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White paper on "recreational" marijuana in Acton

Author: Tom Beals

Version: 1.0

ARTC on the retail marijuana ban

On November 6, 2018, Acton voters will be asked whether to ban the retail sale of marijuana in the town. The Acton Republican Town Committee (the ARTC) supports the ban.

In doing so, we are mindful that we are advocating to diminish our neighbors’ ability to participate in a market of their choosing. We advocate for free markets in general, so this exception impels us to be explicit in our reasoning.

Open markets service the broad range of human desires, and what is immoral is not always unlawful. The market for marijuana products includes candy-wrapped edible marijuana products, which in our view has sufficient likelihood of harm as to warrant the ban. It is a trivial exercise to imagine scenarios where, through carelessness or maliciousness, a child consumes a marijuana product – and a trip to the emergency room may be the least-worst outcome.

We don’t want our minor children participating in this market. The newly-relaxed restrictions on the growth, possession, and sale of marijuana will likely lead to a greater supply, which in turn will enter the unregulated market that already supplies the demand for marijuana, opiates, and alcohol. That market will, unfortunately, serve the older child as it has done in the past.

Marijuana has, since the 1960s, been a polarizing cultural issue – marijuana use was a symbol of irreverence, of disrespect for authority. The marijuana issue illustrates a fairly shallow division among Republicans.  Libertarian-minded Republicans are generally against the criminalization of moral issues; arguing that not everything that is immoral should be illegal. By contrast, the Conservative principle holds that something that has worked – that is, been functional traditionally – should not be discarded without due consideration and strong evidence of benefit.

Reconsidering the legal status of marijuana should be done with the history of prohibitions in mind. Marijuana prohibition began as a means to employ the law enforcement resources after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Since then, marijuana prohibition has served as a tool of multiple administrations – as a source of revenue via despotic assert forfeiture policies; as a political talking point (“law and order”) – but nowhere and at no time, as an evidence-based measure.

The arguments against marijuana

Proponents of continued marijuana regulation cite its potential for personal and societal harm. Regarding personal harm, our society accepts skydiving, driving automobiles, jumping motorcycles over school buses – in short, our cultural norms allow behaviors with great potential for self-harm. This litany of risky activities sometimes brings the reply, “Why add one more?”. That reply, as an argument, tacitly accepts that it is the State’s[1] role to allow any given activity – contrast the limited government viewpoint, that it is the States’ role to limit only those activities that harm, or have the potential to harm, other people.

The societal harm case against marijuana is a literally communist thesis that was also the basis for Obamacare’s individual mandate; the argument that eventually, everyone will need medical care, therefore the State, which will provide that care, may legitimately control an individual’s ‘risky’ behavior. Taken to extremes, that principle would have us live lives encased in bubble-wrap; but in practice the case is made selectively against those actions that are disapproved. Those arguments assert the primacy of the State over the individual, reminiscent of the precautionary principle[2] that is used to stifle innovation.

Consequences of marijuana prohibition

For the most part, we don’t see, or are habituated to, the harmful consequences of marijuana prohibition. These include:

  • lost productivity, as lives are irrevocably altered by felony convictions and incarceration;
  • the perception of police as the enemy;
  • diversion of police resources and attention;
  • civil, and public employee union, corruption, e.g. asset forfeiture[3], rent-seeking prison guards[4];
  • the tragic Mexican murder rate and the degradation of civil order in Mexico and elsewhere, due in part to supplying marijuana to the U.S.;
  • weakening of Federalism, as Federal laws beyond enumerated Constitutional limits proliferate.

Arguments for marijuana deregulation

There is one overriding argument for decriminalization: a market for the product exists. Again I invoke the small government principle – what is not forbidden is allowed. By contrast the statist principle is - what is not expressly allowed is forbidden.

One might wish that the desire to use marijuana did not exist; virtually every pleasure or diversion is opposed by some other group.

Experience after state partial deregulation

The states have led the way in allowing medical marijuana, in practice nullifying Federal law. Access to medical marijuana has allowed academic studies that show that where medical marijuana is available, deaths from opiates decrease[5] and use of prescription opiates decreases[6]. The importance of those results cannot be overstated: marijuana may substitute for other more dangerous drugs.

 

 

Marijuana is less dangerous than opiates. I make no apologies for labeling anyone who disagrees with that statement a science-denier. The aforementioned studies became possible because democratic action removed state regulation. And it is important to note: until the states acted, Federal law prevented the collection of those data.

What is to be done?

I advocate removing “(31) Tetrahydrocannabinols...a plant of the genus  Cannabis...” from the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 1308.11, Schedule I[7], and any similar Federal regulation. Let any regulation come from the states.

Why conservatives, Republicans, and conservative Republicans should take the lead

Constant vigilance is the price of freedom. We have to be ready to re-examine our positions as circumstances change and as new facts become known.

Is there a conservative principle at stake here? Ending marijuana prohibition appears to be the lesser of two evils; and as realists (unlike, say, academics) we acknowledge that we sometimes have to take the lesser evil.

No conservative can be happy with the increase in opiate use over recent years[8]. What are the factors that are correlated and functionally related in society? (people haven’t changed; drug availability has changed...laws haven’t changed!)

Liberals, statists, progressives, etc. rail against “big corporations”, but it is big government exceeding its enumerated powers that gives corporate money and corporate lobbyists their power. Show the crony link – show the liberals that it is big government that makes big corporations (and big unions) dangerous.

The progressive agenda comes from the courts. Justice Thomas[9]:”If Congress can regulate this [medical marijuana] under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything—and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.”

 

[1]     I use ‘State’, capitalized, to denote the term as used in political science - literally, the political organization beyond the individual, but here more in the sense of Mussolini’s “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” - “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State”.

[2]     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle

[3]     https://finance.townhall.com/columnists/markskousen/2017/07/06/the-gover...

[4]     Police and Prison Guard Groups Fight Marijuana Legalization in California
https://theintercept.com/2016/05/18/ca-marijuana-measure/; May 18 2016

[5]     David Powell & Rosalie Liccardo Pacula & Mireille Jacobson, 2018. "Do medical marijuana laws reduce addictions and deaths related to pain killers?," Journal of Health Economics, vol 58, pages 29-42.

[6]     Ashley C. Bradford1 and W. David Bradford, 2016. “Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use In Medicare Part D.” Health AffairsVol. 35, No. 7, pages:1230-1236.

[7]     https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/21cfr/cfr/1308/1308_11.htm

[8]     https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db294.pdf

[9]     https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/545/1/#tab-opinion-1961868