This Saturday is April 20th, a date increasingly known as a holiday for celebrating marijuana.
But this 4/20 -- the first since two U.S. states voted to legalize marijuana -- don't just party. With momentum on our side, let's use the "holiday" as an opportunity to build the movement to change even more marijuana laws. Colorado and Washington State may have made history by voting to replace prohibition with systems to tax and regulate marijuana, but there are still 48 states to go.
Some people think that only marijuana users should worry about the impact of our marijuana laws. In truth, we all pay for the enormous costs of enforcing marijuana prohibition. Police made more than 750,000 marijuana arrests in 2011, and your tax dollars paid for it.
At a time when concerns about the deficit and debt are growing and policymakers are putting cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare on the table, legalizing and taxing marijuana could generate billions of dollars a year in new revenue.
But it's worse than a money problem. While cops are busy arresting people for marijuana possession, nearly four of ten murders, six of ten rapes and nine of ten burglaries go unsolved. Allowing cops to re-focus their attention on protecting public safety and stopping real crime is something that should concern us all, tokers and abstainers alike.
And as long as marijuana remains illegal, gangs and drug cartels will control the market, oftentimes using violence as a means to protect their tax-free profits. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that Mexican drug cartels are operating drug distribution networks in more than 1,000 U.S. cities. We all want safe communities, but keeping marijuana illegal means more criminals setting up shop on our street corners.
Thankfully, many non-users are adding their voices to the debate about marijuana laws and are getting involved in the movement to change them. For example, we can be pretty sure that conservative evangelical Christian Pat Robertson doesn't smoke spliffs after taping episodes of "The 700 Club," but he does think "we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol" by legalizing, regulating and taxing it.
Similarly, no one suspects that people like California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, federal Judge Richard Posner or the editorial board members of the conservative magazine National Review are stoners, but they've all called for changes to our marijuana laws.
This growing anti-prohibition attitude among non-users extends beyond celebrities to the general public. Indeed, polls and federal studies reveal that the percentage of Americans who support legalizing marijuana (52 percent) is greater than the percentage who have ever used marijuana (42 percent) and much greater than the percentage who use it on a regular basis (just 7 percent have used in the past month).
You don't have to be a marijuana user to know it's time to change our failed, expensive and dangerous marijuana laws.
So this 4/20, please do celebrate how far the movement to change failed marijuana laws has come. But don't rest on your laurels or be fooled into thinking that legalization is inevitable. Get involved. Join an organization like Marijuana Majority so you can find out when your local policymakers are addressing marijuana laws. Share some marijuana reform news on Facebook and Twitter. And talk to your friends and family about the reasons even non-users should care about changing marijuana laws.
We're on track to end prohibition, but it's going to take hard work, money and constant pressure on politicians to enact the marijuana laws that voters want. We can do it, but only with your help.
Tom Angell is chairman of Marijuana Majority.
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