Legalize it, tax it, save police for other stuff

For many years I had in my possession four medical prescriptions, issued in 1926, for different patients with various ailments.

No matter what the "illness," the doctors' prescribed remedy printed on the official government form was the same: Whiskey.

This was during "prohibition," that 13-year period in American history when the "manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors" was forbidden under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment went into effect in 1920.

Under the National Prohibition Act there were a couple of exceptions. Alcohol could be obtained for medical reasons with a physician's prescription, and the clergy were allowed to secure wine for the sacrament.

So, in addition to a lot of people becoming ill during this period, there was a significant rise in the number of preachers who were administering communion to a growing number of worshipers.

Hallelujah, and pass the holy wine.

I recently was reminded of my 84-year-old whiskey prescriptions as I heard reports on National Public Radio about how individual states are dealing with medical-marijuana laws.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws that permit, to varying degrees, the sale and use of the long-outlawed drug to treat various medical problems. California, which became the first state to adopt such legislation in 1996, has the most liberal rules, while New Mexico -- requiring marijuana dispensaries to be nonprofit -- has the most restrictive, according to NPR.

There is a November ballot initiative in California calling for the full legalization of marijuana.

It is time for this country to begin a serious discussion on the subject.

In the last 30 years, we've made significant progress in decriminalizing the drug. With the increase in prohibition-like subterfuge of medically prescribing it for real or fake illnesses, this country should deal with the matter straight-up. Just stop the games.

This isn't about me except as a taxpayer who realizes the billions of dollars spent on the unrealistic attempts to police those who partake of the herb. The toll on our treasuries, law enforcement and individuals seems too great.

Three years ago Texas passed a law allowing local police to issue a citation for possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana rather than arrest, jail and prosecute the offender. At that time, the director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., estimated that major cities in Texas would save $1 million a year, as each marijuana arrest cost state taxpayers $2,000.

In a country that repealed prohibition 76 years ago, and one that has never seriously considered banning the sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products, it seems ridiculous to continue the charade of enforcing outdated marijuana laws. Many experts say alcohol and tobacco are far more harmful.

On the surface, it seems more reasonable if we simply legalize the drug, regulate it and tax it.

Such a move would reduce the number of police officers assigned for enforcement, eliminate a huge number of prison beds allocated for drug offenders and add dollars to the public coffers.

Contact Sanders at bobray@star-telegram.com.