I’ve taken a fair amount of flack for my call to recall Columbia (MO) First Ward City Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick, including from dinosaur prohibitionist Don Stamper, who labeled me and my associates “an embarrassment to community leadership”. Yet neither Ginny Chadwick nor Don Stamper, nor anyone remaining in the (small) coalition of people who still stand behind Chadwick’s leadership ventured a single response to my core argument in favor of making the marijuana cultivation laws less punitive: that making it easier for Columbians to engage in small-scale home cultivation of marijuana will decrease the total number of interactions between marijuana users and marijuana dealers in black-market transactions, leading to modest decreases in black market violence and fewer bodies on the street for Chief Burton’s officers to find.
While my particular angst with Chadwick’s leadership is rooted in her flip-flop on marijuana policy, the same fundamental economic logic applies to Chadwick’s other major policy initiative: her proposal to ban cigarette and e-cigarette sales to people under 21 years of age (and additionally to ban the use of e-cigarettes in indoor spaces). This policy, while restricting access, does nothing to decrease demand, and therein lies its fatal flaw: Some black or gray market vendor, likely acting outside of any legal or regulatory process, will inevitably emerge to meet the demand for tobacco products in Columbia from the 18 to 21 year old demographics. This inevitability brings with it two distinct externalities: first, the very real prospect that black market tobacco vendors will seek to maximize profits by selling product to minors (the market of 18 to 21 year old consumers is not as large as the market of 12 to 21 year old consumers) and the substantial likelihood that black market profits will drive black market violence, as dealers seek to maximize and protect their turf.
Instead of regulated, licensed vendors selling regulated products to adults, black market dealers will capture that market, selling product to anyone who has the cash. And these dealers won’t just carry tobacco products: to maximize profits, they’ll also transact illegal pharmaceuticals and other hard drugs. In other words, Chadwick’s policy of tobacco and marijuana prohibition will act as an open invitation to violent foreign cartels like Sinaloa, who are very sophisticated about finding and developing new markets. In Ginny Chadwick’s Columbia, tobacco prohibition is the gateway to this future.
We’ve walked down this road of failure for a long time. Alcohol prohibition gave rise to immensely powerful cartel gangs, at least until 1933, when Americans realized the utter failure of that policy. And 40+ years of the War on Drugs has created essentially the same horrors as foreign cartels ravage Central and South America and violate American borders. America now leads the world in incarceration of our citizens and we pump tens of billions of dollars every year into narcotics enforcement with nothing positive to show from a public policy standpoint.
In recalling Ginny Chadwick, we have an opportunity to move in a more sensible direction. We don’t have to resign ourselves to more violence and more economically-driven challenges to our social and governmental structures. We don’t have to resign ourselves to more bodies on the street. Our law enforcement has much better things to do than arrest people for marijuana cultivation or tobacco use. The First Ward, which has seen the brunt of racially divisive politicking, needs leadership that respects citizens as citizens and does not attempt to subsume our American rights under the morass of failed prohibition.
It’s time to recall Ginny Chadwick (and demonstrate to prohibitionist dinosaurs like Don Stamper that he’s on the wrong side of history).