Tom Tancredo: Marijuana prohibition has failed us

Exactly 80 years ago, the people of this great state passed a ballot initiative declaring an end to the misguided big-government policy experiment that was alcohol prohibition. One year later, the federal government followed.

This November, the voters of Colorado have the opportunity to repeat history.

On the ballot is Amendment 64, an initiative that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and regulate the production and sale of the substance.

In many ways, marijuana prohibition is very similar to alcohol prohibition. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their impact on public safety.

In the 1920s, alcohol prohibition led to the widespread proliferation of violent criminal organizations who corrupted politicians and law enforcement officials to illegally peddle booze to otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Similarly, by keeping marijuana illegal for the last 75 years, we have created a black market that helps fuel some of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world. These narcoterrorists, who have operatives spread throughout the U.S., are wreaking havoc on our southern borders and are a menace to American businesses with operations in Mexico and South America.

Amendment 64 would take the marijuana business out of the hands of the drug cartels, by regulating and taxing marijuana in a similar manner to alcohol. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess a limited amount of marijuana and to purchase marijuana at stores licensed by the state.

I am endorsing Amendment 64 not despite my conservative beliefs, but because of them.

Throughout my career in public policy and in public office, I have fought to reform or eliminate wasteful and ineffective government programs. There is no government program or policy I can think of that has failed in such a unique way as marijuana prohibition.

Our nation is spending tens of billions of dollars annually in an attempt to prohibit adults from using a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol.

Yet marijuana is still widely available in our society. We are not preventing its use; we are merely ensuring that all of the profits from the sale of marijuana (outside the medical marijuana system) flow to the criminal underground.

Regardless of what ultimately happens on the federal level, we have an opportunity to stop pouring money into a failed system in Colorado. According to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, we current spend anywhere from $25 to $40 million dollars per year arresting, citing, processing, and prosecuting marijuana offenders throughout the state. A recent report from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that savings achieved through eliminating these law enforcement costs, combined with increased tax revenues generated from the legal production and sale of marijuana, would net the state $60 million in the first year alone.

In addition to the economic and public safety arguments for ending marijuana prohibition, I also support Amendment 64 for a much broader, philosophical reason.

Marijuana prohibition is perhaps the oldest and most persistent nanny-state law we have in the U.S. We simply cannot afford a government that tries to save people from themselves. It is not the role of government to try to correct bad behavior, as long as those behaviors are not directly causing physical harm to others.

To be clear, I do not consider marijuana use a good thing for society. I have never used marijuana personally and do not encourage others to indulge. But as the son of a violent alcoholic, I know enough to appreciate that it is irrational to have laws in place that allow the use of alcohol, yet punish adults who choose to use a less harmful and less dangerous substance.

Across the board, our current system of marijuana prohibition has failed. It has failed to protect our kids from drug dealers pushing other, far more dangerous drugs, it has failed to keep our borders safe, and it has failed to use taxpayer dollars in the most responsible and efficient manner possible.

It is time to try something new. Please join me in voting yes on Amendment 64 this November.

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