Mary Sanchez

Legal marijuana could make for better control of the drug

If marijuana is legalized nationally, the War on Drugs will get a whole lot smarter.

That’s because so many drug efforts focus on this relatively benign drug.

Ceasing the illegalization of marijuana would save millions in police efforts and lives undercut by jail time. The illicit trafficking of pot by cartels would shatter, taking with it their violence. Police could focus on more addictive drugs and other crimes rather than make the 609,000 arrests last year for pot possession alone.

And no, the nation would not become a stoner haven.

That’s a lot to swallow. But it’s the contention of a former Baltimore police officer, a onetime undercover drug detective turned head of an organization of former and current law enforcement pressing for legalization for adults.

Neill Franklin is probably right. As the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, he gave a slice of the arguments to legalize marijuana Thursday to law students at UMKC. The talk was a pit stop on his way to St. Louis for a Show-Me Cannabis convention Saturday.

Franklin is a wisely patient man. He thinks support for legalizing pot won’t culminate until 2020.

It’s complicated. It’s a subject that challenges ingrained attitudes about addiction and crime. But the momentum is building.

The midterm elections saw more states moving toward legalization. Paperwork was recently filed in Missouri for a constitutional amendment to go before voters seeking legalization.

Here’s another compelling argument. Franklin asks: Whom would parents rather have overseeing their child’s access to marijuana — drug cartels and gang members, or the government? Gangs don’t care whom they sell to. Children are often their targets as sellers and buyers because they are easier to control.

So maybe it’s better to bring marijuana in line with alcohol and tobacco, which are more deadly when abused. Legalized, marijuana would almost certainly be banned for those under the age of 21. It’s not a stretch to see how all three drugs are better regulated than left to the criminality of the streets. The era of prohibition against alcohol taught us how organized crime took over the sale and distribution of booze.

Franklin and other speakers packed a lot into an hour presentation. They barely scratched the surface, addressing the effects on policing, laws on search and seizure, and arrest rates.

It’s a big conversation, but one that people will be increasingly negligent to avoid.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to Twitter: @msanchezcolumn.

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