Op Ed Submission to the NY Times

The following is a letter issued to the NY Times by one of NC NORML’s founding members, Alex Bumgardner. Alex is active in the Charlotte NORML chapter and has been instrumental in filing NC NORML’s legal papers to obtain its federal non-profit status.  He is aware of the local law enforcement issues at stake as NC NORML continues its push to ensure North Carolinian’s have safe access to cannabis.

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On January 26, 2014, Kirk Johnson’s headline in the New York Times stated “Cannabis Legal, Localities Begin to Just Say No.”   With increasing legal access to marijuana, individual municipalities have moved to prohibit both the sales and cultivation of marijuana in their communities.  Given the rapid changes occurring in the reform of marijuana laws, it is appropriate that citizens have discussions about various viewpoints, social issues, and potential solutions.

Presently, three issues need to be discussed.  The first issue regards localities moving to prevent the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana, as well as possible personal cultivation. The second issue involves the impact on the receipt of taxes to fill state coffers.  The third issue regards the disparate approaches to marijuana reform, including a debate as to whether a national industry should exist, or if a more “patchwork” form will take root.

As Fresno, CA, and other municipalities have demonstrated, some communities simply aren’t comfortable with hosting a full blown marijuana industry, medical or otherwise.  On one hand, such an industry has revitalized places like Oakland, CA.  On the other hand, cities such as L.A. fear a laissez-faire influx of marijuana related businesses and consumers will hurt the local economy.

Communities in California, Washington, and Colorado, those trying to “Just Say No” to much needed reform, are afraid that changes in the law will permanently and negatively impact their way of life.  Whether these fears involve increased drug abuse, juvenile access to marijuana, the smell or the industrial waste of cultivation, higher crime rates, etc., every potential issue can be effectively addressed through dialogue based on mutual respect.

Communities deserve the right to regulate industry and business as they think best.  This is why zoning laws exist; allowing communities to decide on the presence of marijuana-related businesses would be no different.  In fact, this would be the same approach taken by the states after the repeal of the 21st Amendment.  However, the real issue concerns ending the prosecution and arrest of both recreational and medicinal marijuana users.  These actions destroy communities, alter lives perpetually, and come at the expense of the communities to which the users belong.  So long as a user or patient may consume marijuana in their private residence, and so long as they are not disturbing others, municipalities should remain free to determine the make-up of their social fabric.

The prospect of increased tax revenues has made marijuana reforms appealing, especially given lean economic times.  But diminished tax revenues should be of little concern to all involved because of other, greater, more meaningful benefits: the savings from monies no longer spent on prosecutions, arrests, and imprisonment of marijuana users, decreased time constraints on judges hearing marijuana-related cases, on investigations and the time spent processing arrestees for trivial marijuana offenses, and so on.

Further, billions of dollars in the annual budget of U.S. Law Enforcement can be spent fighting traffickers, militants, rapists, thieves, killers, and terrorists.  Instead, enforcing marijuana prohibition costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $10 Billion annually.  Even if municipalities refuse taxes from the sale of marijuana, all other economic benefits will continue to accrue to their communities, to their states, and to the country as a whole.

How will the reform of marijuana laws at the local, state, and national levels form a cohesive whole?  And what forms will the respective laws take on? Will we simply decriminalize marijuana, or will it be fully legalized? Will this apply solely to the sick in need of medicine, or will it apply to all users of marijuana?  We must consider the benefits of complete legalization, for that is the only method in which we may control access to marijuana.  A federal framework that allows states to draw on their traditional sovereign powers, similar to what occurred following the end of alcohol prohibition, will provide a solution for an overarching system of law. Communities will then retain the right to decide for themselves how marijuana reform will take shape.

If we are concerned with preventing juveniles from obtaining recreational marijuana, preventing gangs and drug cartels from having economic access to our markets, or proactively treating drug addiction, we cannot fail to eliminate the black market and all associated criminal enterprises.  Otherwise, these social problems will perpetually remain a thorn in our nation’s side.  The legalization of marijuana is not a panacea for our nation’s problems, but the creation of well-written laws, based on the input of all parties, will go a long way in providing real solutions for economic hardship, protecting our children, reducing recidivism and criminal activity.

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