Is there any way on earth to end government gridlock?  Will it ever be possible for the “No!” party (See “The ‘No!’ Party,” 10/16/15) to plod forward and grapple with the yes-word instead?  Call me crazy, but I wanted to offer a couple of positive suggestions that might lead to (gasp!) change.   Surely by now a few of those Conservatives in Congress may have noticed that their beloved platforms of preserving status quo—and better yet, trying to turn back the clock— haven’t worked out so well.  Republicans seem dead set on lowering taxes for the wealthy and eliminating social programs, while Democrats are equally determined to raise taxes on the highest income brackets to pay for more social programs. Where is the middle ground?
     Maybe I’ll be labelled an “old hippie” (I’ve been called worse) for suggesting that we legalize marijuana in all 50 states. This idea is hardly revolutionary.  Legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington State has so far worked out extremely well.  Even Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who initially opposed legalization, has grudgingly admitted that there has been no a-pot-calypse: “It seems like people that were smoking before are smoking now.  What that means is we’re not having more drugged driving, or driving while high. But we’re going to have a system where we’re actually regulating and taxing that in the state of Colorado, and we’re not supporting a corrupt system of gangsters.”  (Hear, Hear!) Along with what has become a $700 million dollar pot industry—not to mention the associated benefits in added tax revenues and jobs—there has actually been a decrease in traffic fatalities. Yes, you heard that correctly.

                   Hey, Governor Cuomo, why aren’t you paying more attention?  New York State could use a multi-million dollar cash infusion too. Imagine all the jobs and tax revenues the marijuana industry could bring to the Big Apple and the rest of our over-taxed, under-serviced state.  Given that New York is a Democratic state,  with some of the highest state and city taxes in America,  I’m betting a lot of voters—even Republicans—would salivate over the idea of LOWERING individual taxes if the marijuana industry generated enough revenue. Think of all the jobs that would be created, all of the low level consumers and all of the young people who would no longer be prosecuted and sent to jail— at taxpayer expense— simply for smoking pot.   In addition to preventing the millions of wasted dollars on arrest and imprisonment of pot users, just think of all the people who would no longer have criminal records and who would be able to get jobs and become productive tax payers themselves.

     Or could it be that some powerful politicians and businessmen actually profit from jailing our youth and minorities? Consider this: why would any businessman running a privatized jail want to let a prisoner out when the Federal government will pay $40,000 annually to keep that inmate in his cell? Releasing pot smokers is just bad business for these powerful few, who employ their inmates at hourly rates of less than a dollar. (Should an inmate refuse to work for pennies, he or she can be sent into solitary until they reconsider.) With such a sweet deal on (slave) labor, why legalize marijuana? Are you already thinking of the famous mafia sentiment: “Nothing personal, it’s just business.”
     The question we have to ask ourselves is WHO do we want conducting business? Should it be the government or the gangsters? Right now, there’s a wide open field for organized crime in marijuana.  The government has lost its ridiculous war on pot many times over, as the weed has proven not only impossible to stamp out, but also medically beneficial. How about a little common sense across our great nation?  Pot is big business, and the weed is not going away anytime soon.
     Colorado isn’t the only state smart enough to benefit from legalizing marijuana. According to a one year status report in Washington State, legalizing pot has resulted in $83 million in tax revenues and provided funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment, among other much-needed services.  At the same time, there has been no increase in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities, while arrests for marijuana have plummeted 98%.  Sounds like a win-win-win. 
     Of course there will be naysayers. Some will argue that pot smoking harms long-term memory in adolescent brains, or that the negative effects of high THC levels are still unknown.  Others will speculate with gloom and doom that kids will start smoking pot younger.  The truth, as I see it, is that if the government passed laws to oversee the cultivation, possession and consumption of marijuana, young people who experiment (which they will continue to do whether pot is legal or not) will have safer drugs. Government quality control will be far safer than the current trickle down from organized crime cartels. Isn’t it time we put the gangsters out of business? Remember the opening scene of season 1 “Boardwalk Empire?” All the criminals are gathered at a fancy dinner in Atlantic City to toast the onset of prohibition with champagne. Prohibition is good news for organized crime and always has been. The remedy for this situation is obvious.

     After legalizing marijuana, the next logical step is to free the THOUSANDS of young people who have been unfairly incarcerated for low level drug offenses at enormous expense to taxpayers.  Let’s free the next generation to join the workforce, become stakeholders in the future of mankind and help solve some of the truly serious global problems plaguing our world.  If we consider teenagers “mature” enough to fight our wars and risk death in some God forsaken hell hole on the other side of the planet, we should not be arresting and imprisoning them for being adventurous enough to experiment with pot. The United States has more prisoners in jail than any other country in the world—at an astronomical financial and emotional cost.  Why do these disturbing statistics remain unchanged?  The Koch brothers and other wealthy corporate giants are profiting from prisoners who are forced to produce their products for miniscule pay—thus depriving our economy of more jobs and taxable income. The Netflix hit, “Orange is the New Black,” is addressing the issue of inmate employment and underpayment by corporate-run jails in the recently released season 3. The American fiasco of over-jailing our citizens—(right here in the land of the FREE and the brave!) is not a secret, but it continues nevertheless. Could it be that we just don’t care???

     The Justice Department is releasing 6,000 non-violent inmates, and Obama has already
pardoned 89 low-level drug offenders, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Check out “Overcrowded Prisons – Nightmare Nests,” 7/31/15).  Why not free all the non-violent, low-level drug offenders and spend money on rehab instead of jail, job training and education instead of preying on prisoners by using them as a source of cheap (slave?) labor. Maybe that sounds like a pipe dream.  But wouldn’t America be a lot better off if more people smoked that pipe?

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