WYTHE CO., Va., October 30, 2012 — What do Snoop Dogg, Pat Robertson, Salma Hayek, and Bill O’Reilly have in common? They all believe marijuana should be decriminalized, if not legalized and taxed, just like alcohol.
Liberal or conservative, Jew or gentile, black or white, a consensus has been acknowledged and it is time to act.
At the forefront of the effort to legalize marijuana is Tom Angell, media relations director for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). His latest effort has been to create a website that allows not only celebrities and politicians to be heard, but ways for the average American to participate in the effort as well.
To sort fact from fiction, I interviewed Tom about his latest efforts, and why he feels we need to legalize marijuana.
Lisa King: Looking at your new website MarijuanaMajority.com, I can not help but marvel at the amazing quantity and variety of the people who have endorsed the legalization of marijuana. Why do you think such a large and incredibly diverse group of people all agree on the legalization of marijuana?
Tom Angell: People come to this issue from different perspectives and different reasons. Conservatives and libertarians are tired of the government telling people what to do in their private lives, and want to stop the waste of so many taxpayer resources that go into the prohibition effort. Progressives and liberals are outraged by the racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws and want money that is being spent on locking people up to go toward helping them and improving schools instead. And pretty much any sensible person, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, can plainly see that the current laws are just not working.
LK: I could not help but notice there is a large number of law enforcement people among your supporters on MarijuanaMajority.com. Why do you think this true?
TA: It’s great to have the voices of so many law enforcers joining the call for change. These are people who have seen with their own eyes, up close, that these prohibition laws not only don’t work but also endanger public safety. Each hour that a law enforcer has to spend arresting someone for marijuana and filling out subsequent paperwork is an hour that could have gone toward stopping and solving violent crimes like rapes and murders — but won’t. And by making marijuana illegal we have also created a lucrative black market controlled by gangs and cartels who don’t hesitate to use violence to protect their profits.
LK: Do you have any figures on how much money is currently spent by law enforcement on enforcing marijuana laws?
TA: Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that the federal and state governments in the U.S. spend about $8.7 billion a year enforcing marijuana laws. This is in addition to another $8.7 billion that could be generated in new revenue if we legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana sales. That’s not chump change — imagine how much good that money could do in terms of hiring teachers, paying for healthcare, or simply going back into the pockets of taxpayers.
LK: How many people are currently serving time as a result of a marijuana arrest, and how many people a year are arrested for violating a marijuana law?
TA: Because of the way the government compiles incarceration data, it’s hard to get a breakdown of the number of people currently serving time for marijuana offenses. However, thanks to FBI data we do know that there are about 850,000 marijuana arrests a year in the U.S.
These arrests have serious consequences even for those who don’t get charged, convicted and sentenced to prison. A drug arrest on your record can prevent you from getting a job or a loan, for example. And each and every one of these arrests wastes taxpayer money and police time that could be much better spent doing something that actually protects public safety.
LK: Do you think the current trend of the Mexican cartels raising marijuana in America to avoid the complications of smuggling it across the border will continue to increase?
TA: Unless and until marijuana prohibition is repealed, we will continue to see cartels setting up shop in our country to cultivate and sell marijuana here. As long as marijuana is illegal, there’s just too much money to be made on the black market. As it stands today, the Justice Department says that Mexican cartels are operating drug rings in more than 1,000 U.S. cities. This number is only going to increase as long as prohibition is in effect.
LK: Do you think legalizing marijuana would reduce the deadly impact of organized crime, and if so,in what ways?
TA: Absolutely. Just as the repeal of alcohol prohibition took away a lucrative market for gangsters in the 1930s, repealing marijuana prohibition would take away billions of dollars from today’s gangsters: the cartels.
Part 2 tomorrow: What steps are being taken to legalize marijuana and what people can do to help.
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