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Laws against marijuana harmful

When watching the premiere of HBO’s excellent new show, “Boardwalk Empire,” Martin Scorcese’s exploration of Atlantic City during prohibition, where booze flowed freely, I kept on getting this nagging feeling.† It wasn’t because the show felt like “The Sopranos” crossed with “Mad Men.”† It wasn’t the ridiculousness of the totally unnecessary sex scene (I swear, HBO includes these things just because they can) or even my bewilderment that Steve Buscemi could carry a lead role. It was because I realized we’re facing the same thing today.

Marijuana has become a $113 billion industry these days ó and it is mostly illegal. In addition, the U.S. government spends $41 billion trying to enforce it annually. These numbers have become too large to ignore. It has been almost two decades since President Reagan declared a “War on Drugs,” but access to marijuana has become even easier. More importantly, marijuana has been grown to be significantly more potent than it was in the 1960s.

Someone once told me that “the power to tax is the power to destroy,” and we have seen the effects.† New York City started taxing $4.50 on a pack of cigarettes (that tax alone is more than some brands in Ohio) and not only has their revenue increased, it’s lessened their use amongst youth especially ó and is that not who we’re worried about? I’m not advocating that we should sit around and smoke all the time, or even suggest that people smoke. However, in order to tax marijuana, we need to legalize it, and the financial benefits could be enormous. A recent study showed that California, the most in-debt state in the nation, could significantly eat into their debt by simply legalizing and modestly taxing marijuana.

Steve Buscemi’s character in “Boardwalk Empire” is the treasurer of Atlantic City, and it’s revealed in the pilot that he makes an incredible profit from bootlegging booze ó almost twice what he originally sold for. The money that he pockets from this goes to paying off police officers, buying judges and killing people. In today’s world, though, there are many Buscemis. Why are we putting so much profit in the hands of those that use it for violence and corruption when we could be using it to help pay for national benefits?

There are still some significant problems with national marijuana legalization, which would have to occur in order to tax its use. For instance, much like alcohol, marijuana still can be directly responsible for car accidents. Until we invent a breathalyzer-like device to check to see if people are high while driving, we can’t prevent DUIs of that nature. Additionally, we’d have to determine if the age of consumption should be 18 (the minumum for cigarettes) or 21 (like alcohol).

In the 1920s, people realized early on that prohibition was doing more harm than good. The nation still drank almost as much, and those profiting on it were using it to hurt the country. It’s in our national interest to legalize marijuana so we can regulate it. We can control the prices. We can set a tax like New York City’s cigarette tax. We can prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. With more shows and movies like “Boardwalk Empire” coming out in recent years, it’s about time we learned the lesson from it.

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