Organized Crime and the Case for the Legalization of Pot

I’ve been meaning to get to this topic after it came up in Obama’s ‘online’ press conference. For me, the argument in favor of legalization is that it would weaken organized crime and that legalization of other popular activities has done so in the past (more on that in a moment). Of course, for some reason, one can’t discuss this without describing one’s drug using history and beliefs, so here they are:

I don’t smoke pot. I have no interest in doing so–I don’t have any interest in smoking cigarettes either. Because I have a very good sense of smell (sadly, this is the sense that has decayed the least as I’ve gotten older), marijuana and tobacco hold no interest to me: they smell like ass.
Having said that, I think it should be legalized, although it’s use should be tightly limited, just like cigarette smoking–and cigarette smoking should be more limited too (i.e., no apartment buildings, restaurants, etc.). It smells awful and I don’t want thatyour shit in my lungs.
But here’s why it should be legalized (italics mine):

One of Mr. Calderón’s predecessors, Mr. Zedillo, recently joined two other former heads of state from Latin America in pushing for a complete rethinking of the drug war, including the legalization of marijuana, which is considered the top revenue generator for Mexican drug cartels.

(Of course, that means if you’re currently using pot, you’re financially supporting some of the shittier people on the plant. Oh, I forgot, your supplier grows it in his backyard, just like everyone else’s…).
One of the unheralded ways we weakened the traditional Mafia was by eliminating their lucrative and ‘semi-legit’ revenue streams, such as lending, the lottery, and gambling. Most people, in combination with the excitement of ‘mob movies’, don’t realize how important those activities were financially and also in providing a certain legitimacy:

  1. Lending. Most people in the 1930s-1950s couldn’t get credit easily, particular small amounts–the local loan shark was the only option. Now, with credit cards and payday loans (the latter have interest rates than can be more usurious than the mob ever was, although there’s no threat of violence), lower income people have other ways to obtain credit.
  2. Lotteries. These actually made a lot of money, and when they weren’t rigged, actually paid better than today’s state-run lotteries.
  3. Gambling. People like to gamble. But there were very few places it was legal until the 1950s (and later). So people turned to games run by organized crime.

All of these activities were severely undercut by legalization. Not only did that temporarily impair revenue, but it forced organized crime to focus on more unsavory activities. Most people don’t approve of prostitution. Most people don’t approve of dealing highly-addictive drugs. Most people don’t approve of illegal gun sales. Most people don’t approve of hijacking goods.
Admittedly, these activities had always been part of organized crime, but the legalized activities gave the mob a veneer of respectability, or, at least, necessity. That’s why I support legalization of marijuana: it will undermine (although not eliminate) some real scumbags, both here and abroad.

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6 Responses to Organized Crime and the Case for the Legalization of Pot

  1. Yes, to be frank,the supply side of the equation is the reason that I have been out of the demand side for several years. Not that I would start using again if the drugs were legalized, but I would think that regulation and taxation of the drug is more sensible than spending billions with no appreciable effect.

  2. D00d, good weed smells great.

  3. DrugMonkey says:

    You got some cites for that load of assertions you just made? and a decent analysis of whether the Mafia declined because of this, because of other social / legal forces, just went into other areas of crime? Did the decline in the Mafia coincide with a rise in other criminal organizations? oh, and what has happened with problematic gambling in the modern era of a native american casino in every county?
    I’d love to believe the rosy picture you paint but I’d like some data to go with the usual pie-in-the-sky fantasy stuff I hear from the legalize eet mon types every day of the week….

  4. tf says:

    Marijuana is an interesting case, it is a schedule 1 drug, meaning it shows no potential for medical usage, something that is demonstratably false. Though it seems the social stigma against marijuana will impede total legalization, at the very least steps need to be taken to reduce the abuse of otherwise law-abiding citizens, who are subject to punishments equivalent to many violent crimes.

  5. Larry Ayers says:

    I agree with tf; I’ve known some harmless folks whose lives have been derailed by a pot bust. I’m not currently a pot-smoker, but I used to grow the plant for my own use until the confiscatory laws were implemented. I had kids and property and the risk was just too great to bear.
    There is still a strong puritanical strain in American politics! Basically people feel threatened by those who have conduct and habits different from what they perceive as “the norm”.

  6. fcc says:

    I’ll take mild issue with the second clause –
    “(the latter have interest rates than can be more usurious than the mob ever was, although there’s no threat of violence)”
    The courts are clogged with debt collections claims these days, many brought by debt speculators. Their financial model relies completely on the abilty of the state to impose violence.

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