Over the Hill

Can any law actually restrain marijuana use?

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Our City Council here in Paso Robles couldn’t decide last week whether to ban the delivery of medical marijuana to people within the city. The vote was a 2-2 deadlock. One councilman was absent.

The delivery ban failed, but the city may still refuse to grant business licenses for delivering medical marijuana. The city attorney was to check whether the city’s license ordinance covers such services. Selling medical marijuana from fixed locations in Paso Robles was banned in 2007.

Different levels of government have different marijuana rules. Federal law bans marijuana for any use, but California and some other states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

But can any law actually restrain marijuana use? The tidal wave of marijuana users already seems too high to stop. When a large percentage of Americans wants to do something, laws against doing it often prove futile.

The best example is Prohibition. It was a federal law and constitutional amendment that outlawed alcoholic drinks nationwide in 1920. It lasted 13 years.

But that was too long. Bootlegging paid huge profits. Gangsters got rich and powerful. Officials got corrupted. Many Americans lost their old-fashioned respect for the law.

Current laws against marijuana may be having similar results. Criminal cartels south of the border make millions smuggling it in.

Gambling also used to be illegal. But where I grew up around Rochester, N.Y., I could buy illegal “Treasury Balance” lottery tickets from a fellow employee. Or I could bet in my usual bar with the old guy who was a “Numbers Game” writer.

There were also many “smoke shops” advertising sports results by ticker tape. They were really bookie joints, where I once saw a police officer come in and get free cartons of cigarettes.

But states finally gave up the charade of outlawing gambling. States now conduct their own lotteries and they also license casinos for a cut of the take.

Continuing to ban marijuana may also become too much trouble. I would then suggest we treat it like we treated tobacco. We didn’t outlaw tobacco. We severely limited its advertising, taxed it heavily, and studied it thoroughly. We proved it kills people, and we continually remind the public of that.

I think the easiest way to put today’s marijuana outlaws out of business is to make marijuana lawful. Then tax it and use that money to research its dangers and benefits. If it’s truly harmful we should tightly regulate it and continually warn people about it, but never again ban it.