Yesterday I reported on my Rastafarian employee, who had been jailed for possession of weapons (some licensed, some not) and a pound or two of marijuana. You might want to click “Yesterday” to catch up with the story.

The rest of the story, at least as of this writing, is that he was not charged with weapons possession — the police were quite happy simply to confiscate them all, licensed and unlicensed. From their point of view, disarming this fellow was one small step toward greater neighborhood safety.

After a night in jail, he was released on his own recognizance. It remains to be seen what sort of punishment, if any, the criminal justice system will mete out for his marijuana possession and presumed (but not proven) sales to adults in their neighborhood.

A recent Fact and Comment in Forbes made the case against legalizing drugs. It’s a strong case. So is the case William F. Buckley, Jr. and others make for legalizing drugs.

Maybe the best course lies somewhere in between — at least for marijuana.

It’s hard to argue that neighborhoods are being ravaged by it or that pot heads are going around mugging people to get the money for a joint. Then again, it certainly would be vastly better if today’s kids didn’t come to class stoned, and if no one got behind the wheel of a car after smoking marijuana. Marijuana use is clearly not something to encourage (except in some cancer patients as a treatment for pain).

Why not create a class of substances — including marijuana — possession of which for adult personal use, in small quantities, would not be subject to penalty? You could even grow it, in small quantities, for your own use and as gifts to adult friends.

Sale would remain illegal. So Philip Morris couldn’t gear up to put it on every street corner, and Joe Camel couldn’t start pitching it to six-year-olds.

The penalties for sale would be very stiff — but strictly financial. In the case of an individual, the judge could confiscate your car or your stereo and any or all your other assets — from gold chains to your entire stock portfolio. If you were selling marijuana to kids out of your candy store, he could confiscate your candy store and anything else you owned.

There would be real enforcement — at least enough to make sellers of marijuana think hard before engaging in the trade. You could lose all your assets just for selling $50 of marijuana. Gotta think twice about that! Indeed, the enforcement could possibly become self-financing, since there would be no prison cost for taxpayers to bear, but seized assets to underwrite the enforcement effort.

Basically, marijuana would be taken out of the prison system. The penalties would all be financial. If someone wanted to grow a couple of plants on his window sill, so be it. Smoking it in public could remain illegal (but subject to fines, nothing more). Allowing kids access to it, or smoking it in their presence, would also be illegal, although the state can’t very well enter people’s homes to see how responsibly or irresponsibly parents are raising their kids.

What do you think? Make sense?


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