Commentary: America’s war on pot has to end

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I’ve drawn many cartoons advocating for the legalization of marijuana, both federally and for New Jersey. So last week, when both the ACLU and NAACP launched a new legalization effort in the Garden State, I figured I’d let my voluminous cartoon record speak for itself. 

Here’s a cartoon I draw about John Ray Wilson, a man with multiple sclerosis who was given a five-year prison sentence for growing pot in his own home:

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20150225 John-Ray-Wilson600 Then I picked up a copy of the Asbury Park Press. 

Nestled in the opinion section of Friday’s paper (just before the USA Today insert) was an editorial written by the newspaper’s editorial board warning lawmakers not to make New Jersey a mecca for “stoners.”

Sigh. Apparently in their world, everyone who wants to smoke marijuana are “potheads” driving around in vans filled with smoke getting into comedic hijinks. Think “Cheech and Chong” versus reality. After all, I don’t see them making the case that everyone who enjoys a glass of wine at night is a dangerous alcoholic.

“Do you really want your kids to grow up thinking it’s OK to smoke pot?” their editorial rhetorically asks. I must have missed the days the Asbury Park Press went after parents who drink, smoke, gamble or eat unhealthy food, all gateways to vice being opened for their kids. 

In fact, if you start comparing marijuana to these other behaviors and you begin to see how safe a pot is. According to new research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature, weed is roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, and was the only drug to pose a low mortality risk to its user.

Let’s also not forget about the revenue legalized marijuana could generate for a Garden State in need of every penny. The Asbury Park Press dismisses the $60-70 million that Colorado has raised as “a relative drop in the bucket,” and complain that the tax revenue wouldn’t justify running afoul of federal law. 

Excuse me, but aren’t you the same editors who advocated for the addictive vice of sports betting, which last time I check also violates federal law?  

“Recognizing that this type of betting goes on anyway,” editors wrote back in 2009, “New Jersey is losing out on millions of dollars in revenue that legalized sports betting could provide.” 

That’s not the smell of pot, it’s the smell of hypocrites justifying one vice they happen to prefer over another. 

Forgetting the real negatives

When folks like Chris Christie, the editors of the Asbury Park Press and even President Barack Obama talk about their hesitancy to embrace marijuana legalization, it’s always anchored by the boogeymen wrongly associated with the drug.

It’s a gateway to harder drug use (it isn’t).

It would mean more traffic accidents (it won’t).

It will increase teen drug use (it hasn’t)

Potheads will flock to New Jersey colleges (no evidence to support this)

In fact, in admonishing all their fears associated with legalization, critics conveniently forget to list all the downsides of criminalizing pot.

For starters, think about the cost on New Jersey’s youth, specifically black kids who are 2.8 times more likely that whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Individuals found with a single joint face up to six months of incarceration in the Garden State, and carry the smear of a criminal record with them all their lives.  

This war on pot is also costing taxpayers a lot of money. New Jersey ranks near the top of the list in terms of the highest per capita spending to enforce marijuana possession laws in the country, spending over $127 million in 2010 alone. All told, drug arrests for marijuana possession account for nearly 45 percent of all drug arrests in the state. 

These laws also keep drug cartels in business. According to a 2012 study, legalization in Colorado was estimated to cost cartels over $1.4 billion annually. In Washington it was nearly $1.4 billion. That’s a 20-30 percent cut in cartels’ annual revenue from legalization occurring in just two states.

So regardless if you’re the Asbury Park Press, the Iowa-loving governor of a liberal state or the President of the United States, laws that prohibit recreational use of marijuana just don’t make a whole lot of sense economically, medically or morally.  

“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” 

That’s not a quote from “Cheech and Chong,” that’s Rahway High School graduate Carl Sagan, whom I guess you’d call a “pothead” and a “stoner” and wouldn’t be welcome in the kind of state you’d like New Jersey to be. 


Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe. 

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