David Frum

02.22.13

Pot's Got a Gangster Problem

ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images ()

Close to 50% of all Americans now favor the legalization of marijuana. This means that in the next few years, other states will most likely follow the models of Washington State and Colorado, and attempt to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.

While there are certainly reasons for marijuana to remain illegal, the fact of the matter is our number one priority at the moment should be to prevent organized crime from attempting to grow and distribute by use of violence.

[D]ecriminalising consumption does nothing to break the grip of gangsters over the drug business. For that to happen, production and distribution also need to be legalised. That is why the experiment under way in the United States is so important. Colorado and Washington now have the chance to create a legal but regulated market in marijuana, similar to those for tobacco or alcohol. Their referendums approved sales of drugs through regulated outlets only, and not to minors. The states now need to design a way of taxing cannabis that discourages consumption while avoiding the creation of a black market.

If we wish to look to history for clues, we need not look farther than the Volstead Act, which officially banned the manufacture, transport and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1919. Drinking alcohol, though, never became technically illegal during prohibition. The result of Volstead can be summed up with one infamous name: Al Capone.