September 14, 2018 10:23:46 AM
On Monday, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics busted a marijuana-growing operation in Jefferson Davis County. That itself is not uncommon. Marijuana plots are common throughout sparsely populated rural America and many are detected and destroyed and the growers brought to justice.
But it was the scale of this week's bust that made it a conversation piece -- seven separate fields covering 40 acres with a crop estimated as much as $70 million. Although details were scant as officials continue the investigation, there is some belief that this operation is the work of a cartel because of the sophistication of the operation.
For some, the specter of a drug cartel operating in Mississippi raised the need for tighter border security in the form of President Trump's wall across the US/Mexico border.
Rather than debate the relevance of that claim or the effectiveness of such a wall, this incident raises another point worthy of consideration.
Imagine, if that marijuana operation was legal and the product taxed. Now, imagine if that were true throughout the nation. We're talking hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that could reduce our existing tax burden or be spent on a wide variety of real needs, everything from infrastructure to health care to education.
Now, consider the cost of policing these illegal operations in terms of law enforcement resources.
Finally, consider the practical reality of marijuana use today and what we can glean from history when government was charged with the futile job of eliminating a product that a great part of the population insisted on using whether it was legal or not.
A Marist survey in 2017 showed that 35 million Americans smoke marijuana on a monthly basis. That's a little less than 10 percent of the entire population. That same survey said 78 million (a fifth of all Americans) have smoked marijuana at least once and 55 million (1 in 6 Americans) have smoked marijuana during a calendar year.
As more and more states legalize and tax marijuana, it's clear that the stigma of marijuana as a dangerous illegal drug has subsided and efforts to control operations are bordering on futility.
The old arguments for why marijuana should continue to be illegal just aren't satisfying, especially as its benefits in pain management are gaining credence.
It is time to take an enlightened, practical and honest look at marijuana and recognize that it should be legal, regulated and taxed.
It is a lesson we should have learned from the Prohibition era, when Congress criminalized the production and distribution of alcohol. It achieved nothing other than to make multi-millionaires out of criminal organizations while endangering the thirsty public, which turned to illegal alcohol that was not held to any safety standards.
After 12 years, Congress saw the folly of Prohibition and alcohol returned to being a legal, regulated and taxed commodity.
Surely we have reached that point with marijuana.
If you want to prevent drug cartels from setting up shop in Mississippi, legalizing marijuana and using economic principles will be far more effective than to erecting a wall.
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