Marijuana or Gambling?

SUBHEAD: Why the state of Hawaii should legalize marijuana and not gambling.

By Amy Westervelt on 19 February 2010 in the Faster Times -  

Image above: Some wicked looking purple herb found at

 [Editors note: Thanks to Larry Geller at Disappeared News for discovering this article.] 

So, in order to pay some of its debt and generate some income, Hawaii is talking about legalizing gambling. Yeah, good one, Hawaii. Best not to develop any industry that isn’t wholly dependent on tourists.

Instead, I say that the Aloha state should combine its fledgling local-farm trend with its widely known penchant for all things mellow. Hawaii should legalize weed. (God, I hope my mother doesn’t read this. Mom, Dad, readers, I say this not because I think pot’s cool, but because I think it is lucrative.) But there it is. A smart financial decision that could actually save America’s favorite vacation island chain.

Still, I’m not the only one with the idea. Plenty of business reporters have already gone into great detail about why it would make good business sense for the state of California to legalize ganja: The state is bankrupt, and if pot were taxed, Cali would climb out of debt, stat. There’s already a network of medical marijuana clinics in California; a regulated industry would make quality and content uniform, and cut down on violence and the destruction of national forest and parkland, where people love to hide pot farms. And Obama already quietly erased a Bush-era regulation that required the federal crack-down on state-approved marijuana businesses. (Although LA’s recent crackdown on new dispensaries by its mayor may prove to be a little obstacle.)

But Hawaii’s looking at legalizing another currently-illegal activity — gambling — instead. For a lot of people this seems like a good compromise. Gambling is more acceptable. It doesn’t cause addiction (oh wait, it does!), or lead people to other harder drugs (oh wait, it can!), or suck up all of people’s time so they don’t do anything productive … you can see where I’m going here: I’m not interested in seriously arguing that pot-smoking is somehow better than gambling; I’m talking dollars and sense, and what’s best for the already-trampled people of Hawaii.

It’s a question of resources, too. On the pot front, let’s be honest, the crops already exist in Hawaii, so there would likely be little increase in the amount of resources needed — in terms of water and energy — to support a legal marijuana industry. Certainly no giant new buildings need to be built and operated.

A new casino industry, on the other hand, would put a major burden on the island state’s already severely stretched resources. Limited resources should be a concept easily grasped on an island.

Then there’s the cultural aspect. There are precious few jobs in Hawaii that don’t rely on tourism, and that creates both a relatively unstable economy (see the billion-dollar deficit) and an unhappy citizenry. Many native Hawaiians already feel like their land was taken from them illegally, and over the past few decades they have slowly been squeezed off the property ladder by snowbirds from Ottawa and Washington who want a piece of paradise.

On the Big Island, it’s not uncommon for people to live on the east side of the island and commute up to an hour or two to get to work at the resorts on the west side, simply because they can’t afford to live closer. And then these people are asked every day to wait on the very tourists and transplants who took their land. It’s easy to see why there’s tension between locals and howlies. If the government were to stimulate growth of a non-tourism-based industry it could help address both problems. Granted, if that industry is weed, it probably won’t stimulate the ambition needed to start other non-tourism-related industries, but that’s another issue.

To be fair, the state has been trying to stimulate other types of economic activity. A couple of big algae-to-fuel projects are underway there, and restaurants on the island are working to stimulate a local farming industry. But in general, the state is focused on tourism dollars, and often goes for the quick fix to the detriment of its long-term sustainability. This time, Hawaii, do us all one better: Say no to casinos. Don’t make another short-sighted mistake and turn your entire state into an Indian Reservation with a beach.


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