- - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In a world defined by a growing political divide, international terrorism and reduced economic confidence, it’s surprising how many Americans are up in arms about recreational marijuana use.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, started this recent trend. In the November 2012 election, voters supported separate ballot questions (Colorado Amendment 64 and Washington Initiative 502) to legalize cannabis. In particular, Colorado’s marijuana experiment involves 40 Denver-based stores, all regulated by the state, that are open to consumers who are 21 years of age or older.

Meanwhile, Washington Times reporter Kelly Riddell wrote about billionaire philanthropist George Soros‘ efforts, along with other prominent businessmen, to shift long-held American views in favor of legalizing pot. He uses “a network of nonprofit groups,” such as the Drug Policy Alliance, which he funds through his Foundation to Promote an Open Society. Mr. Soros has reportedly “spent at least $80 million on the legalization effort since 1994,” according to Ms. Riddell, “when he diverted a portion of his foundation’s funds to organizations exploring alternative drug policies, according to tax filings.”

Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Soros‘ political positions (I’m obviously in the latter camp), he has the right to fund these organizations. The question is, why are he and others wasting so much precious time, money and efforts on marijuana?

Part of the reason is personal freedom, of course. The other part, I’d assume, has to do with the taboo nature of this particular drug. Anything that is “illegal” appeals to a certain demographic in our society. They want the law lifted so there will be no overbearing restrictions or boundaries in place to prevent the use or purchase of marijuana.

Like many conservatives, I used to support the so-called war on drugs. Through extensive reading and intellectual discourse, I gradually came to the understanding that state-run prohibition of certain drugs, such as marijuana, wasn’t a wise strategy for the right to adopt.

As Milton and Rose Friedman wrote in “Tyranny of the Status Quo” (1984), “Some proponents of the legalization of marijuana have argued that smoking marijuana does not cause harm. We are not competent to judge this much debated issue — though we find persuasive the evidence we have seen that marijuana is a harmful substance.

“Yet, paradoxical though it may seem, our belief that it is desirable to legalize marijuana and all other drugs does not depend on whether marijuana or other drugs are harmful or harmless. However much harm drugs do to those who use them, it is our considered opinion that seeking to prohibit their use does even more harm both to users of drugs and to the rest of us.”

To be sure, I don’t go as far as the Friedmans on this particular issue.

I’ve long supported marijuana decriminalization. A person shouldn’t have a permanent criminal record for the purchase or possession of a few joints. If they want to use it in the privacy of their own homes, and they’re not selling the drug on the black market or to children, then that’s their business.

Treating marijuana possession as a criminal offense is also an unnecessary waste of police resources. They should be going after the hippies and shadowy figures who run these illegal marijuana-growing operations.

Marijuana legalization still worries me, however.

Some studies have shown there could be potential health risks associated with marijuana, owing to tar levels and certain chemicals, such as THC. Wider accessibility could potentially lead to addiction — and increased health care costs — in certain cases.

Crime and poverty levels could be affected. Moreover, young children could be more exposed to marijuana if there were greater availability.

Certainly, there is a free-market argument in support of legalizing marijuana. The private sector would reap significant economic benefits from increased sale of recreational cannabis and hemp-made products. At the same time, state regulation would have to increase many times over. If you believe in less government, and not more, that’s a pretty hard position to stomach.

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