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Reverse Polarity 1
Kevin, I understand your concerns, but I think you worry too much.

Prohibition serves as a good history lesson. When Prohibition ended, the black market for alcohol dried up almost overnight. Sure, some gangsters moved on to other crimes, but the overall crime rate went down dramatically, and crime related to black market alcohol evaporated completely. The crime wasn't driven by criminals who needed to find some crime to commit. The crime was driven by the massive demand for alcohol which could not be obtained legally.

You are right that if we legalized marijuana, most of it would probably be grown by large corporate operations, just as most alcohol is now brewed by large corporations. But there are still small wineries and micro brew operations. Likewise, there would probably be small marijuana farms. Certainly in this area, it is pretty easy to grow, and lots of people would likely try growing it if it is a profitable crop and they don't have to fear arrest.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on December 10, 2011 at 1:44 PM · Report this
Simply Me 2
So in short we should be afraid of black people? I've only bought weed from white people. Should I be afraid they are going to turn to even riskier black markets, like the cocain trade which is also dominated by white people in this city and others?
Posted by Simply Me on December 10, 2011 at 1:45 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 3
@2 that's a remarkably uncharitable reading. "In short", the illegal marijuana trade is a significant economic boon to many people living below the poverty line (many of whom are black), and the benefits of legalization will very likely not accrue to them.

It's still the right thing to do.
Posted by Doctor Memory on December 10, 2011 at 1:53 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 4
I think the argument is well reasoned except for the racial component. All current small growers will face the same challenge of remaining in business. After the demise of prohibition most alcohol production did go back to large producers.The home producer of beer, wine or spirits was a rarity until the early '90's DIY movement. Now we have micro brews, small pot distilleries and small vinyards. Will pot legalization legilslation allow for this. Will new pot regs. allow for legal home grow, which will make direct taxation impossible, since growing pot is easier than making beer? The letter posits one likely outcome but there are others.
Posted by thatsnotright on December 10, 2011 at 1:57 PM · Report this
seandr 5
Yes, millions (billions?) of dollars will be transferred from the black market to legitimate commercial trade.

Yes, many dealers may be forced to find other sources of income.

Importantly, the market for other illegal drugs won't grow as a result of this. That means more competition and less profit for coke dealers, which means less motivation for anyone to get into that business. And that's a good thing - for some kids, it may make the difference between dealing and finding another career. Others will find legitimate careers in marijuana.

Without doubt, we'll eventually see large publicly traded corporations similar to Anheuser-Busch in the marijuana industry. So what? Those corporations provide jobs, their stock supports pension funds, and they'll provide millions of dollars in lobbying money to counter the pharma and chemical lobbies. They also keep prices down for lower income consumers.

We'll also see countless small craft producers and distributors just as there are in the beer/wine industry, as well as thousands of non-corporate cafes, bars, artisan bakeries, small (organic) farms/growers (pot is easier/cheaper to produce than alcoholic beverages), and specialty shops comparable to wine shops like European Wines on 15th or Petes in Eastlake. That's not to mention side businesses such as paraphernalia and grow equipment.

As for those on the lowest economic tier, smoking weed sure does make grunt work a lot less tedious.

Anyway, all this is a reason NOT to vote for I-502 because it stupidly places distribution in the hands of the state. Better to wait for a sensible initiative to come along.
Posted by seandr on December 10, 2011 at 2:07 PM · Report this

The only people who smoke dope are males between 19 and 26.

It's similar to the video gaming market ( 11 to 17 year olds ) and would be just as ephemeral.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 10, 2011 at 2:14 PM · Report this
@1 I think there are two significant differences between the alcohol prohibition and the illegal nature of marijuana. The first is that during pre-prohibition, business networks, vendors, and suppliers had already installed a significant network for alcohol distribution. This entire industry was then told to turn off. As you say, the "criminals" during prohibition were the already existing businesses. After the prohibition, business resumed as usual. Here, the networks, although complex, do not carry the stability of a full fledged legal supply chain to morph seamlessly into a legal industry if marijuana is legalized. Second, I would argue that alcohol is a much more diverse product in terms of flavors, production, etc. Microbreweries, vineyards, and distilleries exist because unique tastes may be achieved and enjoyed by discerning palettes. Although marijuana has this characteristic to an extent, I think it will largely be commoditized like wheat or cotton. -Kevin Zimmerman
Posted by CFKAKZ on December 10, 2011 at 2:18 PM · Report this
Great letter and thread. In terms of shiting economic and law enforcement factors, won't legalizing marijuana be a bit like if Prohibition were ended just as to beer, but no other alcohol?
Posted by gloomy gus on December 10, 2011 at 2:26 PM · Report this
@4 (and others) The main reason I bring up the African-American aspect is in direct response to "Jesus Saves" in which pastors and advocates were firmly stating the current marijuana economy disproportionately hurts African-Americans. I agree that all members of the lower income bracket that benefit from marijuana sales are going to be squeezed. That, in fact, was why I took aim at this argument, to explore the possibility that the African-Americans who hope legalization will positively change their lives may actually be jeopardizing their situation further.
Posted by CFKAKZ on December 10, 2011 at 2:27 PM · Report this
Theotherkindofbiker 10
I think the solution to this problem would be to instigate absurd taxes, making tax free pot trafficking a viable way to make a living.
Posted by Theotherkindofbiker on December 10, 2011 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 11
@6 Thank you for the free sample from your upcoming book, "How to Use Pseudo-Science & Non-Facts to Prop Up Your Delusional World-View," but I think I'll pass.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on December 10, 2011 at 2:57 PM · Report this

