DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: “Children are growing up with a total lack of respect for the Constitution and for the law,” Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee, said in regard to prohibition in 1932. “The young see the law broken at home and upon the street,” she added. “Can we expect them to be lawful?”
Sabin was the founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform that helped legalize the sale of alcohol. She graced the cover of Time magazine in 1932 for inspiring the movement to overturn the disastrous eighteenth amendment that helped finance Depression-era lawlessness.
Republicans could take a page from her playbook on the issue of marijuana prohibition today. With non-violent arrests occurring every 36 seconds, overcrowding our prisons, and depleting billions of dollars from our federal and state coffers every year, we — all Americans — should consider prohibition repeal as critical to the state of our nation as debt reduction and healthcare reform.
Doubt me? If I can change my mind, so can you. In 2009, I helped manage a Republican primary campaign in my congressional district to oust Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), my congressman. One newsletter that I signed as campaign director called weed a “troubling substance” and any measure to normalize it a “blatant disregard” for our district’s values.
My position was pretty standard. Bush speechwriter David Frum, notable for styling himself right-of-center on issues like gun violence, recently echoed the same rhetoric in an op-ed for CNN, warning of the rise of “Big Marijuana” and calling any medicinal use a “laughable fiction.”
Here’s the thing: Sabin was right, Frum is wrong, and I was once as wrong as my pro-temperance great-grandmother. We need Big Marijuana. Republicans owe it to their party as much as our Constitution and nation to help decriminalize, legalize, tax, and regulate it as soon as possible.
The benefits far outweigh fears about gateway addiction and moral decline as dated as those of the Temperance Movement.
With $20 billion in debt, Detroit became the largest U.S. city to file for Chapter 11 protection in July. The Michigan metropolis joined a list of seven other cities to declare bankruptcy after years of crippling debt and financial crisis.
Though far from a magic bullet, studies show that marijuana legalization could help cash-strapped states and cities solider through ongoing budget shortfalls. One by the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, suggested in 2010 that legalization could generate as much as $8.7 billion in annual revenue for federal and state coffers. A prominent tax blog compiled data from different sources last year to show that legalizing marijuana could help nine states slash their deficits by double-digit percentages.
A newly legal pot industry — as well-regulated as businesses licensed to sell alcohol or tobacco — could spur a wave of new jobs and start-ups needed to stimulate the economy. The pro-legalization organization NORML cites a 1994 study on its website that used job data from Amsterdam to suggest that business spin-offs like coffeehouses, gardening tools, and more could create more than 60,000 retailers and 100,000 careers.
Colorado offers a working example in real-time, with the amendment that passed last year expected to supply roughly $100 million in projected annual tax revenue and savings for the state, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. Those dollars will come from a combined $23.2 million in state and local sales taxes as well as from 372 new jobs created as a result of the amendment, with those numbers set to double over the next four years.
Pot legalization offers a clear advantage to struggling states and cities, and we could use the tax revenue to decrease the chances that other cities will end up like Detroit.