This session, the Hawaii Legislature has an incredible opportunity to right a historic wrong and unleash an economic boom by legalizing recreational marijuana.

John D. Ehrlichman, right-hand man to President Richard Nixon, once admitted in his twilight years that criminalization of marijuana and the Nixon war on drugs was less about public safety and more about disrupting communities that opposed the president’s agenda.

As some of Nixon’s most restless political opponents were partakers of marijuana, waging a “war” against drugs gave the federal government a pretext to use its incredible police power to “arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news,” Ehrlichman said.

Half a century later, the war on drugs has devolved into a costly failure for both the federal government and thousands of state and local governments across the country. More than $1 trillion has been spent since 1971 waging the war on drugs, and incarceration of persons possessing marijuana has been skewed disproportionately against minorities.

Marijuana may represent one of the keys to expanding economic opportunity in Hawaii. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

A number of bills at the Legislature propose to make marijuana legal for recreational use in Hawaii. Sen. J. Kalani English’s Senate Bill 686 appears to be the most successful so far, having recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, in spite of vociferous opposition from numerous state and city agencies.

In a state where so many things are either illegal or strictly regulated, freeing marijuana is a bright ray of hope for liberty in Hawaii.

We all stand to benefit from the legalization of marijuana. First, people want to use it and are willing to buy it. Making marijuana legal increases economic activity and immediately frees tax dollars that originally would have been spent on enforcement or prosecution to be directed to more productive pursuits.

More small businesses, more consumer spending, and more private employment — things that so far have been elusive to state planners — will be the immediate result of legalization.

Second and more importantly, there are many applications of marijuana beyond recreational use that have yet to be fully explored. Marijuana isn’t just for smoking. Legalization would allow the free market to develop new products and services that would improve the overall quality of life for everyone.

Hawaii’s economic system, which hangs precariously on a triad of tourism, real estate, and federal/military money, cannot be indefinitely sustained. Future growth will require forays into products and services that are easy to start up and profitable to engage in. Legalizing marijuana is a no-brainer for a state desperate for economic progress.

As a social conservative, I can already feel the disapproving stares of my fellow Republicans and evangelical peers burning into me as they discover that I support the legalization of marijuana. The reality, however, is that prohibiting the use or possession of marijuana is neither conservative nor Christian.

I have no interest in partaking of recreational marijuana, but my abstinence should never restrict the freedom of others who desire it.

Trust me, I have all of the clean cut, cookie-cutter conservative credentials – I even participated in Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No!” rallies in the ’80s. I’m familiar with all the arguments:

• Drugs impact your clarity of mind, and you need to be alert, focused, and level-headed to succeed in life.

• Having a drug record is not something you want employers to see, and it reflects poorly on the whole-person concept.

• People who use drugs have poor self-control.

Being conservative or opposing marijuana use does not have to require government in the equation. Even if one thinks that marijuana is bad, private companies or organizations can still use contracts to make individuals willingly consent to drug testing and marijuana abstinence. That’s called free market self-regulation.

Other conservatives might take the position that recreational marijuana use is unsafe, and that good government “protects” people against dangerous things. I would argue that excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, or even over-the-counter medication is equally unsafe, but a key benefit of adulthood in a free country is the right to enjoy things responsibly.

Christians are likewise intellectually compromised when they equate government drug enforcement with spirituality.

Galatians 5:23 says that self-control, not police control, is a fruit of the Spirit. Further, 1 Timothy 4:4-5 says “every creation of God is good, and nothing that is received with thanksgiving should be rejected, because it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” In Genesis 1:29, God promises, “I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth.”

We need to move on from the public relations talking points and social engineering of the past. Adults can and should be trusted to make their own market choices without government there to smack them down.

I have no interest in partaking of recreational marijuana, but my abstinence should never restrict the freedom of others who desire it.

Legalized marijuana will be the future of the marketplace, and Hawaii can either be left behind, or lead the economic charge. One little green leaf might just turn around Hawaii – now isn’t that worth trying?

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