Rob Kampia, co-founder and executive director the Marijuana Policy Project, was in Maine last week surveying the political scene with a view to promoting legalization of the weed in our state. He has high hopes that Maine will legalize what some refer to unkindly as “wacky ‘baccy” since our state legislature shows more inclination to accept legalization than most others right now.
A legalization bill written by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) was narrowly rejected in June of this year and there’s every reason to believe that the legislative legalization effort will revive next year. Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington), my own representative, has inclined toward legalization for some time and may submit a bill of his own. Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea), whose intelligence and integrity has my unreserved respect, played the central role in legalizing medical marijuana.
As it happens I have some claim to be a path finder on the issue, or I could if anyone had trodden along the path I found. Alas, I suspect they all found their own paths. When I ran for Maine’s second district congressional seat in 2008 I joined Rick Tyler and George Hale on their WVOM show and took questions that were called in. One questioner wanted to know whether I favored legalizing the weed. I had not planned to make it an issue, or even mention it, but felt free to say I did. Understand, running as an unknown in a year that promised a Republican electoral disaster I felt free to speak my mind on any question that came before me.
This was not a “campaign question” for me. It was a policy question. That’s the advantage you have when you know you’re not going to win. I remembered a 1994 symposium in America’s foremost conservative magazine, The National Review. This symposium gathered half a dozen lawyers, lawmen and bureaucrats who had fought in the government’s War on Drugs. All agreed that they had wasted considerable chunks of their careers on a futile project. They admitted defeat, concluding that the war was not winnable. In 2008 I read an article by a high-ranking Mexican police officer who praised his country’s incumbent president for some conspicuous successes in his war on drugs and concluded that it would make little or no difference in the long run.
These articles hardly made me an expert on the drug war, but they supported more general principles of economic behavior. They work like this: if you arrest the producers, wholesalers and retailers, but demand remains unaffected, the price must go up. Since cost of growing weeds is negligible, profits go up when prices go up. When profits go up more growers, wholesalers and retailers are drawn into the business.
Understand this, candidates and legislators have little of no expertise on 90-99% of the things they vote on. They can only be guided by political expediency or general principles on most of those issues.
Rep. Mike Michaud, my opponent, knew less on the subject than I and had no curiosity about the policy issue. He knew exactly the right answer. He said he opposed legalization because of the danger to the little children. Concern for the little children always plays well.
I had proposed that marijuana be legalized, regulated as carefully as alcohol, and taxed. Children are not allowed to guzzle booze. Some manage to get a hold of some now and again. It is told that when I was three years old I went around the living room after a cocktail party guzzling the dregs of highball glasses and got seriously sozzled as a result. This and similar incidents don’t show the need to revive Prohibition. They only show that little boys get into mischief. This may produce comedy or tragedy. Regulation of little boys is the eternal mission of adults and they have no hope of one hundred percent success. All I can suggest is that it is easier for a child to sop up the dregs of highballs or beer bottles that to inhale their first joint.
Mr. Kampia is hoping the legislature will pass a legalization bill in 2014. If that doesn’t happen his group will initiate the petition and referendum process to secure its objective. I understand the man’s desire to avoid the expense, but I prefer a referendum since I believe that authorizing a change in social attitudes requires more that political maneuvering or judicial rulings.
A prediction: if Michaud is elected governor and if a referendum approves legalization, then his concern about the little children lighting up will disappear.