[Make-up Blog for 17 September]

When asked about what type of legislative effort would green the government, few would immediately think of marijuana legalization.  However, cannabis is inextricably linked to American history and a greener way of life.   After a long history of legislators and companies pushing the production and usage of hemp and marijuana to the fringe, it is starting to return state by state.  It takes the number one spot in the U.S. as a 40 billion dollar a year cash crop, and Americans are twice as likely to try it as the Dutch. (It’s legal there too!)  By decriminalizing marijuana, and the hemp associated with it, the United States can become a leader in drug & prison reform, clean energy, and environmental protection.

According to Greg Grandin on Democracy Now!, NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement devastated agrarian markets and thus allowed for drug violence in Central America.  A reformation of these neo-liberal trade agreements will bring more sustainable agriculture and devastate the drug cartel.  A former Mexican president stated that they had the misfortune to exist beside both the biggest source of illegal guns in the world and the biggest market for illegal drugs.  Tens of thousands of deaths are due to a militarized government campaign focused on decreasing the supply of cartel drugs instead of decreasing the demand through legalization.  Unfortunately, Mexico’s president-elect, Enrique Pena Nieto, plans to keep forcefully battling cartels with corrupt police and keep marijuana illegal.  United States legislators would rather intervene in foreign countries than reform policy in the United States.  U.S. Army Special Forces have increasingly intervened in Columbian drug trafficking, yet the counter-narcotics are turning into counter-insurgency.  More accurately, Klare argues, it’s about protecting oil and oil infrastructure. (Blood and Oil, Location 2687 of 6985)  Foreign countries are not the only ones that would witness greater successes in crime fighting.

The legalization of marijuana, according to former presidential candidate Gary Johnson, will have the police instead “go out and enforce real crime”.  Over 750,000 people arrested for marijuana and almost 90% of those arrests are for simple possession.  Although the natural resource savings from arresting those people people is likely small in comparison, the estimated marginal cost of arrest, jailing, and forfeited economic gain could instead be invested in any number of drug prevention programs or fuel efficiency upgrades.  In addition, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron suggests that the United States lost over $6 billion in tax revenues, not counting the indirect economic activity associated with cannabis.  The resulting indirect social reform must be addressed as well.  The domestic demand for marijuana and falling price of solar panels created a desire to steal solar panels for illegal growing operations.  While their actions are unjustifiable and damaging to “green” citizens, legalization will allow them to safely put their (taxed) profits towards solar panels.  Violent crimes and prison reform will improve alongside the state of the environment.

The hemp plant has over 50,000 uses and benefits, not limited to biofuels, paper, nutritional food, clothes, and even pottery.  It can be used as construction material for a house, and practically everything inside of it.  Cannabis is not without its environmental problems, yet most occur due to its illegal status.  Reckless forest clearing, stream diversion, and threats to wildlife are all associated with pot farms.  Marijuana is rumored to have an extremely high energy cost, requiring many gallons of fuel for just one plant.  More importantly the illegal marijuana production in northern California requires toxic rodenticides and pesticides, and the practice is integrated and expansive.  The thousands of pounds of toxins were dispersed along the crop and even irrigation lines to prevent rodent chewing, and “over 3.6 million outdoor marijuana plants were removed from federal and state public lands.”   Although cannabis production has many environmental problems, they are not as harmful in comparison to fossil fuel energy production and industrial agriculture.   Regardless, the legalization of the substance will eliminate any environmental concern.  Producers could confidently purchase more efficient growing equipment, work with scientists to improve the growing process, and embrace government environmental regulation.  Also, secretive plants could be moved from energy-hogging underground basements and distant public lands, saving countless amounts of energy.  Though, the real potential for energy savings occurs by replacing petroleum products with hemp-based ones.

Marijuana has the potential to improve every market in the economy.  Hemp can be both used as the body and the fuel as an automobile.  In 1941, “Henry Ford made a car body out of organic fibers that included hemp,” and the economical Kestrel biocomposite electric car features combed hemp stalks infused in resin, giving a 25% increase in fuel economy.  Ford and Rudolf Diesel intended to use biofuels in their engines, and hemp oil could potentially make up a significant portion of U.S. biofuel production.  In the 1980’s, pot-growers greatly helped start the residential solar market due to the need for off-grid, and thus undetectable electricity.  Today, the same boost could happen on a national scale, as both growers and consumers of cannabis would like to improve the environment.  The United States, as largest timber producing country and largest oil consumer, so one does not have to look far to find misleading claims about marijuana from special interest groups in competing industry.  William Randolf Hearst, a newspaper owner, published racist and inaccurate articles about marijuana consumption, and he not-so-coincidentally had direct financial interests in the timber industry. Hemp paper would instead be more durable and environmentally friendly than toxic paper production from timber.  The economy would not be the only sector of the country to benefit from decriminalization.

Although mainly a corollary effect, the political concerns of those in favor weed decriminalization align with those of environmentalists.  Mostly blue states have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana, with Washington and Colorado recently legalizing it altogether.  Most red states, with largely anti-environmental legislators, did not even put it on the ballot.   The exception (that proves the rule, in a way) is for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who voted to legalize and tax marijuana but made the lethargic comment about mountaintop removal:  “I don’t think anybody’s going to be missing a hill or two here and there.”  Look at the Republican presidential candidates’ statements on marijuana, and once the laughter subsides, compare their opposition of legalization to their statements on global warming.  Again, the two positions on the environment and marijuana are corollary and likely do to over-politicization of drug and energy policy, but as it stands, a vote for legalization is a vote for a cleaner environment.

The United States has everything to gain and little to lose by allowing integration of cannabis into the country.  The same people against making cannabis legal in any form are the same ones receiving millions from the oil industry, the same ones against clean energy, the same ones calling for a bigger military presence in foreign countries and same ones refusing to reform the private prison industry.  Imagine the newspapers devoid of the war, resource shortages, cartel shootings, and violent arrests, because they already don’t have any articles on overconsumption of marijuana.  Imagine President Obama actually living up to his promise of legalization with massive public support.

**Disclosure Statement**

I have never consumed marijuana, and the purpose of this post is to demonstrate the potential for better drug and energy policy through decriminalization.  Any of the already-mild health concerns should be addressed elsewhere and would likely improve with government regulation and taxation.

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