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June 2012

Should Cannabis Be Illegal?


It was the summer of 1988.  I was doing a semester abroad. I sat down in this little coffee shop, just off of some street whose name I would not even attempt to pronounce for the fear of twisting my tongue in a knot that I would never get out.  After waiting for a few moments, the waiter, who spoke perfect English, handed me a menu.  I opened it up and inside was a selection of every kind of coffee and tea concoction that they served.  The words were easy, no ventis or grandes, no frappuccinos or macchittos.  They kept it simple and I quickly ordered a plain cappuccino.  After a few minutes they brought me my drink, then handed me a second menu.  Quite honestly, having never been to this kind of coffee shop before, I did not really know what to expect.  The last thing I expected was for the next selection of items to be presented to me in a menu, maybe on a plate neatly arranged where I could simply point to the one I wanted, or perhaps in a glass, temperature controlled case like some fine chocolates, but most defintly, not in a menu.  At the time I was in college doing a semester abroad and it had been many years, high school exactly, since I had last partaken of this particular indulgence, but considering the uniqueness of this opportunity, an opportunity that I would never have a chance to experience anywhere in the United States at the time, I felt almost obligated to place an order from this second menu.  I took my time and looked the menu up and down reading each description, considering my decision carefully knowing that unless I ever came back to this part of the world I most likely would never experience a purchasing opportunity like this again. Then the waiter came back to my table and asked me if I had made my decision. I had. “One gram of Jamaican Sinsemilla please?” The waiter asked, “Would you like anything to smoke that with, a pipe, a bong, a hooka?” Not expecting to be able to partake of it right there and then, I answered, “No, I’ll take it to go.” 
I just could not imagine being able to smoke marijuana so openly and legally, and even though I knew that in Amsterdam, where I was visiting for a few days, it was perfectly legal, as an American, the culture shock of being allowed to smoke cannabis as if it was no different than a cigarette or a shot of tequila, was something I just could not wrap my brain around.  Quite simply, it was just too weird.  Whether I actually smoked it or not was not what was important.  It was the experience, the experience of being able to buy something, so openly and so legally, that in the United States is considered so taboo.  I paid for my coffee and ganja, placed the bag in my pocket, and walked down to the red light district where I could observe Japanese business men and English students on break legally paying for hookers, another experience that was just too weird to see so openly and legally.  Also where there was this little Greek restaurant that I ate at every night I was there.  I thought to myself either this country is the most immoral on earth, or they’ve got it all figured out.
In the United States of course marijuana is illegal.  The funny thing is, as a teenager marijuana was just as easy to purchase here as it was legally in Amsterdam.  The only difference was that in the U.S. it wasn’t done in the openness of a coffee shop, but instead in some guys basement or behind a 7-Eleven.  The truth is if a person wants to smoke marijuana, there is not a single law out there that is going to deter them from doing it.  I am sure that today, if I wanted to get high, which I don't and haven’t done so since my early college days, in a matter of three phone calls I could buy whatever I want to. So why exactly is marijuana illegal in the United States?  To tell you the truth I have no idea. Cigarettes are legal and nicotine is considered to be more addictive than heroine.  Marijuana actually has no addictive properties at all and is impossible to overdose on. Alcohol is legal but to this day I have never seen a mob of stoned people beating the crap out of each other, but get a bunch of drunk hockey fans together, and two kegs of Guinness and you have a riot. In the U.S. annually the number of deaths that can be attributed directly to cigarettes is around 450,000.  The number of annual deaths directly attributed to alcohol is about 85,000.  The number of deaths attributed directly to marijuana... is zero.
