gang warfare associated with it today. The CEOs of Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, or Diageo and Appleton Estate are not duking it out in the streets after all.

Health research indicates that marijuana has less adverse effects than alcohol. In fact, while tobacco deaths are well known and alcohol poisoning kills 50,000 people in the U.S. every year, there are no documented cases of anyone dieing directly from smoking, inhaling, drinking or eating marijuana.

No one argues (any more) that cigarettes are harmful, but they are legal. Liver disease and alcoholism are inarguably potential direct results of alcohol consumption, but it is legal. Taxes on both put approximately $20 billion in government coffers every year.

President Obama laughed and quickly dismissed marijuana legalization as a means of bolstering the economy, but it is a healthy source of income for many farmers and dealers. Weed bags pay for Cadillac Escalades, houses in suburbs, private schools and family vacations in the tropics. It is unregulated, untaxed income. Particularly in this economic climate, it would not be hard to find plenty of government projects and services that could benefit from the possible tax revenue.

Jamaica has long had the reputation for being a producer of quality weed. The average Jamaican, while quite likely not an imbiber, is generally ambivalent about it. It is available without much trouble if you want it. It has long been contended that the plant could be the sustainable answer to the island's economic woes, but the conversation about legalization is sporadic. This maybe because enforcement on the island is minimal, and because of the island's dependent relationship with America.There is a widely held theory that the United States will squash marijuana growth in Jamaica then legalize it and corner the market.

For the last two or three generations of Americans, marijuana has always been illegal. Understandably, there is a lot of fear related to marijuana, its effects, and the ramifications of legalization. Despite those fears, the movement to legalize marijuana is growing and becoming more mainstream. Quiet as it is kept (and despite the president's dismissive chuckle) we may have already started down the road toward the repeal of the prohibition. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency will no longer carry out raids and arrests of individuals using or dispensing medicinal marijuana, unless they violate both state and federal laws.

It will be interesting to see the next steps the government will take. No doubt the debate will wage on until legalization proves definitively whether legal marijuana trade will stem or increase gang warfare; whether its taxation can indeed bolster the economies of the United States and Jamaica; and whether increased availability will increase social vices.


  1. As you stated I'm (Jamaican) ambivalent about the legalization of marijuana. I would like to know what social/economic/polictal impact findings exist for comparison between places like Amsterdam (where it's legal) and the US. What will the drug dealers who only deal in weed bags turn to when it's legalized? Will it increase the illegal sale and push of more harmful illegal drugs? We all know that making it "OK" to do something often decreases the desire and attraction. As it is the only drug produced in Jamaica (I think) and we're known for the best quality do we then market and export as we do bauxite and canned ackees?

    Your post has great points and but has left me with more questions than an inclination to agree or disagree. How about a part two?

  2. I have many of the questions you have too Tania. Attempting to answer them though would be largely speculative, particularly as it relates to out people will act with legalization. As for whether Jamaica should market and export marijuana, I say absolutely. That is an argument I am working on, but statistics and information from Ja is hard to come by.