America "needs to get to its children, before its children get to the drugs." I’ve always believed in those words and went so far as coining it as a spokesperson for the DARE program in South Florida some years ago. Do I still believe it? Absolutely. But when it comes to marijuana, I now believe the way to achieve that vaulted goal is not through criminalization, but rather education.
That’s right, it’s time to do as the Uruguayans and legalize marijuana.
Uruguay appears set on becoming the first country in the world to license and enforce rules for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adult consumers. It appears they’ve beaten us and many countries around the world to the punch.
Crime rates in countries where marijuana is decriminalized is much lower than in the United States, while billions of our tax dollars are spent on enforcement.
Beginning next year, marijuana will be sold by the Uruguayan government at a dollar a gram. The measure is so popular in the country's capital of Montevideo, it’s already passed the lower house and is expected to pass the senate later this year.
Why are they doing it and why will it be sold so cheap? Julio Calzada, Uruguay’s drug czar, says it’s being done to destroy the marijuana market for illegal dealers.
It’s economics 101: By driving up the supply and thereby reducing the price, the "narcos" are driven out — not with weapons, violence and armed confrontations, but rather with simple math. Cripple the marijuana market and you cripple the bad guys who live off of — and kill — for it.
Will other Latin American countries follow suit? Given the extraordinary toll the drug war takes on average citizens and the number of lives lost each year, it would not come as a surprise to see others put forward similar legislation.
How about us here in the good 'ol USA, should we follow suit? It may be best to view it less as an argument on behalf of marijuana usage and more as an appeal to common sense and economic viability. Marijuana by itself is proven to be much less harmful and dangerous to individuals and those around them than alcohol consumption.
Yet, unlike alcohol, pot is not taxed, regulated or applied to any logical business model. Instead, it is left in a vacuum, which is filled by criminals ranging from low level street dealers to sophisticated drug cartels. Why not take it away from them?
Crime rates in countries where marijuana is decriminalized is much lower than in the United States, while billions of our tax dollars are spent on enforcement. How much does the war on marijuana cost us each year? We're talking $42 billion, which could be better spent. For example, it could be used to hire 880,000 teachers at approximately $48,000 a year.
I like the trade-off, and here’s why. What better way is there to get our youth than through education? Use that money to give our youth more facts and more knowledge. I can think of no better way.
I salute the Uruguayans who say they are implementing their breakthrough model for economic reasons, but I encourage them to go even a step further.
They should apply whatever economic gains they derive exclusively on education, because Uruguay — like us — "needs to get to their children before those children get to the drugs."