It's A Gray Area: Legalizing pot would solve many ills

At the end of my Sept. 7 column, I asked you to respond to me about any area of importance to you, and I would show to your satisfaction how it was made worse by marijuana prohibition. So many of you took me up on my offer that I want to share my answers. So here goes:

Under our curent system, marijuana is the largest cash crop in California — No. 2 is grapes. But when a product like marijuana is made illegal, it is pushed underground. So these are some of the obvious and not so obvious results:

•There is no licensing, so we have no idea who is raising, packaging or selling what.

•The time and place of sales are left to illegal dealers.

•There is no quality control. So today many sellers lace their product with methamphetamines, so that they can make more money from their soon-to-be addicted customers. That does not happen with cigarettes.

•There are no age restrictions. As a result, it is easier for young people to buy marijuana than alcohol. Ask them yourself.

•The sellers of even legal medical marijuana are often prohibited from having bank accounts. So having large amounts of cash on the premises makes them prime candidates for robberies. This results in them arming themselves for their own protection, which results in more gun violence.

•The tougher we get on marijuana offenses, literally the softer we get on all other prosecutions. For example, today we have hundreds of thousands of arrests nationwide each year for marijuana violations, of which about 85% are for possession. This leaves fewer resources for the prosecution of offenses like robbery, rape and murder.

•Possessing or using marijuana puts many people on parole or probation back in jail or prison.

•Large illegal growers almost always raise their marijuana in our national forests, so their land cannot be confiscated by the government if they are caught. And because the growers have no concerns about environmental laws, they divert streams and otherwise pollute the land.

•The work ethic of our young people is being corrupted. Imagine a party of high school students on a summer evening. A well-known teenage marijuana seller is talking with another student who has a summer job. So how much money did you make this week flipping hamburgers or working at the car wash? $150? Boy are you a sucker, I can earn four times that much in an afternoon selling marijuana. And everyone there knows he is right.

•Juvenile street gangs are using the selling of marijuana as a recruiting tool. Effectively.

•Our farmers are prohibited from growing industrial hemp. Thus our merchants must import this versatile and valuable product from "radical" countries like Canada, where it is a billion-dollar industry. Hemp products can be used for making plywood, lacquer, fuel that is better than ethanol from corn, cloth that is more durable than cotton, seeds that are highly nutritious, rope and more. The hemp industry could revitalize many regions of our country.

•Loss of respect for the law. Today we see rampant hypocrisy in our laws, as shown by some people openly using marijuana without fear of prosecution, while others end up in jail. In addition, natural marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, which means it has no viable medical usage, while synthetic marijuana, known as Marinol, is a Schedule II drug, so it can legally be prescribed by a medical doctor. How can this happen? Because pharmaceutical companies can make money on Marinol but not on the natural substance.

•Huge tax revenues are being lost. Would you rather have these profits go to Mexican drug cartels and juvenile street gangs, or have them used to pay our firefighters and teachers and fix our highways? The California attorney general just last year prepared a ballot summary for an initiative that would treat marijuana like wine. It said our state would save tens of millions of dollars each year in enforcement costs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional taxes if the initiative passed.

•This would be a victory for freedom by getting the government out of the business of deciding what adults can put into their bodies. Our health decisions are none of the government's business.

These are just some of the issues raised by your questions. I thought you would be interested in the answers.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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