Listen, I am no angel.  I went to college, I was in a fraternity, I’ve done beer bongs, I have a photo of myself that was taken after a night of drinking Ouzo in Greece and my eyes are going to two different directions. How I got back to the hotel I have no idea but somehow I eneded up on a boat to Mykonos!  Hung over doesn’t even come close to how I felt on that boat! And that is from something that is legal.  I’m not even going to get in to how addictive alcohol can be, how destructive it can be to a person life, to their family, how many car accidents have been caused and lives have been lost by drunk driving, all from something that is perfectly legal, and not to mention taxed by our government.  So why should Marijuana be legal?  I’ll tell you why, and this is coming from a guy who does not smoke it.  It should be legal because it makes sense.  There is nothing stopping anyone from getting it, and the amount of money that we spend on trying to keep it out of this country, on enforcing the laws that exist, on the cost of keeping someone in prison for possessing it, simply is not proportional to the amount of people who are being either prevented or deterred from using it.  From 1980 to 2009 the amount of arrests for Marijuana has more than doubled from 401,000 to 858,000, yet the potency of the drug has gone up and so has the usage.  Prohibition has simply failed, it is simply not a deterrent. Consistently in surveys of high school seniors it is reported that 85.5% state that marijuana is easy to get.  And the amount of money it is costing us to enforce this failed policy, as well as the revenue we are losing from potential taxes, simply does not make economic sense.  Just as many Americans will smoke marijuana this year as will buy a new car or truck.  The reality is that it is simply a matter of economics.
In June 2005, Jeffery Miron, a visiting professor of economics at Harvard University released a report entitled “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition”.  In this report, Professor Miron states, “legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure (it has since been updated to 13.3 billion) on enforcement (costs alone) of prohibition.  $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government.”  Milton goes on to say that, “the report also estimates that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.”   The amount spent on the prohibition of marijuana and everything associated with it including enforcement, as well as court costs, and daily imprisonment, is estimated to be as high as 27.2 billion per year.  So not only could we potentially save as much as 27.2 billion per year but we could also generate a potential revenue of 6.2 billion per year, which would then translate to a combined savings and revenue of 33.4 billion per year to our economy that is facing record deficits in the trillions.  In fact this idea of legalizing marijuana is so well received by the economic community that over 500 top economists including three Nobel Laureates have co-signed an open letter to the President, Governors, Senators and State Legislators.  In the letter it states:
    “The fact that marijuana prohibition has these budgetary impacts does not by itself mean prohibition is bad policy. Existing evidence, however, suggests prohibition has minimal benefits and may itself cause substantial harm.
     We therefore urge the country to commence an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition. We believe such a debate will favor a regime in which marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods. At a minimum, this debate will force advocates of current policy to show that prohibition has benefits sufficient to justify the cost to taxpayers, foregone tax revenues, and numerous ancillary consequences that result from marijuana prohibition.”  In fact, just just recently during a online town hall meeting hosted by YouTube, President Obama stated, for the first time for any sitting President, in regards to drug legalization,” I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” Although he is not in favor of legalizing marijuana, this is the first time ever that any President has shown support for a debate on the subject.
No one is suggesting that marijuana should be made legal for children. The same minimum age logic would apply to marijuana that would apply to alcohol and cigarettes.  But the facts are clear.  Anyone can obtain marijuana any time they want.  The current laws are simply not a deterrent.  Prohibition simply has not worked.  It didn’t work for alcohol in the 1920’s and it isn’t working for marijuana in the 2012’s. The amount of money being spent in the billions far outweighs any perceived deterrent and every year we are losing revenue from a product that can be controlled and taxed exactly like alcohol and cigarettes are today.  In Amsterdam, crime related to marijuana is virtually non-existent and there has been no increase in the use of marijuana due to its legalization.  So how is it that Holland has it all figured out but we cant seem to?


