Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bring Back the "Wild West"

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today for the "wild West" -- not the old wild West of gunslingers and saloon girls, but a more recent incarnation, spurred by the medical marijuana business boom --after reading about what a colossal mess local and state politicians have made of the medical marijuana opportunity.

I say "opportunity" because it's not often, these days, that Americans have an opportunity to witness an actual expansion of freedom, rather than the contraction of freedom, or that we have a chance to get freedom right, handle it responsibly, make it work. It's not often, either, that we have the chance to show a little regulatory restraint when dealing with an emerging new industry, permitting it to breath, grow and bear fruit, rather than smothering it under the usual blanket of taxation and regulation.

Colorado voters more than a decade ago approved partial legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. It was an opportunity to deal maturely, rationally and responsibly with an expansion of personal liberty, in an era in which reducing freedom is the norm. But we're failing the test of freedom in numerous ways in Colorado, by killing-off through taxation and micromeddling the freedoms that were approved by voters more than a decade ago.

The "wild West" side of the medical marijuana boom was surprising, crazy, exciting and fascinating to watch, even if it was disconcerting to nanny-cons (nanny conservatives) and "just say no" retreads. But it invited an overreaction. The sanctimonious and hypocritical reaction of so many Republicans was particularly interesting, and ironic, since they crow loudest about protecting freedom and limiting government but fumbled the ball when an opportunity to put these ideas into action came along. Let the record show that the party of freedom, personal responsibility, medical choice, limited government and regulatory restraint led the charge against medical marijuana in Colorado, all in a reactionary, knee-jerk fashion. It shows that Nannyism isn't confined to the left side of the political spectrum.

The boom was a little hairy and scary for some, but it was also an interesting experiment in how Americans deal with newfound freedoms. New businesses and jobs were springing-up almost overnight and an entrepreneurial spirit flourished in an almost completely unregulated environment -- an exceeding rare phenomenon these days. A previously off-the-books product was suddenly visible and taxable, which was a net benefit to cash-strapped governments. And out of the initial chaos order and self-regulation soon emerged, spontaneously, before our "leaders" decided to screw things up by trying to "fix" what wasn't broken.

I'm now convinced that we would all be better off today, and things would have worked themselves out just fine, if we had let the wild West phase take its natural course, with no government meddling -- just as the real wild West matured and mellowed as time went on and spontaneous order emerged out of the initial chaos.

Now, however, a political overreaction to the boom is leading to bust, as the politicians and regulators do to this new industry what they've done to virtually all American industries -- which is to do everything in their power to kill it. The more politicians tried to "fix" alleged "problems," the more they tried to micro-meddle in an industry most politicians didn't understand, the more actual problems were created. Before MMJ businesses and patients had time to adapt to the first wave of legislated hyperregulation, another wave came along, threatening to drown the adventurous entrepreneurial spirit that the new freedoms sparked. Greedy governments began treating these fledgling businesses as cash cows, to be milked dry at every turn with exorbitant fees no ordinary business would survive or tolerate. And that's how the boom in only a few short years became a bust.

Average Coloradans showed they could responsibly handle these newfound freedoms. Most of them shrugged-off the alleged menace this presented. But unreconstructed drug warriors and control freak politicians couldn't tolerate the freedom and went to work legislating and regulating it way. And they've largely succeeded in whittling-away what voters approved a decade ago, not through a frontal assault but by backdoor means.

That's the story, in short, of how the medical marijuana boom became another of this state's many busts. Then we wonder why America is an economic basketcase, that's only growth industry is government. Then we wonder why the freewheeling spirit of the "wild West," in which this nation's independence and freedoms are rooted, has been so thoroughly snuffed out even out here in the once wild, but now mild, mild West.

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