Why I’ll be voting for legal weed in November

In November 2014, Alaskan voters will be asked whether to legalize marijuana use for people over 21. It is 2014 Ballot Measure 2 and I will be voting yes. I am telling you this despite my reluctance to comment on State of Alaska issues because I think this is a matter of justice.

 

I am voting yes because: Alcohol is more harmful than marijuana.

If alcohol is legal, so should marijuana. According to the CDC:

Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death. This dangerous behavior accounted for approximately 88,000 deaths per year from 2006–2010, and accounted for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20–64 years.

88,000 deaths from over drinking. Per year. That’s nearly 30 9/11s each and every year. But we accept these deaths as the price of liberty. Or we don’t accept them but realize that Prohibition has been tried and failed in this country. By contrast, there are zero documented deaths from marijuana. It’s hard prove a negative, but:

If you can find a reliable (sourced from a peer-reviewed journal or government publication) that can attribute more than 88,000 deaths per year to marijuana products, leave a comment with full citation.

Aside from being deadly to people who drink, alcohol is associated with higher likelihood of domestic violence, while marijuana is not.

I have personal and painful experience to the power of alcohol to produce violence and misery. My father beat my mom and my siblings, usually while drunk. I do not recall being beaten, but I lived in perpetual fear of being next. I was drunkenly cussed out many times and Christmas time was usually more pleasant if he was out on a drunk.  I actually had nightmares involving my drunk father for several years after I moved away from home. So again, if we can allow something as poisonous to family life as alcohol in our society, I’d be grateful to legalize something that wasn’t quite as violence stimulating.

In addition to being less harmful than alcohol, it appears that legalizing marijuana, at least for medical use actually decreases deaths from painkiller overdoses by about 25%.

Marijuana use does have its risks. Check out any of the fact sheets I’ve linked to. I’m just saying they pale in comparison to the chaos and death rained down upon us all by alcohol. We manage to keep society mostly intact despite alcohol’s assault. Marijuana will be a cinch to handle in comparison.

 

I am voting yes because: Too many lives have been ruined by possession arrests and convictions.

Once you get caught up in the justice system, it’s easy to get into a downward spiral. You get a drug conviction and people find excuses not to hire you. You may no longer be eligible to go to college. You might go to prison for a simple possession offense and learn new ways of crime while behind bars.

According to the Alaska State Troopers 2012 Drug Report, over 3,000 marijuana related arrests were made between 2010 and 2012. For a drug with no known overdose deaths and which isn’t associated with domestic violence. I think that it is a tragedy that thousands of lives were fed into our justice system for this.

Nationally, marijuana arrests disproportionately fall on people of color. According to the ACLU, “Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.” In some states, Blacks are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. We need to ditch something that has so much racial bias in its application.

 

I am voting yes because: I lean libertarian.

As a matter of principle, I don’t think the State has any business regulating consensual conduct that does not harm others. Your freedom to swing your fist may end at my nose, but you’re free to go up to that limit. For example, marijuana should be included in DUI laws. I don’t care if you smoke a few joints in your home. But if you then hop in your car and start driving, that’s a risk to others that can and should be regulated.

 

Those are the reasons that I will vote to legalize marijuana in this state. I believe people of good will can come to a different conclusion. So if you’re a friend of mine who is a “no” voter, I’m ok with that, though I expect you to be willing to agree to disagree.

 

References:

Summary of 2014 Ballot Measure 2 – http://www.elections.alaska.gov/doc/bml/BM2-13PSUM-ballot-language.pdf

Official Election Pamphlet General Election 2014, Book I – http://www.elections.alaska.gov/doc/oep/2014/AK-Region-I-book.pdf – Ballot Measure 2 begins on page 63 of the booklet. While the State provided a cost estimate for regulating marijuana, it did not include any information from the Department of Corrections. A recently Fairbanks News-Miner article estimated it cost $50,000 a year to house a prisoner, so any costs from legalizing marijuana would be partially offset from the savings realized by not putting marijuana users and small dealers away.

CDC Alcohol Deaths – http://www.cdc.gov/features/alcohol-deaths/

DrugFacts: Marijuana – http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs – Alcohol is more lethal than many other commonly abused substances. By Robert Gable. New Scientist. May-June 2006, Volume 94, Number 3, Page: 206, DOI: 10.1511/2006.3.206 – http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/the-toxicity-of-recreational-drugs/1

Fewer Painkiller Deaths in States With Medical Marijuana: Study People with chronic pain may use pot instead of narcotics, researchers suggest
Monday, August 25, 2014, Health Day News
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_148041.html

Cost of housing state’s prison population has senators seeking sentencing reform
Posted: Fairbanks Daily News Miner. Sunday, October 6, 2013 12:02 am | Updated: 5:42 am, Mon Oct 7, 2013.
By Matt Buxton/mbuxton@newsminer.com
URL: Not listed because too long. Click on title for story.

