the sad tales of economic hardship mount, a nice daydream
keeps recurring in my mind. It supposes that new life has
been granted to an outlawed plant.
In this reverie, I walk into a convenience store to get a
newspaper and fill my coffee mug, as usual. The cool part
is that the store sells a new type of cigarette; they’re behind
the counter with the rest, but they contain potent varieties
of both imported and locally grown marijuana.
The state of New York levies a $5 tax on every purchase, for
a total cost of $20 or $30 a pack, depending on the flavor.
Despite obvious health hazards, these smokes are tremendously
popular, yielding almost $1 billion in taxes annually for
the state budget.
I ask politely for two packs of the joints on the top shelf,
in the bright green box, intent on sharing them with friends
in safe places.
At this point I typically snap out of it, and reality sets
back in. But this vivid image about the illicit cannabis plant
species always returns.
I am convinced that our sagging economy would see rapid improvements
if we legalized, and taxed, all sorts of products derived
from cannabis. Marijuana cigarettes, in particular, could
be widely sold and consumed in America.
ridiculous!” shout the naysayers. “It’ll never happen.”
Yet it seems more and more apparent that the expensive, failed
prohibition of cannabis is what’s truly ridiculous here. For
starters, no democratic government should prohibit the cultivation
of a plant species that’s virtually worth its weight in gold.
Political attitudes toward cannabis are slowly starting to
change, as small but growing numbers of public officials also
advocate for legalization. One such group is Law Enforcement
Against Prohibition, based near Boston, which claims a national
membership of 10,000 police officers, prosecutors, and judges.
A report that LEAP released in December compares the last
days of alcohol prohibition to our modern war on drugs, and
concludes that full legalization of narcotics should be promptly
instituted by federal, state, and local governments.
are in the early but unmistakable phase of an historic moment
in which prohibition will be put on the defensive and revealed
as unworkable, inexcusable, and expendable,” the group argues.
“At a moment that is as economically threatening to millions
of Americans as the Great Depression, we would do well to
learn the lessons that history so clearly and compellingly
provides and repeal prohibition.”
Ratification of the 21st Amendment, which reversed the 13-year-long
constitutional ban on alcohol, was completed in December 1933,
according to a LEAP chronology of those tumultuous times.
The federal law that squelched cannabis production appeared
only a few years later.
Before passage of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, cannabis was
firmly rooted in our nation’s agricultural economy. There
are numerous ways in which this resilient plant can be used
for economic gain, including in the production of paper, rope,
clothing, fuel, medicine, soaps, lotions, and nutritional
In March 2007, the Congressional Research Service issued a
report titled “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity,” which reviewed
the status of the hemp industry and revealed exactly what
our farmers are missing. “Although total industrial hemp acreage
is small, farmers in more than 30 countries grow the crop
commercially for fiber, seed, and oil for use in a variety
of industrial and consumer products,” the CRS report says.
Unfortunately, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration
still inhibits the expansion of industrial hemp production,
fearing that large-scale planting of cannabis seeds will open
the floodgates for clandestine marijuana operations.
Indeed, for more than 70 years, unreasonable fears have been
spread far and wide about one distinct aspect of cannabis:
the fact that its plump buds, profuse on well-maintained female
plants, can be dried and smoked by people who enjoy the mellow
But the majority of stoners are decent and otherwise law-abiding
citizens, who moderate their pot habit so that it does not
affect jobs, relationships, or public safety. Potheads are
not crazed drug addicts or dealers who prey upon children
in schoolyards. They should be able to buy legal joints.
Instead, the federal government spends more than $19 billion
every year to fight drugs, according to LEAP. State and local
governments spend hundreds of millions more.
Right here in the Capital Region, many individuals are arrested
for nonviolent marijuana offenses year after year. Those who
avoid arrest face the threat of invasive, random drug tests
Still, the bags of marijuana buds are just as plentiful and
pungent as ever. For most reefer smokers, they’re just a phone
In other words, it appears to be an impossible task, and an
utter waste of tax dollars, to enforce the laws against cannabis.
The popular demand for these buds, much like our collective
thirst for booze, simply cannot be stopped.
I would even argue that the prohibition of marijuana seems
wholly unpatriotic. Have we forgotten that this is the land
of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Huge numbers
of Americans are being forced to suffer—arbitrarily deprived
of a better life—without access to the medicinal qualities
of cannabis. Thousands of people who grow, distribute, possess,
or smoke marijuana are hunted down like terrorists and robbed
of their liberty, at taxpayer expense. And responsible adults
are unable to seek out and purchase those $20 packs of happiness
In a recession that deepens on a daily basis, the best public
policy would be to get rid of the Marijuana Tax Act and all
related laws, and to restore cannabis to its legitimate place
as a well-regulated crop. Now is the time, as another growing
season approaches, to take action on this amazing species.
A new life for cannabis in America could mean billions in
taxes made available to governments, countless job opportunities
for the unemployed, a sustainable industry to redevelop in
every state. Talk about green jobs!
For these and other valid reasons, this horticultural dream
will never die.