March 02, 2015 12:00 am • James C. Wilson
On Feb. 20, U.S. Representatives Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, introduced two new bills for federal marijuana legalization. The U.S. government’s practice of imprisoning, fining, harassing and stigmatizing marijuana users is tragic and has damaged many lives. Ending prohibition is a welcome change, but these bills have severe problems. If passed, they would turn marijuana into a cartelized industry rather than a business opportunity for everyday people.
Blumenaur’s bill, The Marijuana Tax Revenue Act of 2015 (HR 1014) would place a federal excise tax on marijuana, and occupational taxes on the marijuana-related businesses. Polis’s HR 1013, The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, would end federal prohibition of marijuana and transfer enforcement from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bills would subject marijuana to the same sort of taxation and regulation as alcohol and tobacco, using Colorado as a nationwide model. Such a regime would lead to the development of "big marijuana" firms similar to "big alcohol" and "big tobacco."
Large conglomerates dominate the alcohol (Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller) and tobacco (Philip Morris’s and RJ Reynolds) markets, under the existing system of state-imposed excise taxes, licensing and mandatory three tier distribution. The extra costs of these requirements keep small producers out of these industries. The result is stifled competition and ripped off consumers. The same process would ultimately lead to "big marijuana" conglomerates with Anheuser-Bush-like market power and advertising budgets.
Supporters of marijuana prohibition are not getting any younger. More than 213 million Americans live in jurisdictions with some form of legal marijuana use. Growing numbers recognize marijuana as a means of relaxation, a catalyst for creativity and an exciting business opportunity. The only choice is whether to end prohibition in a way that keeps money in the hands of small producers and sellers, or one that concentrates it the hands of big business. The free market approach of decriminalization and nonintervention does the former. Polis and Blumenaur’s "regulate and tax" approach does the latter. If American twenty-somethings want to earn money by selling pot to their friends, let them. If it helps them pay their bills and keep themselves off welfare we are all better off for it.
Government interventions tend to benefit big business and economic elites at the expense of ordinary people. Marijuana policy is no exception. The state’s current prohibitionist policies benefit violent drug cartels, just as hyper-regulatory policies will benefit cartels of big corporations. This is just another area of life to get the state out of. In a free society consenting buyers and sellers can make their own decisions about marijuana. The state and big business can stay out of it.
James C. Wilson is an intern at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).