Wednesday, April 20, 2011

4/20: International Smoke a Joint Day

With so many domestic and international political issues to be concerned about these days, it almost seems frivolous to take a stand against the prohibition of marijuana. Unless, of course, you look at a few facts:

  • At current rates, more than 760,000 people in the U.S. will be arrested for minor possession in 2011
  • Having this arrest on your record can severely affect job and housing opportunities, financial aid, and custody disputes
  • Arrest rates for marijuana possession are hugely discriminatory, focusing primarily on black and Latino communities--even though white people buy and sell at similar rates
  • The price tag for this "war on drugs"--at state and federal levels alone--is $51 billion per year
  • In 2010, New York City spent $75 million arresting 50,000 people on possession charges
  • The bloody war on drugs in Mexico speaks for itself--37,000 deaths since Calderon's crack-down began in 2006

I grabbed these stats from an article at Alternet: 4/20: Time to Have Fun--and to End Marijuana Prohibition. In recent years, I've heard politicians declare that casual users of marijuana are responsible for drug violence in America and abroad. In other words, if there wasn't a market for the stuff, then there wouldn't be any violence. To which I say (emphatically), BULLSHIT.

The market exists, period, and prohibition has done nothing to diminish demand. If we were to end the prohibition on marijuana, we would broaden the market for production, distribution, and regulation in such a way that all this violence--and the needless expense of ensuring its continued escalation--would end. On top of that, we'd also address the very costly issues of discriminatory arrest, imprisonment, and social marginalization that accompanies current policy.

In short, it would be far more accurate to say prohibition creates conditions that lead to violence, not the casual users who create a demand.

Is that an overly simplistic analysis? Maybe. But how many people have been imprisoned for liquor violations in recent years? How many have been killed over "turf wars"? And--if you disregard the social impact of prohibition laws--how many lives are ruined by marijuana use as compared to liquor use every year? Not many. I don't think these two categories even compare, but one is legal and the other is not.

The human consumption of mind-altering substances has a long history. There has been serious speculation that the cultivation of grain in Mesopotamia (i.e. a major factor in the rise of civilization) was developed primarily for the production of beer. Marijuana use goes back, at the very least, to the Scythians in the second millenium B.C. Ritual use of psychotropic substances in the western hemisphere was well-established long before the European invasion. Making such usage illegal in the Western world--and dedicating resources toward prohibition--is a much more recent phenomenon that perhaps accompanies the modern spread of recreational usage. But why?

Has legal prohibition ever been a successful means of eliminating the popular use of mind-altering substances in a Western nation? Not really. Is the recreational use of marijuana a major problem in this country that needs to be eradicated, regardless of expense? I think that's debatable.

My own opinion is biased, but if you disagree, take a look at this fact sheet. And then consider this 1988 statement from DEA administrative law judge Francis Young:
"In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating 10 raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."
But, to fight this supposed danger, we dedicate billions of dollars annually to support the prohibition of marijuana? Regardless of the resulting violence and the growing cost of imprisonment? Even when enforcement follows demonstrably racist patterns?

That sounds foolish to me--and horribly unjust.

As Tony Newman states in his Alternet article, "Marijuana use doesn't discriminate, but our marijuana policies do." I couldn't agree more.

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