Drugs, Drinks and the law

A couple of days ago, I analyzed and commented upon Kim Ogg’s plan for eliminating arrests for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Ogg, the Democratic candidate for Harris County District Attorney, took a stance unfathomable just two or three years ago. Under her proposals, all individuals caught with 4 ounces or less of marijuana, even repeat offenders, would be cited by police instead of arrested. Offenders would then have to show up for court on a day their ticket would proscribe. Once at court, offenders could easily enter into a short community service program to have the charge dismissed. If Ogg is elected, the implementation of the program will put Harris County on equal footing with many more progressive locations for its de facto decriminalization of the possession of marijuana.

Considering the constraints that a DA has, this is the most relaxed position on marijuana possible without some assistance from the State Legislature. State Law allows DAs to implement this cite-and-release program for misdemeanor offenses, but not felonies, so the same prosecutorial discretion toward possession of more than 4 ounces of  marijuana is a non-starter. Texas does not have a system of direct democracy through referendums the way that California, Colorado or Washington state does, for example, so all change must originate from the State Legislature.

This topic continues to be in the news after a major bombshell of opinion news today. The New York Times‘ Editorial Board called this morning for the repeal of the Federal prohibition on marijuana, leaving the decision to legalize up to the individual States. The Times went even further by suggesting that States would be correct to legalize.

I do not think Texpatriate has ever published an official editorial advocating for legalization, but that is surely not for lack of support; more likely because the issue never broached state or local politics enough to justify the discussion. Astute followers will recognize by now that I am personally a big proponent of marijuana legalization, for a couple of different reasons. First, as the overwhelming evidence suggests in Colorado and Washington, legalization will drastically increase revenue for the State, funds that may go to constructive projects such as roads and schools. Second, the use of marijuana is one of personal responsibility, and should not be dictated by the government.

Marijuana poses no true physical risk to its user. It is not addictive and it does not harm you. It is impossible to overdose on it. But this should not be the grounds with which we determine the legality of intoxicants? After all, alcohol poisoning is an all too present feature in the college environment, and tobacco (nicotine, precisely) is arguably more addictive than heroin. But both alcohol and tobacco are completely legal in the United States, and widely distributed and available to the general public.

Ogg makes a great start with her GRACE program, but much work is surely left to be done. However, nearly all this work must be taken at the State Legislature. As for myself, I have a few other suggestions that will be sure to stoke the embers, so to speak, and should facilitate some discussion on drug policy. I consider myself an unabashed libertarian on these issues, so I suspect that many of my usually most-loyal allies will find something to disagree with me on here.

First things first, I think Congress should remove all Federal crimes involving the possession of any drug, or the distribution of any drug if it does not actually involve interstate acts. What this means is that the drug trafficker or conspiracy must actually spread across multiple states, and may not merely involve drugs that could plausibly have affected multiple states. I also think Congress should repeal the asinine National Minimum Drinking Age Act, first passed thirty years, which coerces States into raising their drinking ages to 21 or risk forfeiture of highway funding.

Congress has no right to meddle in State issues like that, and the entire idea of entangling a completely unrelated item such as highway funding to vice is patently absurd. I even agree with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that the scheme is unconstitutional.

When it comes to State laws, I have a similarly ambitious idea for what needs to happen. Non-cannabis drugs such as cocaine or an opioid should be effective decriminalized, so that all focus is placed on the treatment of addiction to these debilitating drugs.  The production, distribution and sales of these substances should still be zealously prosecuted.

As for drinking laws, I think the drinking age should be lowered to 18, if not lower for beer and wine. There is the obvious problem about the age of majority being 18 (e.g., you can serve in the army but not have a beer), but it also could inversely cut down alcohol fatalities. A key problem with binge drinking on campus is that, with bars out of the question, young people flock to underground parties, often with mysterious punches spiked with some unknown substance. When the drinking gets out of hand, students will be less likely to seek help if they think that they will get in trouble.

Obviously, this is all wishful thinking given the current political realities of our system. But it is important to keep an open mind on political topics that are still on the horizon. Who would have thought that the legalization of marijuana would enter the mainstream so quickly as of two years ago? Who is to say that the decriminalization of other drugs or the lowering of the drinking age should not be next?

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