Goldstein: Legalized marijuana benefits, not hurts, society

The burgeoning marijuana industry is raising environmental concerns by some growers in California, particularly among water conservationists because a typical marijuana plant can consume up to 6 gallons of water per day. Photo by Nick Swyter/News21

The burgeoning marijuana industry is raising environmental concerns by some growers in California, particularly among water conservationists because a typical marijuana plant can consume up to 6 gallons of water per day. Photo by Nick Swyter/News21

Marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in California for 2016, an effort that 55 percent of Californians now support. As a retired police officer, I spent a career fighting the war on marijuana and other drugs, which largely felt like the most expensive whack-a-mole game ever created. No matter how many drug users or dealers we arrested, there were ten more to take their place. It’s the failure of drug prohibition that continues to make marijuana and other drugs easily available to our children. No different than when I was in high school — marijuana is still widely available despite over forty years of attempting to eradicate its use in the United States.
In the states that have taken the illicit marijuana market away from criminal organizations, even law enforcement has noted that there have been minimal issues with legalization. According to the Colorado State Police, “…officers’ jobs are also not more dangerous or more challenging since marijuana’s statewide legalization.”
There are many reasons to support an initiative that will sensibly control, tax, and regulate the adult consumption of marijuana as they have done in Washington and Colorado, and are now implementing In Alaska and Oregon. These are my top three:

1. Prohibition diverts critical law enforcement resources from violent and property crime.
Enforcing marijuana prohibition eats up valuable time and resources that could otherwise go towards addressing more serious crimes. There are currently at least 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide, 2,800 in San Diego alone, which contain DNA information crucial to find and convict rapists. While a conservative estimate of $300 million is spent on marijuana prohibition in California every year, rape kits are often left untested because of the cost. The roughly 20,000 marijuana-related arrests that took place in California in 2014 consumed valuable police time as well as money. Taxes on legal marijuana, on the other hand, would contribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year for drug education, counseling, and other public services.
2. Prohibition allows the underground market to flourish.
California faces a lot of problems from organized criminals, between its proximity to Mexico’s cartel violence and the prevalence of street gangs in L.A. All of these criminal organizations consistently sell one product: marijuana. It’s been estimated that sales of illegal marijuana account for 65 to 70 percent of Mexican drug cartels’ profits. Illegal marijuana is the most lucrative crop in the world because it can be produced cheaply, but sold for high prices to compensate for individual risk along the supply chain. Legal marijuana, if sensibly taxed, will undercut street prices. In Colorado and Washington, we have seen the results of taking the illicit market away from the criminals and moving the consumer into the legal market. The latest figures from Colorado show that tax revenues have doubled in 18 months with June 2015 racking in 9.7 million in taxes that will go to fund schools rather than enrich criminals.
3. Prohibition has a minimal effect on marijuana use.
A recent 2013 Gallup poll demonstrates that the percentage of Americans who have tried marijuana has remained roughly the same since the 1980s. In fact, a 2014 Healthy Kids survey in Colorado showed that high school students used marijuana at lower rates than in previous years and lower rates than the country as a whole.

There is no doubt in my mind that our policymakers will need to continue to monitor the many lessons learned by the states that have preceded us in this policy shift. What their record reflects is that sensible control and regulation of marijuana will benefit the state and our communities, and not criminals.

Diane Goldstein is a 21-year veteran of law enforcement, retiring as a lieutenant. She is a speaker and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of criminal justice professionals officials opposed to the war on drugs.

Read more about about the push to legalize marijuana on Voice of OC:

America’s Weed Rush

America’s Weed Rush: Different States Mean Different Policies

America’s Weed Rush: California’s Wild West of laws

Caregivers Face Daunting Tangle of Regulations

The Environmental Costs Marijuana

For more on “America’s Weed Rush” read, watch and listen to News21’s entire series on legalizing marijuana here.

Disagree? Email your op-ed to Engagement Editor Julie Gallego at jgallego@voiceofoc.org.