On Sept. 27, Missouri Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, who represents part of Kansas City, pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana.
By JOHN PAYNE
Special to The Star
LaFaver was widely seen as a rising star in the Democratic caucus but in the immediate aftermath of his arrest, he stepped down from his position as chairman of the House Democratic Victory Committee, a group that raises funds for Democratic House candidates, and the Missouri Republican Party called for him to resign his seat in the legislature.
By all accounts, LaFaver is a smart, talented legislator, with a great deal of potential.
The fact that he is also a cannabis user has not prevented him from achieving a great deal at a young age.
However, getting arrested for something that the majority of people his age have done at one point in their lives has cost LaFaver dearly. This strongly suggests that the problem lies with our prohibitionist cannabis laws, not with LaFaver.
The laws against cannabis presumably exist to prevent people from using marijuana but those laws pose a far greater threat to users than the plant itself.
People convicted of marijuana offenses in Missouri are branded as criminals for the rest of their lives.
If they are students, they will lose any federal financial aid for a year on a first offense and for life on the third.
They will be passed over by employers for similar or even less qualified applicants who are unburdened by a criminal record.
They will even find it more difficult to rent an apartment or buy a house.
Moreover, arresting people for the possession of marijuana does not prevent anyone from using it. A 1981 study on the effect of policies decriminalizing the use of cannabis commissioned as part of the governments Monitoring the Future surveys on drug use found that decriminalization of marijuana had virtually no effect either on use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use.
In 2010, the Monitoring the Future survey found that more high school seniors used marijuana than smoked cigarettes, which are perfectly legal even for many high school seniors but taxed and regulated. The prohibition of cannabis simply does not work.
Still, this exercise in futility imposes a substantial cost on Missouri taxpayers.
According to research performed by Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron for Show-Me Cannabis last year, the state and its local governments spend $90 million directly on enforcement and forgo $59 million in potential tax revenue from a legal cannabis market every year.
The $149 million revenue boost that legal, taxed cannabis could provide is roughly equivalent to what the state spends on its entire community college system.
In the 1920s, our country tried to eliminate the harms of alcohol abuse by banning the substance. We soon discovered that was a utopian fantasy and we chose instead to mitigate the harms from alcohol by legalizing, taxing and regulating it.
It has taken 75 years, but Americans are finally realizing that those same lessons apply to the prohibition of cannabis.
John Payne of St. Louis is the executive director of Show-Me Cannabis Regulation.