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Legalizing It

The Detroit Free Press had a fascinating story last weekend about how the medical marijuana industry in Michigan is booming, thanks to a recent decision by state voters to legalize medicinal weed. And even though questions remain about how to interpret the law, what's not murky is how the measure is fueling a level of economic stimulation:

Equipment manufacturers, retailers, doctors, lawyers and publishers are suddenly advertising, hanging up shingles, opening storefronts and building growing equipment all over the state.

I'm not suggesting that we look to weed as the next economic engine for the state -- any more than we can keep looking to car manufacturing -- but I am intrigued by the implications of this small step away from the irrationality of the so-called drug war. We're trying something new in Michigan for a change, after squandering decades in pursuit of policies that have fouled up countless lives over a plant that's probably safer than alcohol.

And early indications are that our progressive approach is paying off. Jobs are being created. So are tax revenues. Rules are being put in place to regulate the industry. Meanwhile, the black market that often contributes to the violence that plagues places like Detroit is now faced with the real possibility of losing a big chunk of its multi-billion-dollar hustle.

I'm not sure what a robust medical marijuana industry will ultimately mean for the state, although I can't imagine we'd be any worse off than California, where there's talk of how legalizing marijuana (and not just medicinal weed either) could pump billions into the sagging state economy. Without knowing just how big marijuana is here, I'd still guess that we too would be looking at the sudden influx of millions of dollars into state coffers, if not more. (I know that, as of 2006, according to some estimates, marijuana arrests cost the state more than $300 million.)

While I'd rather we adopt sane drug policies out of good sense, I guess I'm not complaining about the economic argument to be made. Whatever the case, it still beats the hell out of what's driven drug policy before -- the politics of hysteria and stupidity.

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