State looking more at reaping maximum dollars to help close deficit

May 16, 2017

At this writing, the Delaware Legislature and Gov. John Carney continue to debate bill HB 110 to legalize recreational marijuana. I recently watched the video of the governor's April 19 Marijuana Roundtable discussion in which lobby groups from both sides spoke with their pros and cons along with statements from the audience.

One especially poignant voice came from Pastor Aaron Appling of Victory Church in Dover who, he says, serve, feed and house the poor without any government subsidies. He admitted to using marijuana and related his experience as a "victim" of the war on drugs. He was arrested at 19 for possession of a quarter ounce of marijuana and sentenced to three-and-a-half years after being scared into a plea bargain. It nearly ruined his life, he said.

He also told a story of how the decriminalization law can be manipulated. One of his parishioners, 19, was caught with a legal amount of marijuana but was being charged with distribution to circumvent the law until the pastor apparently intervened.
In addition, Pastor Appling's brother is addicted to opiates from the legal pharmaceutical industry which he described as hypocrisy. The war on drugs, he believes, is the enemy of the poor and is a moral issue.

Taking a wider view of the illegal drug business reveals an even more dramatic perspective in the scale of drug policy failure.

Worldwide illegal drug sales, from an Economist magazine report in February 2016, are enormous at $300 billion annually with marijuana accounting for nearly half. By comparison, the NFL's revenues are about $10 billion annually.

In Mexico, the drug revenues, according to investigator author Robert Saviano in his book, "Zero, Zero, Zero," vary from $25-$50 billion a year. They use a fleet of trucks to connect Los Angeles with the Midwest 24/7 to guarantee customers two tons of cocaine and heroin a month; 40 percent of the drugs travel highway I-35 in Texas.

Moreover, Saviano says that the "seized to produced ratio" in 2009 was about 41.5 percent (58.5 percent gets through). The seizures in effect, are just the cost of running a very lucrative business.

Even more dismaying is the Afghanistan connection. Writer Matthew Aikin, in a 2014 Rolling Stone article, reported that 2014 was a record-breaking year for the opium harvest (6,400 tons, 90 percent of world supply). This has occurred under the noses of U.S. military who have been there for 16 years! Some war.

Then, there's the lax interdiction of the "over-prescribers" of legal opioids. The Cape Gazette reported in April 2016. The "DEA has been cracking down...for more than a decade. But, since 2009 only 19 DEA registrations have been revoked...none included criminal investigations for illegal drug sales."

So goes the failed War on Drugs which as of 2010 has cost $1 trillion, plus the current $51 billion annually, not to mention the lives lost estimated at 137,000 (2006-12), according to reporter Kit O'Connell.

Looking for rational, effective solutions, Thomas Wainwright, Britain editor of the Economist, wrote in a February 2016 Wall Street Journal article that economics points to a fundamental mistake in the war on drugs.

"Most money spent tackling narcotics is directed toward disruption supply by uprooting coca bushes, battling cartels, locking up dealers and so on. In fact, focusing on demand side interventions would be more effective and cheaper. He says that education, treatment and legalization, like several states have done with marijuana, has inflicted bigger losses on the cartels than any supply disruption policy."

Agreeing in concept, the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition submits that, "we believe that drug prohibition is the true cause of much of the social and personal damage that has been attributed to drug use. It is prohibition that makes these drugs so valuable while giving criminals a monopoly over their supply. Driven by the huge profits ... criminal gangs bribe and kill each other, law enforcers and children. Their trade is unregulated and they are beyond our control."

If Delaware undercuts the black market substantially with quality and lower price it will heavily damage, if not eliminate, illegal marijuana revenues. But, with the proposed heavy taxation, I fear the state is looking more at reaping maximum dollars to help close their over-spending deficit rather than reducing crime, violence and killings.

Geary Foertsch lives in Rehoboth and writes from a libertarian perspective to promote economic liberty, non-cronyism free markets, small government and a non-intervention foreign policy. Comments can be sent to

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