These are welcome developments to a retired police chief like me who oversaw the arrests of countless people for marijuana and other drugs, but saw no positive impact from all the blood, sweat and tears (and money) put into the effort. Soon, it seems, cops may no longer have to waste time and risk lives enforcing pot laws that don't actually prevent anyone from using marijuana.
Yet, I'm alarmed that the above-mentioned poll showing majority support for marijuana legalization also found that fewer than one in 10 people agree that it's time to end the prohibition of other drugs.
This no doubt makes sense to some readers at first glance, since more people are familiar with marijuana than other drugs like cocaine, heroin or meth. However, even a cursory study of our drug war policies will reveal that legalizing pot but not other drugs will leave huge social harms unresolved.
Legalizing marijuana only will not:
- Stop gangs from selling other drugs to our kids (since illegal drug dealers rarely check for ID);
- Stop drug dealers from brutally murdering rival traffickers for the purpose of controlling the remaining criminal market for other drugs;
- Stop drug dealers from firing on cops charged with fighting the senseless war on other illicit drugs;
- Stop drug dealers from killing kids caught in crossfire and drive-by shootings;
- Stop overdose deaths of drug users who refrain from calling 911 out of fear of legal repercussions;
- Reduce the spread of infectious diseases like AIDS and hepatitis, since marijuana users don’t inject their drug like heroin users (who sometimes share dirty needles and syringes because prohibition makes it hard to secure clean ones);
- Stop the bloody cartel battles in Mexico that are rapidly expanding over the border into the U.S;
- Stop the Taliban from raking in massive profits from illegal opium cultivation in Afghanistan.
Of course, none of this means that our rapidly growing marijuana legalization movement should slow down.
On the contrary, as the polls show, a majority of Americans understand that legalizing marijuana will produce many benefits. No longer will 800,000 people a year be arrested on pot charges, their lives damaged if not ruined; governments will be able to tax the popular commodity; regulation and revenues will help forge and finance effective programs of drug abuse prevention and treatment; and those vicious cartels will lose as much as half their illicit profits when they can no longer sell marijuana.
Further, once people get used to the idea of allowing legal sales of the previously banned drug we'll be able to point to successful regulation as a model for similar treatment of all other currently illicit substances.