CNBC- Marijuana USA



Is That A Banana In Mitt Romney's Pocket?

By Brian Dann


So you and Donald Trump stop at a fruit stand to buy a bunch of bananas.  I know what you are thinking but this is not the beginning of a bad joke.  And we all know that when Donald Trump wants a banana he tells one of his birther investigators to take a break from tracking down evidence that the President is Kenyan and go pick one from the Trump International banana garden located on the top of Trump Towers in Manhattan.  Anyway, like I was saying, you and Donald Trump stop at, oh let’s call it the “Fox” Fruit Stand, to buy a bunch of bananas.  When you go to pay, the cashier tells you that your bananas are $3.00 but with tax your bananas will be $3.50. Next The Donald goes to pay for his bananas with his Gold Amex card made of actual solid gold from his baby seal skin wallet.  The cashier tells Mr. Trump that his bananas with tax will only cost The Donald $3.17!  You go, wait! I just paid $3.50 for the same bananas that Mr. Apprentice here is only paying $3.17 for!  What’s the deal?  And the cashier tells you that although Mr. Trump makes so much more than you, and can easily afford to pay the same in taxes, and could actually afford to pay more, his immense wealth actually classifies him as a “Job Creator”, so he gets a ridiculously disproportional break in taxes so that he can take his 33 cents in tax savings and invest it in building more hotels, hiring thousands of employees, and thereby save the economy (commonly known as trickle-down-economics). You then tell the fruit stand owner that this simply does not seem “fair or balanced” and from now on you will be buying your bananas from the Jon Stewart Fruit Market across the street.  It’s at that time you notice that Mr. Trump has invested his 33 cents in a bamboo back scratcher so that he can pamper himself.
Tax-CutsAnd that right there is why giving enormous tax breaks to the rich does nothing to create jobs.  Instead of investing in new American made bamboo back scratcher factories that hire hundreds of well paid American workers who can then contribute fiscally to our economy by buying goods and services, the ultra rich invest their huge tax savings in things to make their own lives better like cars, boats, houses, off shore tax shelters, and occasionally back scratchers.  The truth is tax breaks for the wealthy do not create jobs, do nothing positive for the economy, and make no one any better off financially, except for the Donald Trumps and Mitt Romneys of this world.  And yet Mitt Romney and the Republicans want you to believe that making rich people richer will somehow make the rest of us richer as well.  I’m sorry but it just doesn’t work that way.  You see when the ultra rich get ultra tax breaks they keep that money for themselves, and instead of using those billions in savings to increase the salaries of their workers, or putting it into research and innovation, or opening factories to create new jobs, they do the types of things that Candidate Romney does like quadrupling the size of his summer home in California or flying his dressage horse to competitions.  So are we to expect that if Mitt Romney, who incidentally according to Forbes magazine is worth an estimated $230 Million dollars which would make him the richest American president in history, were to actually become president that his allegiance would not be to the other multi-millionaires, billionaires and mega-corporations that he knows as friends and colleagues, and would instead make his focus lifting up all those average Americans who so badly need tax breaks, affordable health care, and a dependable paycheck.  Are we to believe that he would abandon the demands of the Tea Party Republicans, and provide meaningful reform to immigration, support gender equality in marriage, push for equal pay for women, support the people’s right to bargain as a union for the pay and benefits they deserve, and increase taxes on the wealthy in order to reduce the deficit?  Or would “President” Romney not only keep the Bush tax breaks but instead actually increase the Bush Tax Breaks, that incidentally to this very day are still the single driving factor keeping our National Debt where it is today, not President Obama’s bailout of the Auto Industry, or “Obamacare” which actually increased business for private insurance companies, or the stimulus package that saved millions of jobs, or any other false claim that Mitt Romney or the GOP wants to make.  Here is a sobering dose of reality.  The Bush tax cuts combined with two unpaid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,  that the Washington Post estimated in 2008 cost us over 3 trillion dollars, not including the ongoing cost to treat the wounded and the interest to be paid, (this was the first time in history that we cut taxes at the same time we went to war, forcing us to borrow the entire amount to pay for both wars from China) was the single largest factor in not only blowing up our deficit from 6.4 trillion in 2003 to over 10 trillion in 2008, but also in eliminating the surplus we accumulated under President Clinton. That is right. There was no deficit before George W. Bush entered office.  We had a surplus.
You see, Mitt Romney and the Republicans can complain all they want that we have to stop blaming Bush for our bad economy, but it does not change the fact that what we are dealing with today, at this moment, as you read this sentence, is the fault of George W Bush.  It was not President Obama that put us into two unpaid wars. It was not President Obama who borrowed the entire amount of those wars from the Chinese.  It was not President Obama who gave the largest tax break in history to the wealthiest 5% in this country.  But it is Mitt Romney who not only wants to preserve the Bush Tax cuts but also wants to increase them.  Consider this.
Mitt Romney wants to cut the top tax rate from the already low 33% to 28%.  The only effect this will have is to increase our deficit even more and make the rich even richer. He wants to cut the Corporate Tax rate from 28% to 25% and eliminate all taxes on foreign earnings that currently exist.   Neither of these proposals even take into account all of the tax loop holes that allow some corporations to pay zero taxes already and some individuals to pay income taxes as low as 12%. He wants to raise the eligibility for Medicare, forcing millions of aging Americans to pay for health insurance they already can’t afford, and raise the retirement beyond 65.   And he has yet to show us how all of this will benefit anyone except those like himself, corporations like Bain Capital, and the Donald Trumps of this nation.  Mitt Romney is absolutely a man of the people…people like him.
President Obama’s responsibility in all of this is simply to do everything in his power to dig us out of the hole that President Bush’s disastrous economic policies left for us.  But President Obama is not our king.  He does not have supreme rule over our land.  He cannot unilaterally make laws without the cooperation of a House and a Senate and a Supreme Court to make change happen in this country.  In some situations he can enact executive orders where he has the authority to do so.  But only so much progress, only so much change, only so much economic recovery can happen if you are constantly fighting a uphill battle of non-cooperation.  And even if the President did have the full support of congress in passing the bills that he put forth, it would still take much more than four years to recover from the mess that George Bush left us.  But I will tell you what the solution is not. It is not going back to the economic policies that got us in this mess in the first place, and it is most certainly not going beyond those disastrous policies to put us even further in a hole that as of today will take us many years far beyond this, the next, or even the next administration, before we see anything even resembling a full economic recovery.   And if we let a Mitt Romney, a man who has no ones interests at heart, except himself, other like him, and the corporations he answers to, we will all be left with nothing except a bunch overpriced bananas.