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Tom’s Opinion on Legalizing Marijuana: Organized Crime Can’t Wait

(Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat. In this post I’m talking about legalizing marijuana for recreational use — not medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is another issue for another time. The question is — should marijuana be legal for recreational use, the same as alcohol became, after the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution?

Legalize or De-Criminalize marijuana?

There are two schools of thought on how to deal with marijuana. One group is still resistant to full legalization, but feel marijuana should be treated as a misdemeanor, not a full-blown federal offense with a long prison sentence.

The second group feels that smoking a joint now and then, hurts no one, and those of responsible age should be free to use marijuana, much the same as alcohol. This group feels, that legalization would take the profit out of marijuana, much like prohibition did with alcohol, and it could be taxed to help increase state revenues. I’ll address the fallacy of that argument later in this post.

There Is Good and Bad In Both Arguments

I think there is some legitimacy in both arguments. I’m not sure I favor full-blown legalization across the board, because I feel that more impaired people driving or operating machinery is not a good thing for our society. We have enough drunk drivers in Montana as it is. Knowing that every 50th car I meet is being driven by someone who has some, or substantial amounts of alcohol in their system, is not really comforting. Adding a few additional high folks, that are convinced driving while high has no effect on their reaction times, does not help dispel that discomfort.

If I were in charge and had to pick one, I would keep marijuana illegal, but reduce the penalty for simple use to a misdemeanor, with a small fine or community service. Distribution in large amounts would still carry the full extent of the law.

Legalization and Organized Crime

During prohibition, when alcohol was illegal, organized crime made a good living supplying bootleg alcohol to illegal bars called speak-easies.” Crime was rampant as gangs defended their territories from rivals by bombings, machine gun massacres, and intimidation. After the repeal of prohibition legitimate producers drove the criminals out of business because they produced a better product at a better price. So why wouldn’t the same thing work with marijuana? One simple reason …

There is “Light Beer;” but no “Light Marijuana.”

If I want to get drunk, I can do it with the cheapest “rot gut” wine or the most expensive Champaign. But for most people, getting drunk is not the real reason for using alcohol. My wife and I often enjoy a nice glass of fine wine with dinner. Not because the wine produces any “high”, but because the taste, not the physical effect, enhances the meal, much like the salad dressing or steak sauce does.

Marijuana is an entirely different animal than alcohol. The one and only reason to smoke a joint is the resulting “high” that it produces. The better the high — the more desirable the marijuana is to the recreational user. If the high was not the crucial component, then you would see “light marijuana,” just like you see light beer, non-alcoholic beer, and light cigarettes.

Legal vs. Illegal

Let’s compare a legal marijuana dealer with an illegal one. Assume you are looking for a good high and you have two choices — legal, you or illegal me. What costs are you going to have to pass on to me in order to make a fair profit and keep the doors open?

Rent, electricity, phone, gasoline, vehicles, water, income taxes, payroll, workman’s comp, health insurance, business license, cost of incorporation, handicapped accessibility costs, city required parking, packaging, shelving, display counters, inventory of various types of product, security, bank fees, city inspections, wage and hour laws, OSHA compliance, credit card fees, receipts, signage, invoices, advertising and marketing, just to name a few.

As an illegal operation, I have almost none of those costs. I’m sure not going to be paying any income taxes, no worrying about wage and hour laws or overtime, OSHA, handicapped, no insurance worries (I would have the Smith & Wesson policy), no need for bank accounts with a cash only business, no city license needed, word of mouth advertising is all I need, because the intensity of my high, for no extra cost, will bring me all the customers I can handle.

Other than rent, ammo, product, and a few plastic bags, I have very few costs to pass on to my customers. I can supply a more potent product, for the same price as your storefront, and make a bigger profit simply meeting your higher price. I can actually mark my price up, still undercut you, sell less and make more.

Enter Big Brother

Plus, you know that sooner or later, government will eventually want to regulate the potency of your products, as they now do with alcohol. AT&F (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) will become ATF&M because you all want to tax marijuana for more government revenue. That’s one of the “feel good” arguments for legalization, which will also help in driving up your costs and my profits.

In addition, and this is really great, while I’m selling against you, offering a more potent marijuana formula, I can throw in a little something stronger for you to try. I will admit, that for some people, the legal store front might have a satisfactory high, but for the true user, much like the wine connoisseur or alcoholic, they are always looking for something stronger.

Do You Want Good Pot or Discount Pot?

Most people, who favor legalization for their own selfish needs, have no clue about the costs of operating a legal business or the competition that could arise from those with deeper pockets.

Where do you buy your shoes? There are discount shoe stores and high-end shoe stores. If the discount shoes were the same price as the high-end shoes which would you buy?

The government, in this case, would be the worst possible enemy for the legalized marijuana storefront. The more intrusive government becomes, the more attractive organized crime’s marijuana looks. Especially when they start that taxing thing. What are people paying for a pack of cigarettes now, compared to just a few years ago?  There is a lot more to think about than just getting high. I doubt legalization would eliminate crime. Not as long as people are selfish enough to want the highest high.

That’s my opinion — What’s yours?

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