Throughout the United States, the purchase, sale, possession and use of tobacco by adults are not crimes except in some public places in some states. And, in most of the United States, the adult purchase, sale, possession or use of alcohol is not a crime except in some public places or special situations.
However, as to tobacco and alcohol, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported: "Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States …
…"More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. … Cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year."
And on alcohol: "According to the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact tool, from 2001-2005, there were approximately 79,000 deaths annually attributable to excessive alcohol use … the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death for people in the United States each year."
In contrast, in Hawaii, possession of any amount of marijuana, except by those who are certified as having a "debilitating condition" under our medical marijuana law or their "caregivers’" is a crime, with potentially serious consequences, including fine or imprisonment and for young people the possible loss of vital federal education loans, good jobs, and/or admission to good colleges or jobs.
While the CDC states that marijuana may not be good for you, there is virtually no convincing evidence that marijuana causes large numbers of deaths or injuries. However, there is growing evidence that marijuana is beneficial in treating serious conditions and that its risks are far fewer than alcohol and tobacco.
There are very good reasons for not imposing criminal prohibitions on tobacco and alcohol: We long ago learned the perils of prohibiting substances that many people enjoy. Alcohol prohibition began in 1920, when the 18th Amendment went into effect, and ended in 1933 with its repeal. When Prohibition ended some supporters openly admitted its failure.
Today, similar horrors may be observed in the U.S. and murderous consequences in Mexico. On the mainland and in Hawaii, where marijuana use has been prohibited, there is little evidence of significant decline in usage and there has been little or no regulation to protect or taxation to educate vulnerable users.
So just how dumb are we? Very dumb! In the middle of an economic disaster we are wasting public money enforcing the marijuana laws when, to protect our citizens with debilitating conditions and to avoid unjustifiable discrimination against marijuana users, we could tax and regulate marijuana as we do with tobacco and alcohol.
Studies by economists Lawrence Boyd, University of Hawaii West Oahu, and Jeffrey Miron, senior lecturer on economics, Harvard University, indicate that we could be earning millions in revenues. Then we could afford the intelligent kind of educational and other programs that led to huge decreases in personal tobacco use and that reduce the incidence of very dangerous alcohol abuse.
There are now four marijuana bills in our Legislature and they should be passed: SB 1460, which makes possession of an ounce or less a civil violation with fine, not a crime; SB 58, which corrects defects in the medical marijuana program; SB 175, which moves the program from the Department of Public Safety, which has done its damnedest to obstruct the program, to the Department of Health, where it belongs; and SB 1458, which regulates, taxes and controls the marketing of medical marijuana.
Now is the time. Let’s be smart.