One half of annual marijuana users are under the age
of 26. Males account for 60% of annual
marijuana users. Whites account for 72% of annual marijuana users and blacks account for 13%.…
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 10, 2011 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Dominic Holden 14
@13) You realize this, of course, but the stat you used proves you're wrong when you write that the "only people who smoke dope are males between 19 and 26." That stat suggests only 30 percent of marijuana users are males under 26, including males who are under 19.
Posted by Dominic Holden on December 10, 2011 at 3:46 PM · Report this
@13 Oh right, I forgot, they changed math so that now one-half equals all. You're totally right. Got it.
Posted by KayElle on December 10, 2011 at 3:48 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 16
Kevin--Are you familiar with the work of economist Sudhir Venkatesh? He's spent a lot of time studying the underground economies of the urban poor. Among other things, he's shown (pretty convincingly, IMHO) that the overwhelming majority of street-level dealers make no more money than they would at McDonnald's. All the more so when you factor in the considerably increased chances of homicide for young men in the drug trade.

I think the urban poor have less to lose with marijuana legalization than you imagine.
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on December 10, 2011 at 4:31 PM · Report this
One other factor we should look at is the large number of marijuana users who are currently imprisioned, most with mandatory sentencing. Many of these people are black males who have been unfairly prosecuted and imprisoned for long periods. I think that they deserve their freedom (and maybe some recompence, perhaps in the form of education), but they would certainly add to the high unemployment of African-Americans.

Perhaps some of the money from the taxes on marijuana should be used for an education and jobs outreach for the wrongly imprisoned.

As for the taxes on the newly legal marijuana, I hope they are very high. A marijuana cigarette can't cost much more than a tobacco cigarette to produce and I would willing pay $4 or $5 for one. That is much cheaper than I could obtain it illegally, but would provide more than $3-$4 in taxes. Multiply that by the number sold (Hundreds of thousands? Millions?) and there will certainly be a huge amount of money entering the federal/ state coffers. Add in the decrease in costs from prisoners freed and a reduction in costs for the so-called 'war on drugs' and we might practically balance the budget. Isn't that what happened when Prohibition ended?
Posted by Schweighsr on December 10, 2011 at 4:52 PM · Report this
Cynic Romantic 19
So we should be cautious about legalising cannabis because it might harm the employment prospects of criminal opportunists? Got it.
Posted by Cynic Romantic on December 10, 2011 at 5:30 PM · Report this
#13, #14

Yes but the usage drops off precipitously after age 26.

The point being this is presented as a wide ranging issue when it mostly affects overgrown frat boys and a few other people clinging to their salad days.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 10, 2011 at 7:28 PM · Report this
thatsnotright 21
@ 20 People become more risk-averse as they mature. If pot were legal more people would probably use it. Medical marijuana users are good example of a wide age differential with a quasi-legal status.
Posted by thatsnotright on December 10, 2011 at 7:55 PM · Report this
@16 I have not read his work. But the question I would still pose is are these individuals going to be able to make the leap from black market employment to legal employment if there is no longer a need for their cog in the industry? -Kevin
Posted by CFKAKZ on December 10, 2011 at 7:58 PM · Report this
@19 We should be aware of unforeseen consequences to legalizing pot and preemptively put social programs in place to help black market workers move healthily into legal employment when legalization occurs. (I stated that I support legalization at the outset). -Kevin
Posted by CFKAKZ on December 10, 2011 at 8:00 PM · Report this
seandr 25
@16: This is a point worth shouting from the roof tops - street dealers make absolute shit for money. If you are in that business, you are tool enriching some dude in Mexico.
Posted by seandr on December 11, 2011 at 12:21 AM · Report this
Maybe pot should be legal, but not 100% legal. We could allow people to posses up to a certain amount and to grow a certain number of plants for personal use. That way we wouldn't have Monsanto growing fields of genetically modified super-weed and Madison Avenue wouldn't be figuring out clever ways to sell marijuana to 12 year olds.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on December 11, 2011 at 9:21 AM · Report this

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