In their op-ed article against cannabis legalization, former drug czar William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn yearn for a time when fear-mongering, not facts, drove the marijuana policy debate in America.
If moral entrepreneurs and interest groups manage to whip up enough fear and anxiety, they can create a full-blown moral panic, the widespread sense that the moral condition of society is deteriorating at a rapid pace, which can be conveniently used to distract from underlying, status quo-threatening social problems and exert social control over the working class or other rebellious sectors of society.
As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It's too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate? (See also: The real reason pot is still illegal)
The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that it is almost impervious to reason.
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. (See also: Why the New York Times editorial series calling for marijuana legalization is such a big deal and Evolving on Marijuana)
When the poster child for marijuana legalization is released from a U.S. prison later this week, he'll be re-entering a world where many of his ideas have taken root and in some places have sprouted right up. Marc Emery, Canada’s self-styled “Prince of Pot,” concludes a five-year sentence and will emerge into a lucrative marijuana landscape, where two U.S. states are now issuing recreational pot licences, medical growers are reaping profits and investors aren’t hedging on potential opportunities.
The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA), one of the largest anti-legalization organizations in the US has a curious sponsor: Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxy-Contin, the highly addictive painkiller that has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths nationwide. A familiar confederation of anti-pot interests have a financial stake in the status quo, including law enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical firms, and nonprofits funded by federal drug-prevention grants.
A recent neuroscience study from Harvard Medical School claims to have discovered brain differences between people who smoke marijuana and people who do not. Such well-intentioned and seemingly objective science is actually a new chapter in a politicized and bigoted history of drug science in the United States. Different-looking brains tell us literally nothing about who these people are, what their lives are like, why they do or do not use marijuana, or what effects marijuana has had on them.
For four decades, libertarians, civil rights activists and drug treatment experts have stood outside of the political mainstream in arguing that the war on drugs was sending too many people to prison, wasting too much money, wrenching apart too many families -- and all for little or no public benefit. They were always in the minority. But a sign of a new reality emerged: for the first time in four decades of polling, the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
A pro-marijuana group lost its legal battle when a federal appellate court ruled that marijuana would remain a Schedule I drug, defined as having no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. For years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute for Drug Abuse have made it all but impossible to develop a robust body of research on the medical uses of marijuana. For a muscular agency that combats vicious drug criminals, the DEA acts like a terrified and obstinate toddler when it comes to basic science.
Last week was a momentous week, the beginning of the end, perhaps, of a national depravity – the "war on drugs". The voters of Colorado and Washington passed measures to legalise marijuana, amounting to local shifts, for the moment. So we shouldn't delude ourselves that the country will be transformed overnight, but the public thinking, the public spirit is being transformed. Finally, there is a growing realisation that this "war" has produced nothing but a legacy of failure. And who wants to be associated with failure?
"Exactly 80 years ago (in 1932), Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to appeal alcohol prohibition, and that came before it being repealed by the federal government," said Mason Tvert, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign in Colorado. "And it was the individual states taking that type of action that ultimately resulted in the federal repeal (of Prohibition in 1933)." As happened with alcohol, so it is beginning to happen with marijuana. No matter what the outcome of the votes, the bugler is sounding retreat.
Amanda Reiman, Policy manager, Bill Piper (Drug Policy Alliance)
27 September 2012
As we approach the 75th anniversary of marijuana prohibition in the United States on October 1, it is important to remember why marijuana was deemed illicit in the first place: "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."- Harry Anslinger, first US Drug Czar.
A leading distributor of crack cocaine in the 1980s would have preferred to have been a pot dealer, but was unable to find enough supply, he told The Huffington Post in an interview. "I wanted to sell pot. You couldn't get pot at a decent price -- I couldn't, nor the quantity," said Rick Ross, whose operation the Los Angeles Times dubbed "the Wal-Mart of crack dealing." Ross built one of the largest cocaine empires in the country. If the goal of U.S. drug policy is to lower demand by increasing price, Reagan's drug war did precisely the opposite, driving people away from pot and toward coke and crack.
I recently returned from the desert city of Durango, Mexico, where forensic officials are still trying to identify some 240 corpses discovered this year in mass graves. More than 200 other bodies have been found in similar fosas across northern Mexico. All were victims, many of them innocent victims, of the drug-trafficking violence whose barbarity seems bottomless. But it's fueled in large part by the just as endless American appetite for illegal drugs – which itself is due in no small part to the fact that our anti-drug policies are so narrow-mindedly focused on battling supply instead of reducing demand.
Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action. This June will mark forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs," identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1." As far as I know, no celebrations are planned. What's needed, indeed essential, are reflection -- and action.
The CATO report estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Of these savings, $25.7 billion would accrue to state and local governments, while $15.6 billion would accrue to the federal government. Approximately $8.7 billion of the savings would result from legalization of marijuana and $32.6 billion from legalization of other drugs.