We Wouldn’t Be Surprised To See Weed Legalized In Louisiana, But…

…we would be enormously surprised if legalizing weed doesn’t turn out to be one more public-policy disaster that this state can’t afford.

After all, how’s that criminal justice reform piece working out? Every city in Louisiana is more dangerous than it was eight years ago.

There is likely to be a vote on HB 699, which is the bill by Republican state representative Richard Nelson of Mandeville, in the next couple of days on the House floor – likely even today, as the bill is scheduled for floor debate. It sailed out of the House Criminal Justice Committee on a 7-5 vote a couple of weeks ago.

The “economic conservatives” are all lining up for it. Americans for Prosperity is for it. So is Pelican Action, the Pelican Institute’s c-4 outfit which is run by AFP’s former Louisiana director. Opposing it are the sheriffs and district attorneys. The head of the DA’s association actually came out and said if the bill passes there will be so many grow-houses popping up in Louisiana that it’ll shut down the electric grid, which is a stupid argument.

The thing is, we’ve been ready for decriminalizing marijuana for a while. We waste too much money incarcerating people over marijuana, and the drug war hasn’t stopped people from smoking weed. A not-insignificant segment of the population is going to put that stuff in their system no matter how hard you fight to stop them from doing it, and criminalizing that, rather than trying to build a defense against the effects of it, has proven to be exceptionally wasteful and counterproductive.

But let’s not pretend there are no harmful effects coming should this bill become law.

The drug war is largely fought, in Louisiana, in the black community. Lots of white people are into weed, don’t misunderstand – your author was the boring kid who had a really good fake ID and hung out in all the uptown New Orleans bars in high school, which should have been the coolest thing ever, but my refusal to smoke dope with the stoners interfered with my cool quotient. Turns out the stoners were mostly abject failures in life; wonder why that happened.

But it’s the black community which can’t afford a marijuana infestation, because that community is rife with social pathologies and failures to launch as it is. Now – are we doing more harm than good by arresting people for things like drug possession and putting crimes on their records which will affect their opportunities for social mobility? Entirely possible that’s true. Which is why decriminalization might be the way to go.

But if you legalize it altogether and it then becomes even more pervasive among the black community and among poor people on the whole, are you doing anyone any favors? It would be highly surprising if the use of weed wouldn’t explode among the folks who can least afford to toke up and zone out rather than fighting to move up the social ladder. Those neighborhoods are almost surely going to get worse.

But I can see the argument which says that (1) you’d get that with decriminalization anyway, (2) those places are already overpoliced and it isn’t working and (3) you can’t use public policy to save people who don’t want to be saved. The problem among Louisiana’s poor is that too many of them live in a culture of poverty – and weed is only one link in that long chain. You can’t fix a defective culture by imposing legislation on it and you’re wasting resources from people who live in a non-defective culture by trying.

Lots of that argument resonates with me, which is why I’m not as passionate about this as, say, LAGOP chairman Louis Gurvich, whose experience growing up is similar to mine – all the stoners he knew in high school ended up wasting their lives, too.

But the reason I think this is a horrible idea and would love to see that bill die in the House – even though I’m not mad at Nelson for bringing it – is that I know exactly how this thing is going to go. This is Louisiana, after all.

Forget about what Nelson’s bill says. Within three years of it passing there won’t be so many grow-houses that the power grid gets overwhelmed. That’s idiotic, and not because somehow Entergy and Demco can’t supply enough power to turn the lights on in Scotlandville and on North Acadian.

No, what’s going to happen is that you legalize marijuana, and then immediately Louisiana’s bureaucrats, lobbyists and politicians will get around a table and decide, with very little public input, how legalized marijuana will work in practice.

You might have this vision in your head of Billy Bob or Tyrone setting up bold, persistent experimentation in small fields or large rooms in ghetto houses or trailer parks from Lake Providence to Creole, coming up with Tabasco or doberge-flavored weed and marketing it through corner grocery stores in some sort of a Norman Rockwell-style small-business renaissance, and I’m here to tell you that is a complete fantasy.

Instead, the big shots sitting around that table will come up with a small number of licenses for growing and distributing marijuana, just like they arrived at the arbitrary number of 15 casino licenses when casino gambling was Louisiana’s path to easy prosperity (remember how that worked out, y’all), and then it’s going to be rich out-of-state weed tycoons and seedy inside Capitol players who will rake in all the money.

And Billy Bob and Tyrone will remain outlaws, because they won’t be rich or connected enough to get licenses.

Before long you’ll have to have a horticulture degree from somewhere before they’ll even let you apply for a license, which wouldn’t seem too hard – every one of Louisiana’s 14 public universities will be adding horticulture majors to their offerings, in order to horn in on the action – but those requirements will get more and more stringent in a breathtaking amount of time.

And at the end of the day all you’ll have done is provided one more closed-loop industry harder to succeed in for Louisianans than in other states.

Particularly when Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama or whatever other neighboring states get in on weed legalization and proceed to do things exactly opposite of how Louisiana does them.

You can’t change the unsuccessful culture of Louisiana’s poor areas through legislation. I agree with that. But you also can’t change Louisiana’s unsuccessful capitol culture by writing a bill, either, and that unsuccessful capitol culture is going to insure that marijuana legalization gives the state’s people all the negative societal effects of widespread marijuana use with none of the economic benefits as they’re locked up tight among the connected crowd and the out-of-state richies who buy their way in using the cash rolled up in their carpetbags.

It’s almost assuredly going to be a disaster, and the people advocating for it are almost assuredly going to run for the hills when everybody starts to realize they’ve turned the weed industry into the same monster the river pilots and nursing home operators have become.

But hey – by then nobody will care, because the haze which covers the Bayou State will simply wash all the worries away. Right?

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