After reading Brendan Kiley's "Jesus Saves," I have a handful of concerns with how the question of marijuana legalization is being handled both in the press and in the public. First, I believe in marijuana legalization—primarily for reasons of individual freedoms and the ability of governments to collect reasonable taxes. What I take issue with is the dialogue centered around the potential for reduced crime rates and, as "Jesus Saves" highlights, reduced crime rates for the African-American community.
My concern is that we are blindly accepting the assumption that current marijuana industrialists (whether growers, distributors, or dealers) will legalize their black-market businesses after the fall of marijuana's prohibition. The story goes that once marijuana trade is legalized the majority of members of the black market will have good paying, reputable jobs to tend to without the fear of imprisonment. Unfortunately, that idea seems far fetched.
The current marijuana industry operates with the threat of criminal prosecution acting as a significant barrier to entry: this threat has kept reputable farmers, distributors and retailers from selling marijuana openly. However, for individuals with little to lose, specifically low income African-Americans, this barrier seems less significant. They choose to enter this risky market ripe with profits because others fear the consequences. However, with the passage of Initiative 502 (or even further, a national legalization), the industry will open up to legal trade allowing mega-farmers and Wal-Marts to apply their economies of scale and lower the cost of production, thus, pushing out the individual dealers at work now. We have already seen entire farms in California converting to marijuana production due to its profitability; supply chains will inevitably form around the state (or, later, country) pushing the individual dealers to obsolescence.
Following this thought process, the marijuana market will become another commodity traded in Chicago while corporate executives calculate their profit maximization. At the same time, the former black market dealers will face the daunting challenge of finding work in an industry that no longer has use for them. This is the crux of my concern. Without sufficient education, it seems unlikely that current dealers will enterprise their businesses into the niche boutiques that may still have a place in the market. Furthermore, these dealers likely will not have the education or opportunity to move into reputable employment as they likely would have been doing so currently.
A wasteland will remain of marijuana industrialists with no outlet to tab into. In the best case scenario, they will simply add to our current unemployment and homelessness statistics. In the worst case scenario, these dealers will move into more serious offenses: cocaine trading, armed robbery, or human trafficking for example. These impoverished individuals will still look at the black market as a place where they can succeed, and it would seem foolish to think they would sacrifice that opportunity. Although this thought process is discouraging, I feel we need to add this into our discussion and prepare for the large displacement of these workers. Social safety nets and education opportunities must be available to minimize the number of individuals turning back to the black market for work. Without this, I feel we won't see a reduction in crime rates, as "Jesus Saves" enticingly suggests, but a shift to more serious issues.