New York City Mayoral Candidate John Liu has proposed the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and over as a means of raising tax revenues ($400 million annually, by his estimation) and to ease the clogging of the city’s court systems with trivial non-violent misdemeanor drug cases.
According to a report Liu commissioned, New York City has some 900,000 recreational pot smokers who form a $1.65 billion market. Liu proposes that taxing these drug transactions would not only replenish the city’s financial coffers (which could be used to reduce tuition at City University of New York public university system), but save millions of dollars in court and law enforcements costs. "It is economically and socially just to tax [marijuana]," Liu told the Associated Press.
Liu also played to racial sentiments, by explicitly stating that drug arrests disproportionately hit black and Hispanic New Yorkers – some 86 percent of pot possession arrests affect minorities -- even though whites smoke dope as much as anyone else. “It’s time to recognize that the prohibition of marijuana has failed,” Liu declared. “And its enforcement has damaged too many lives, especially the minority communities.”
Liu, the City Comptroller, is clearly seeking to make a splash in an election campaign that he has no chance of winning. According to polls, Liu is so unappealing, uncharismatic and uninteresting that he consistently ranks last amongst all Democratic candidates – even lower than Anthony Weiner, the man who likes to send photos of his penis to strange women. Liu is desperate – he has already been denied the right to receive $3.5 million in public matching funds (due to his history of questionable fundraising practices) and, more importantly, he knows that the legalization of pot and enabling stores to sell it would have to get the approval of the New York state legislature (a virtual impossibility).
Strangely, Liu claimed that he himself doesn’t smoke pot and has no plans to even if marijuana was legalized – I found this interesting because he seemed to “separate” himself from pot-smokers; thereby indirectly suggesting that there is something inherently “wrong” or “unsavory” with smoking marijuana and undermining his entire argument. Most people in New York City (and State) seem to agree with Liu’s call for legalization – polls suggest that anywhere between 50 and 60 percent of resident want laxer laws on soft drugs.
But there is something else to be considered here -- and it has nothing to do with dollars and cents. If you legalize pot, it will no longer be “cool.” It'll become as mundane an activity as drinking a beer or lighting up a Marlboro. I have friends who have been smoking pot since they were teenagers, more than three decades of marijuana consumption. For the most part, a portion of the “high” they get from it is that they are doing something that is against the law. They are otherwise nice, normal, law-abiding people with conventional, bourgeois lifestyles, but their weekly (or daily) consumption of pot makes them feel “free” and “unbound” by society’s strictures.
If what they do is suddenly legalized, their very reasons for smoking dope will have been undermined. Of course, they will not quit (they are addicted, though they won’t admit that) and they will simply be lumped in with overweight beer-guzzlers and choking tobacco smokers. And there is nothing “cool” about that.
According to Marijuana Facts and Stats, at least 100 million Americans have tried pot at least once in their lives, making it the most common illegal drug used in the country. So, in a way, pot smokers are already the mainstream. Legalizing their favored drug of choice will officially make them part of the unwashed masses.
As for Liu, he is making a hopeless futile stab at some relevance in an election where he is already the biggest of losers. Maybe he should simply light up a spliff, relax and forget about things for a while.