It’s time to replace the criminal market with a tightly controlled system
Like alcohol prohibition, the prohibition of marijuana has proven to be an ineffective policy that causes more problems than it solves. It has failed to keep marijuana out of the hands of teens, and it forces sales into a dangerous underground market that endangers consumers and enriches criminals. This November, Nevada voters will consider Question 2, a ballot initiative to end the failed policy of prohibition and replace it with a more sensible system in which marijuana is regulated like alcohol and sold by licensed businesses in a tightly controlled market. In doing so, it will minimize teens’ access to marijuana, reduce consumers’ exposure to other illegal products, and take sales out of the hands of criminals.
Minimize Teens’ Access to Marijuana
Marijuana prohibition, in which unregulated sales take place in an underground market, is the worst possible policy when it comes to keeping marijuana out of the hands of teens. In fact, there is substantial evidence that it is actually increasing its accessibility to young people. Forcing marijuana into the underground market guarantees that sales will be entirely uncontrolled and that the individuals selling it will not ask for ID. If Nevada voters approve Question 2, marijuana sales will be conducted in a tightly controlled market in which checks for proof of age are mandatory and strictly enforced.
Despite marijuana’s illegal status, high school students across the nation consistently report it is easier for them to buy marijuana than it is to buy alcohol or tobacco. Strictly regulating those products and restricting sales to minors have lent to significant decreases in use and availability among teens. In other words, regulation is working; prohibition is not.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of current alcohol use among U.S. high school students dropped from 51.6% in 1995 to 32.8% in 2015. The rate of cigarette use dipped from 34.8% to 10.8%. Meanwhile, the rate of marijuana use remained relatively steady during that same period of time.
Nevada has experienced the same trends, with teen alcohol and cigarette use dropping from 43.4% and 19.6% in 2003, respectively, to 33.5% and 7.5% in 2015. Marijuana use, however, experienced only a slight drop from 22.3% to 19.3%.
Reduce Marijuana Consumers’ Exposure to Other Illegal Products
By keeping marijuana illegal, we are forcing those who seek it into an underground market where it is sold exclusively by individuals who are willing to break the law. Naturally, some of these individuals will have other illegal products available, including drugs that are far more harmful than marijuana. Question 2 would regulate marijuana and restrict its sale to licensed stores, as we currently do with alcohol. In doing so, it will dramatically reduce consumers’ exposure to harder drugs and their temptation to experiment with them.
Regulating marijuana will also ensure that consumers know what they are getting when they purchase marijuana. Illegal marijuana dealers are not subject to quality standards, and they are not testing or labeling their products. In the system proposed by Question 2, marijuana producers and retailers will need to adhere to strict rules and regulations similar to those governing the production and sale of alcohol.
Take Marijuana Sales Out of the Hands of Criminals
Marijuana prohibition has relegated the sale of marijuana to criminal enterprises, exposing many consumers to potentially dangerous people. And since marijuana is illegal, these individuals are unable to rely on law enforcement officials to step in when business-related disputes and incidents occur. All too often, this results in violence that affects not just marijuana dealers and consumers, but the broader communities surrounding them.
Marijuana is also a significant source of income for individuals and groups involved in other criminal activities. For example, much of the violence escalating on the Mexican border revolves around the actions of Mexican drug cartels fighting over profits from marijuana sales. In fact, former U.S. Drug Czar John Walters told the Associated Press in 2008, that marijuana is the biggest source of income for these ruthless narcoterrorist organizations. Whether they are large-scale drug cartels or small-town street gangs, the vast supply and demand surrounding marijuana will ensure they have a constant stream of profits to subsidize other illegal activities. Regulating marijuana like alcohol would eliminate this income source and, in turn, eliminate the violence and turf battles associated with the illegal marijuana market.
The illegal marijuana market also puts money in criminals’ pockets and takes it out of taxpayers’. Illegal marijuana dealers do not collect taxes on their sales, and they do not pay taxes on their income. Question 2 establishes a 15% excise tax on licensed marijuana cultivators and subjects marijuana to standard state and local sales taxes, which combined will cover the cost of regulation and raise approximately $20 million annually for Nevada schools.