Caravan is closer

P resident Trump got a lot of mileage before Tuesday’s elections with his warnings about potential danger of a caravan of people from Central America walking toward the Texas-Mexico border.

The president was looking at the wrong caravan. The one that’s already made it across the border is legal marijuana, and Tuesday’s voting indicates the pace of acceptance is quickening.

Marijuana advocates scored their biggest victory in Michigan, where 56 percent of voters approved a measure that allows those 21 and older to use the drug “recreationally.” They can grow up to 12 plants for their own use and keep 10 ounces of the drug in their residence. It also created a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and set up a 10 percent sales tax.

Michigan is the first Midwestern state to legalize recreational marijuana. Nine other states and the District of Columbia already allow it.

Three other states decided marijuana issues  Tuesday. Voters in Missouri and Utah approved measures to legalize medical marijuana, while North Dakota rejected a recreational marijuana proposal.

What makes the Michigan vote notable is the state’s location. Six Western states and three in the Northeast have legalized recreational marijuana. It will be interesting to see if any other states in America’s midsection follow suit.

The recreational marijuana caravan is not near Mississippi — yet. Only four Southern states are among 22 that allow marijuana use for medical purposes. One is Louisiana, but using it in a form that can be smoked is illegal.

It seems like a matter of time, perhaps 10 to 20 years, before the issue gets put to a referendum in Mississippi.

There are plenty of reasons to be leery of the idea. It is unwise to give people one more legal drug to use. There is a risk that more minors could obtain the drug once it’s legal. There could be more social costs like impaired driving that causes accidents and fatalities.

The main argument to legalize marijuana is financial — meaning tax revenue. Today in Mississippi, criminal marijuana transactions are common. It is unlikely that this will change, so why should the state refuse to regulate and tax this widespread commerce?

After all, even the conservative Mississippi Legislature recognizes that the state needs more tax revenue. This summer in a special session it approved a lottery and an internet sales tax. Lawmakers bypassed moral concerns about more gambling and higher taxes to raise extra money for state government.

Michigan expects marijuana to bring in $130 million a year in taxes. One day marijuana revenue may be too tempting a product for Mississippi lawmakers to ignore.

As for concerns about the damage that legalizing marijuana could cause, this should be compared with problems created by legal and socially acceptable products like alcohol and tobacco.

Marijuana certainly has its drawbacks, but it’s difficult to argue that it’s a more dangerous drug than opioids, whose abuse the president recently described as a national emergency.