Now that the state of Colorado has legalized marijuana for recreational use starting January 1 with Washington state following suit shortly after, the pot legalization debate is getting a fresh perspective with new voices chiming in, either praising or scolding the new direction two of our states have taken.
One of the arguments many people make in favor of making marijuana illegal is that it creates crime and/or turns neighborhoods into crime zones with shady characters roaming the streets.
The reality is that all the things one associates with illicit drug use, in this case marijuana – such as shady neighborhoods, drug rings, gangs, crime, prostitution, back-door alleys and a host of other such crimes and shady characteristics – exist precisely because drugs are illegal.
See, when you make something illegal, such as pot, you create a certain kind of atmosphere and milieu that becomes conducive to those very things you want to avoid, such as shady neighborhoods, back-door alleys, gangs and criminals. When an otherwise law-abiding citizen has to go into the underground to get his supply, that person will soon be at the mercy of criminals whose least offense probably is the sale of marijuana.
If people were able to get their supplies from within a well-lit, clean store in a legitimate business center, without feeling conspicuous and paranoid that they may get caught or doing something wrong, then those criminal elements and shadiness people are complaining about would disappear.
One great example to the point is the Hustler Hollywood store on the Sunset Strip near West Hollywood. From the outside, it looks like just any other retail space on the strip: the windows are tall and clear instead of dark and tinted with a few mannequins wearing tasteful lingerie on display. When you enter the store, it is bright and clean – with a few tables here and there where various T-shirts and sweaters with the Hustler logo and other kinky slogans are neatly folded. There is a book and magazine section, a smoothie bar, a lingerie and sex paraphernalia section, dressing rooms and employees that are dressed in civilian clothing, looking like they may be working at J.Crew.
The area that contains the porn DVDs is sectioned off for those who are 18 and above, but it is not behind some red curtain that has a neon sign above it reading “XXX.”
I have been to that store a few times with friends and never felt shady, sleazy and dirty and I also never got dirty looks from people one would perceive as shady, sleazy and dirty. In fact, the people I saw in there were the same kind people I may encounter in any retail clothing store. The Hustler Hollywood store has effectively managed to take what people often perceive as seedy and derogatory into the light, literally, so that people no longer have to sneak around and feel like sleazy assholes simply because they enjoy sex.
Wanna know what makes sex shops dirty? The dark covered windows that have NUDE GIRLS and XXX printed on them, the dark, badly lit interior where truly shady characters can hide behind some dark corner jerking off to women’s lingerie or some porn magazine with the employees themselves looking like they had just done a few lines of coke on urinals.
See, it is not porn itself that creates such an atmosphere and milieu, but the fact that porn is viewed as evil, out of place, dirty, perverse and illicit with lawmakers and a few religious, moral crusaders driving those businesses into shady neighborhoods where they are forced to cover up their windows in black tape and hide the fact that people not only have kinky sex but also enjoy it. By turning porn into something dirty to be hidden from society and ashamed of and thus a crime basically, you in effect aide in setting up the foundation for criminal elements.
Such a milieu, in turn, becomes the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of shady people with dubious priorities and agendas – including human traffickers, heroin dealers, petty criminals and even elements of organized crime.
To be clear, this is not an argument in favor of legalizing heroin (although there is a legitimate point by some experts in doing that as well); the point is that making something illegal creates a host of liabilities and thus the very kind of milieu and environments that people associate with drug use and are using to oppose drug legalization in the first place.
In reality, we probably wouldn’t even be having all those criminal elements lying around if people could conduct their business – be it buying pot or porn – in a nice, clean, well-lit and thus legitimate environment.
Life Sentence for Selling Marijuana
The reason I am talking about this today is that The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group, revealed that while marijuana is becoming legal for recreational use in two of our states with other state legislators considering legalization as well, at least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade.
One such individual is James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana who dabbled in selling pot to support his family and accidentally got himself into the illicit business of a much larger, multi-million dollar drug cartel. It was eventually found out that he’d been a major player in a trafficking organization responsible for transporting more than 10,000 kilos of marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico – you know, from those cartels across the border that hack off your hands, feet and head and throw the bodies in a landfill so they cannot be identified – those kinds of people.
Romans entered prison in April of last year. A few weeks after his arrival, his parents and sister suddenly stopped getting calls from him. They later found out that a group of inmates had rioted, prompting the guards to lock everyone in their cells for a two-week stretch.
Several months after that, according to Romans’ sister, Elizabeth Bishop, Romans returned from lunch to find guards in his cell and blood spattered all over the walls and the beds. “Somebody attempted to murder his cellmate,” his sister explained.
Romans has never been convicted of a violent crime, and Bishop, for her part, insists he’s as gentle as can be, despite the evidence that he had guns and ran the smuggling ring. “Scared of a spider” was how she put it.
And yet he’s sentenced to spend the rest of his life under the same roof as men like Ricky Mungia, a Texan who went on a shooting spree with some white and Latino friends in 1994, hunting down black men in the streets of Lubbock and shooting them from a car with a short-barreled shotgun.
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The war on drugs is not only a pointless one but an illegitimate one. If Romans was in the state of Colorado today doing exactly what he did back then, running a marijuana business and selling pot, he would be free and a legitimate business owner, even helping his state raise much needed revenue.
However, because marijuana is illegal federally, he was not only driven into the arms of heinous Mexican drug cartels whose least offense probably is the selling of marijuana, but he also has to spend the rest of his life with actual criminals in prison, costing tax payers around $60,000 a year just to take care of him. Moreover, his children will grow up without their father at their side and probably burned by the stigma of having a parent in prison who, any day, may be killed, raped and hurt.
I ask you, what is the bigger detriment to society? Selling pot to people or what is being done with and to Romans?
That is not justice, nor does it help better society. Romans can easily be a productive member of society because his “crime” was a faceless one (and non existent as far Colorado and millions are concerned). Him selling that pot didn’t hurt anyone, and his incarceration, aside from not being just, is an unnecessary and completely avoidable burden to society.
And that, dear reader, is the real cost we as a society pay when making marijuana illegal. Romans has now been placed in that very environment that those opposing drug legalization are trying to avoid by making drugs illegal in the first place.