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Former US Attorney Discusses Taxation and Regulation of Marijuana

HAT TIP to my professional colleagues at the National Legal Committee of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. John McKay, former U.S. Attorney in the Seattle area who prosecuted many a drug dealer during his tenure in office, has come out in favor of a reformation of current marijuana law through a structure of taxation, regulation and limits on lawful potency.

I share to some extent Mr. McKay’s regard for those who consume marijuana as “idiots.” The use of an illegal substance to me suggests high-risk behavior and a willingness to lose (some) control over one’s mental faculties. As a practicing attorney I use my fully-functioning (one hopes!) mental faculties to control, predict and eliminate risk for clients and for myself. Ultimately I hope that marijuana will come under the control of liquor-board type agencies that can impose sensible time, place and manner regulations for the consumption and sale of marijuana, and get simply possession by adults of marijuana in their own home off of the criminal dockets and off of the police overtime budget.

Some of the most cynical comments about the legalization of marijuana have come from my fellow attorneys, who fear that marijuana might become as legal to possess and sell as Twinkies. This is foolishness; marijuana will not if legalized be sold in 7-Elevens, but in licensed dispensaries with tax stamps, ID requirements and heavy regulation as to lawful locations for consumption (particularly in its lighted form when second-hand smoke in a multi-unit’ dwelling’s air vent is a serious risk to the rights of others.) My suspicion is that the possession codes will probably remain the same, but there will be separate code section added on for “regulated consumption” providing an affirmative defense. In any event, lawyers should be looking not at a chance to earn a fee but to a society that treats grown-ups as grown-ups, free to engage in hang-gliding, base-jumping, contact sports or moderate drug consumption under orderly regulation without a criminal black market promoting “real crime” – crimes with victims who don’t go to the police – plaguing them and all of us.

Additionally, pot users won’t be targets of crime if they aren’t afraid to go to the cops to file a criminal charge. At a minimum, I would favor a change in the law that would prohibit prosecuting people for simple possession (or other vice crimes) when they come forward to report a crime against them. It’s not enough to hope that a prosecutor might offer immunity; participants in vice, including illegal vice, should not become attractive nuisances for crimes against them due to fear of their own confession to vice crimes (e.g. pot smokers who get robbed, sex workers who get brutalized and stabbed, etc.)

Even I, who want marijuana legalized, don’t want to go near its consumption. I don’t want to smell its smoke or deal with its users’ occasional dopey “pothead” behavior. But if someone in a single family home smokes in his basement, and does not smoke it around me, or possesses it peacefully, I want that the police overtime budget for that office to be reallocated to sex crimes, car break-ins and non-fatal shooting investigations. I don’t drink Jagermeister or other “shots” of alcohol and don’t want to encounter the side effects of misuse (as opposed to orderly, regulated use) of that drug either. Someone enjoying a shot in a bar and catching a ride home, or partying peacefully on his deck – he neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Thank you, former U.S. Attorney John McKay, for getting it right for the benefit of all of us.

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