Saturday, January 31, 2009

Right Place, Right Time, Right Precedent

There are certain historical moments that, in retrospect, could have only happened with the unique combination of circumstances, individuals, and timing. The saying "Only Nixon could have gone to China" exemplifies this: only a man who had been so rabidly anti-Communist could have been the one to reach out to the leader of the most populous Communist nation on Earth, at the time that war raged through proxies of each, to usher in a new d├ętente. Only Lincoln could have ended slavery, and endured a civil war as a result. And only FDR could have led this nation back from the Great Depression with unprecedented powers we would have entrusted to no one else.

FDR's situation is particularly poignant today. He was a little-known politician, most famous for being a cousin of a former president. He was a member of a minority, being handicapped. He ran for office, promising change, in the worst economic time in the country's history. In fact, the country was so desperate for change, having endured 8 years of agony, that alone brought this unlikely leader into office on a new wave of optimism. Sound at all familiar?

FDR, like our newly elected President, faced a grave financial situation. With the nation's economy in free fall, and shrinking tax revenue to use to drive new initiatives, he was forced to look at new ways to address the problem. The question remained: how to get new tax revenue without putting an undue burden on an already suffering people? There was an easy solution: end Prohibition.

People clearly were already spending their money on this inexpensive release valve, and they were paying higher prices because of the illegality; the government was spending millions of dollars to police and enforce this, all for nothing. And alcohol had already been legal, and the world had not ended. By ending Prohibition, FDR would save the government money, reward the taxpayer with inexpensive access to a recreational mechanism that would help ease their pain, and would generate new tax income. In 1933, in his first year in office, FDR did just that. Unsurprisingly, this act succeeded in helping to lead the country out of the Depression, established Social Security, and, combined with a new spirit of contribution, arguably made the single biggest impact on the building of the true United States.

So, President Obama comes into office, faced with remarkably similar circumstances as FDR. Well, Mr. Obama, there is a simple solution for you, too, and best of all, it's already been proven successful by one of the greatest presidents ever: repeal the ban on marijuana.

Let me make my position clear. I do not smoke or use marijuana in any way. This is not out of some prurient interest; I simply am not fond of the effects, and I prefer to not inhale smoke (I stick to cigars for that reason). This is not to say that I have never done so; I certainly have, and quite extensively, though it has been more than 2 decades since I last did so. I am also absolutely not against anyone being denied their right to smoke pot: study after study has shown that it's effects are far better than our nation's drug of choice, alcohol, and it's far less addictive. It has positive medical uses, it's easier to consume, and it has far less long-term health impacts. And the hemp plant (a derivation) is incredibly robust: it can be used for clothing, building materials...it's the ultimate "green" substance, in a time we are trying to wean ourselves off of industrialism.

Repealing the ban on marijuana consumption would:
  • Generate much needed tax revenue for an administration who needs it to help our economy transition to a new skill set
  • Allow people who are paying, illegally, high prices to consume an extremely inexpensive resource, generating more capital for them to spend in the economy
  • Create "green" jobs, as industries race to embrace the farming mechanisms needed to produce this on a consistent quality level
  • End the billions of dollars being spent to police, jail, and fruitlessly pursue the current purveyors and consumers.
  • Allow the suffering American a new way to ease the pain of living in such lean economic times at an inexpensive price.
The list goes on, and actually these folks do a far better job of making the case. But the bottom line is the same: the time is right, the country's mood is right, the president is right. And if he's not willing to step up to the same risk as FDR was, here's a suggestion: let Arnold Schwarzenegger give it a try.

California's broke (the world's 8th largest economy); we've got massive layoffs in a sector that traditionally employs a far more educated consumer (tech) who would prefer pot over beer; and we are in a state that already is perceived by the world as wackos. We have medical marijuana laws on the books, and the north part of the state is one of the largest illegal suppliers of pot to the world today. Why not capitalize on all of that, and allow a governor who is barred by US law from serving in a higher office to take the risk as a pilot? As President, Obama would only have to agree to allow the experiment, not take the actions himself, but if it succeeds, he could take the credit. And Schwarzenegger? He's an actor; he'll play his part as the great outsider, as long as it gets him re-elected.

There are, of course, some thorny issues to resolve. How would production and distribution be set up? What happens to those in prison for marijuana offenses today? If it is California who takes the first step, how do we treat visitors from other states? But those are all issues we can resolve, and quickly. The sheer act of stopping enforcement will free up so much budget money that Californians can have their state fund for unemployment, emergency medical treatment, and eduction; the tax revenue it generates will help create jobs, repair critical infrastructure, and encourage new investment.

A few short days ago, this country celebrated a milestone, ushering in a President like no other in history to office on a wave of enthusisasm and faith not seen since JFK. Only Nixon could go to China, and only BHO could bring the THC.