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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
Tony Newman (Director of Media Relations, Bill Piper (Drug Policy Alliance)
14 June 2011
June 17 will mark forty years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1," officially declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, the war on drugs has proven to be a catastrophic failure.
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.
After 40 years of defeat and failure, America's "war on drugs" is being buried in the same fashion as it was born – amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America's longest "war" may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard.
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.
The central statistic of Mexico's violent drug war – 40,000 gangland murders in the past five years – is repeated so often it almost fails to alarm us anymore. But what happened last Thursday, Aug. 25, in the northern business capital of Monterrey – 52 innocent people massacred after gangsters set fire to a casino, presumably in a drug-cartel extortion operation – left even President Felipe Calderón sounding distressed. So agitated, in fact, that drug-war analysts believe Calderón, in his speech the next day, signaled a change in philosophy and told the U.S. to think about legalizing drugs as a way of weakening vicious drug traffickers.
Fifty years after its entering into force, it is time for a critical reflection on the validity of the Single Convention today: a reinterpretation of its historical significance and an assessment of its aims, its strengths and its weaknesses.
"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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow marks the 79th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the U.S. prohibition on alcohol. On that day in 1932 John D. Rockefeller Jr., a vociferous advocate of temperance, called for the repeal of the 18th amendment in a letter published in the New York Times. Rockefeller had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for the constitutional prohibition on alcohol. But his letter did more than admit the error of his investment. Because of his moral authority on the matter, it effectively ended the conservative taboo against admitting that the whole experiment had failed.
This contradicts one of the central tenets of the War on Drugs, which is that the psychopharmacological effects of drug use lead to criminal behavior. Most studies show that it's in fact the competition of an unregulated market that encourages the majority of violent crime. This concept was evidenced during the prohibition era in the 1920s, a time that coincided with an increase in crime, corruption, and contempt for law.