During a 700 Club broadcast earlier this month, evangelical firebrand Pat Robertson repeatedhis belief that marijuana should be decriminalized, and that “every time the liberals pass a bill—I don’t care what it involves—they stick criminal sanctions on it. They don’t feel there is any way people are going to keep a law unless they can put them in jail.”
Right on cue, Jimmy Carter’s former secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph A. Califano has an op-ed in the Washington Post begging—nay, demanding—that Robertson think of the children:
I can’t understand why an evangelical leader like the Rev. Robertson, who claims to be so devoted to protecting the young in our materialistic, instant-gratification, sexually-charged modern society, would want to legalize a third drug like marijuana, when we have shown such little ability to keep our two legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol, out of the hands of our children and teens.
In World War II we used to say, “ Loose lips sink ships.” In debates about the war on drugs, loose lips can sink children and teens.
Parents and teachers, clergy, and everyone involved in a child’s life should understand that marijuana is a risky and addictive drug with serious health and social consequences. Rev. Robertson, before you speak again on this subject please remember this: Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are dangerous.
As for Robertson’s suggestion that pot be regulated like alcohol and tobacco, Califano rejects it out of hand:
Contrary to Robertson’s belief that legalizing marijuana will reduce our nation’s incarceration rates, the fact is that only 2 percent of all inmates are incarcerated for marijuana possession as their controlling or only offense.
Indeed, legalizing marijuana will likely increase criminal activity. Some two-thirds of incarcerated felons (1.5 million) meet the medical criteria for addiction and marijuana is commonly one of the first steps on the road to other drug addiction.
Most violent felonies, such as murder, rape and aggravated assault, occur when the perpetrator is high or drunk, and the lion’s share of property crime involves people seeking money to buy drugs. And the legal drug alcohol that Robertson wants marijuana to be treated like is implicated in more violent crime than any other substance.
The notion that taxing sales of marijuana will provide a windfall for our public coffers is another (bong) pipe dream. For every $1 of taxes on tobacco and alcohol, our nation incurs $9 in state and federal health-care, criminal justice and social-service costs. These costs will skyrocket if legalization becomes the norm, increasing the drain on our public coffers.
Perhaps Califanohasn’t read up on Portugal, which decriminalized drugs across the board and saw its addiction rates plummet; the occurrence of new HIV cases plummet; drug-related crimes plummet; and drug-related law enforcement spending plummet.
As for the one-dollar-in-nine-dollars-out claim: The Office of National Drug Control Policy will have a budget of around $25.6 billion next year, and local and state governments will spend billions more of their own tax revenue investigating, arresting, trying, and locking up users and dealers; treating uninsured meth makers for third degree burns (incurred via the shake-and-bake method, itself a product of anti-meth policies); giving public assistance to drug-war widows and orphans; and drug-testing unemployed people applying for both jobs and unemployment benefits. Forget one dollar in, nine dollars out: This year, just like last year and every year before it, the U.S. will takes zero dollars in—because you can’t tax something that’s illegal—and fork out billions.
But Conservatives are racists and want to keep blacks in prison, while Democrats are soooo coool. Yeah, okay