2012 Drug Report. Alaska State Troopers.  –  http://www.dps.alaska.gov/AST/ABI/docs/SDEUreports/2012%20Annual%20Drug%20Report.pdf

Marijuana Arrests by the Numbers. ACLUhttps://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/marijuana-arrests-numbers

 

Stop Reading And Start Voting!

Today is Election Day in the United States. If you live here and are a registered voter, I expect you to vote today. In fact, if the polls are open, I expect you to drop what you’re doing, stop reading this entry and go out and vote! I especially want you to vote if you’re planning to join me in voting for Barack Obama — whether for my 18 reasons or one of your own. But if you’re a McCain supporter, I’d like you to go to the polls too. Why? Because Election Day is a day for America and we all win when our society is engaged.

Don’t know where to vote? Check out the National Association of Secretaries of State and let them find your polling place for you.

Don’t feel like voting because you’re either a) An Obama supporter in a hopelessly red state or b) A McCain supporter in a hopelessly blue state? Get out and vote anyway. Most states have at least one member of Congress up for reelection, various state offices and initiatives and referendums. Maybe your vote for President will be overwhelmed, but other candidates and causes can use your vote. Until I see the final vote tally, I’m not ready to concede Alaska. But even if I were, I’d still go out and vote because I want to see Mark Begich replace Ted Stevens and Ethan Berkowitz replace Don Young. It’s our best chance in years and I’m not letting it slip away because of my mood. It’s likely the same in your state.

I have taken the day off for Election Day to join Get Out the Vote efforts for Barack Obama and to offer rides to polling places for members of any party who needs one. I’ll try and check in throughout the day in case people have comments on this entry. If you’re not voting, I’d like to know why. If you are voting, let me know that and give your impression of how busy your polling place was.

Regardless of who wins today, I’m likely to not be blogging for several days. No matter how today turns out, there will be much to consider and much work ahead of us.

What three things are you looking for in a President?

I’d like to start a conversation on what people feel is vital in our next President, regardless of party. So I’m suggesting that we each share our top three issues or characteristics we feel likely to vote on.

My issues, in order of importance:

1) Withdrawal from Iraq and formal repudiation of preemption. – While no top-tier candidate from either party has committed to this, I think it is important for the next President to bring our military involvement in Iraq to a close. Large majorities of Iraqis and Americans want to end the occupation and any democracy worth its name should be willing to do so. In addition, the next president should remove any references to preemptive warfare from the National Security Strategy of the United States.

2) Transparency – This is a broad but critical issue. For me it covers everything ceasing from running secret prisons with secret torture techniques to recinding President Bush’s presidential records order that allows former presidents and their families for all time a veto on records releases to working to make federal web sites more searchable. Basically we should be as aware of the federal government’s activities as they want to be aware of ours. And there should be nothing the government is doing in secret that would leave a majority of Americans repulsed.

3) Immigration – Ideally I’d like to see someone come out in favor of amending NAFTA so that labor can flow as freely as cash and products between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Our current immigration regime serves no one well except sweatshop owners and criminals who prey on immigrants. No major candidate stands for this, so as a minimum I’d take someone who maximized penalties on employers and insists on family reunification.

Those are my three. There are more, but I’d say the three above are the most important to me as I decide who to vote for this year.

What are your issues? I think it will make a more interesting discussion if you share your issues in addition to/instead of telling me why I’m wrong.

Voter turnout – what doesn’t work

One blog I enjoy reading is the state-oriented The Thicket at State Legislatures. Today they had an item on recent research on voter turnout.

The good news from this research is that voter turnout isn’t really going down. After counting “voting eligible population” as opposed to “voting age population” researcher Michael McDonald found “all of the supposed decline in voter turnout since 1972 is caused by increases in the proportion of non-citizens (about 9% of voting age population today) and felons (about 1%) in the population.”

But the bad news is that despite these recalculations, the United States still has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the world. Worse still, several measures meant to increase turnout (motor voter, same day registration (not my favorite), and “no excuse” absentee (my favorite) seem to have little to no effect on actual turnout.

I’m glad to see research on policy initiatives to try and find out what works and what doesn’t. But I hope that means we will be trying different measures. What? I’m not sure. The blogger at the Thicket promises some ideas later in the week. If they are things that move me, maybe I’ll come back and tell you.

One thing we might try is better tying voting to patriotism. If everyone who sported a flag decal on their car voted, I think turnout would rise. In almost every local, state and federal election there are important issues at stake. A patriotic, freedom loving person should do his or her part by voting. At least that what I tell people who ask my why I vote in every election.

I’ve heard the “voting is for suckers” argument, and it has some credibility in most Presidential elections. But it is one of the few tools we have in a democratic society and we have a ways to go of making the best use of it. If not voting, then what?