Given the choice between hosting a drunkard or a pothead, I’d take the latter every time. One is likely to be a belligerent, irrational, blubbering example of an id run amok. The other is more likely to giggle for no reason and forget your name and the reason why he’s there.
I make this observation knowing that drug A is legal and widely available to anyone age 21 or older. Drug B, on the other hand, is classified as a federal Schedule I controlled substance, and possessing it can get you a bed at the gray bar motel. Yet I will wager that drug A exacts an exponentially heavier toll on society in terms of damage to human health, medical costs, violence and domestic dysfunction than does drug B.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate that people use marijuana – a substance that carries its own societal costs. Pot may have a narrow range of medicinal benefits, but let’s be serious. The vast majority of users just like to get high. The substance alters the mind and affects memory and concentration. Research shows that it may negatively affect the brain, especially a young person’s. Cannabis can be habit-forming and contribute to bouts of procrastination and loss of productivity. But when you talk about a drug scourge, marijuana can’t hold a candle to opioids or methamphetamine – highly addictive narcotics with the power to kill and shatter lives. More than 49,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
In 2014, 67,196 people in Texas were arrested for marijuana possession, according to the Department of Public Safety. Those thousands of annual arrests carry a price for counties, municipalities and the state. In 2010, the state spent an estimated $250 million in the apprehension, prosecution and incarceration of people caught with marijuana, according to an analysis by the ACLU.
While the criminal justice system busies itself with dispensing justice to marijuana users, a majority of Texans support loosening the reins on weed. A 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of registered voters shows that 30 percent believe marijuana should be legal for medical purposes; 32 percent said it should be legal in small amounts; 21 percent said any amount should be legal; and 17 percent said it should never be legal under any circumstance.
Politicians in both parties seem to be taking notice of shifting attitudes about pot. At the Texas Republican Party convention in 2017, attendees approved a platform plank calling for civil penalties instead of criminal prosecution for adults possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. Democrats called for complete legalization.
As Texas spends hundreds of millions throwing the book at potheads, some states are booking hundreds of millions in revenue from potheads. Colorado, for instance, collected $247 million in taxes, licenses and fees from the state’s marijuana industry in 2017.
It’s time for state officials here to face the facts: The resources put into stamping out pot use in Texas have failed to make a dent. It’s time to cut bait; it’s time to put that money and energy to use where it might actually make a difference.