With California considering the legalization (and taxation) of marijuana, Judge James P. Gray author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It – A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001), addresses the issue of Drug Problems vs. Drug Money Problems
by James P. Gray
As all sophisticated people know, life is full of distinctions. One of those critical distinctions is the difference between drug problems, and there certainly are many, as opposed to drug money problems.
There is no doubt that illicit drugs can sometimes be dangerous and addictive and cause harm. Many people’s health and lives have been ruined, and families torn apart emotionally and financially because of the havoc caused by the abuse of and addiction to illicit drugs. So without question this is a big problem.
But there are even larger problems that are caused exclusively by drug money. For example, for years we have been hearing and reading about the large-scale violence and corruption that takes place with drug dealers in Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan and many other countries. And certainly the United States has had its share of this violence and corruption as well. But these problems are not actually caused by drugs, they are caused by the drug money.
Similarly, it is drug money that is causing drug-addicted people to commit crimes in order to get the money to buy their drugs. Obviously that includes burglaries, purse-snatchings, check offenses, shop-liftings, and prostitution. As a practical matter, all of the illicit drugs themselves are extremely inexpensive to raise, manufacture and package. In fact they are actually “dirt cheap.” The only reason they are expensive is because they are illegal, and that expense causes many crimes.
So if we would change our drug laws to hold people accountable for their actions instead of what they put into their bodies, we would begin greatly to reduce the drug money crime. And this could be easily done by undercutting the market for the sale of illicit drugs by the government strictly regulating and controlling these sales to adults. Of course, any sales or transfers of any of these drugs to children would still be prosecuted.
We could start by treating marijuana like alcohol. That would result in the savings of huge amounts of taxpayer money that are presently being spent on efforts to eradicate marijuana and to prosecute non-violent marijuana users. And in spite of these efforts, marijuana is still the largest cash crop in my home state of California. (Number two is grapes, if you care.) In addition, we could generate additional billions of dollars annually simply by taxing the sales of marijuana to adults, just like we do for alcohol. And all of this would have the substantial additional benefit of making marijuana less available for our teenagers than it is today. Why? Because illicit drug dealers don’t ask for i.d.
So what is not to like? We should pattern our conduct after most countries in Europe and start to address these problems as managers instead of moralists. This would reduce the crime, violence and corruption brought about by drug money. And then we could re-focus our efforts upon the actual drug problems themselves.
I think everyone agrees that the federal government does not have all of the answers in this area, so why don’t we allow each state to decide what is best for its people? This is the concept of federalism upon which our great country was founded. There are viable alternatives to our present failed federal policy of Drug Prohibition, so let’s allow each state to try some alternatives. What do you think?
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Superior Court in Orange County, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It – A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001), and can be reached at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net, or through his website at http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.