Marijuana Prohibition Is Hanging on by Its Final Thread -- There's a Bright Future on the Horizon
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True in 1933, true in 1991, true in 2012. With Connecticut’s new medical cannabis law, the latest but not the last, we’re at 17 states now unilaterally declaring peace in the drug war, and that number is going to keep growing (Massachusetts and Arkansas voters go to the polls on the issue in a couple of weeks on the medical side, and Coloradans, Oregonians and Washingtonians will be voting to fully end the drug war by regulating cannabis for adult social use). In fact, despite two recent polls showing a majority of Americans favor full -- not just medicinal – marijuana legalization, it looks like the one-state-at-a-time model is going to be the one that ends the four-decade, ineffective, trillion-dollar war on cannabis.
That’s because the drug war issue is, in the words of former New Mexico Governor and current Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the issue of “greatest disconnect” between Americans and their leaders on the federal level.
What he means is, there is as yet almost no support in Congress, especially in the Senate, to get cannabis out of Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This absurd classification means that officially the plant has no beneficial uses at all. Even cocaine and methamphetamine are in Schedule II. As the tired and wrong rhetoric about brains frying on drugs fades from the society’s zeitgeist, the taxpayer is coming to ask why.
Here’s what I discovered: devoid of reason or results, inertia becomes the last refuge of the drug warrior. And it’s a powerful refuge. You think it’s hard to get funding for a program? That’s nothing compared to urging a legislator to turn off the tap once the bureaucratic flow is cascading to beneficiaries. And at a higher cost annually then Reagan’s entire 10-year Star Wars initiative, the drug war is one big flow. Sixty-billion dollars of our taxes are spent annually (state and federal) to lose this war.
Appropriations taps tended to get rusted in the on position because a lot of jobs and programs are at stake. That is sure true in the case of America’s longest and most expensive war. An American is arrested for cannabis every 37 seconds, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. This despite its proven medicinal properties and what any honest law enforcer will tell you is a much easier call to get than an alcohol one or one connected to America’s real epidemic: prescription pill abuse.
That cannabis is the main domestic drug war target has nothing to do with public safety. The reason for all the rural raids and urban stop-and-frisks is that a lot of people are paid to keep doing these things. The federal DEA alone has more than 9,000 employees and a budget of $2.5 billion. That’s an industry, people. Local law enforcers are directly and indirectly reimbursed based on their arrests and property seizures. Private prison executives guarantee incarceration rates in bids to municipalities. And the same banks you use launder Mexican drug money.
President Obama knows all this. Or did until his inauguration. In 2004, he said, “The war on drugs has been an utter failure. I think we need to…decriminalize our medical marijuana laws.” In 2011, hounded for three years by cannabis activists at every town hall meeting he held, he finally said, “Am I willing to pursue a decriminalization strategy as an approach? No.” Hard to turn of the money tap, ain’t it? That explains the federal disconnect, Governor Johnson. Too much of the drug war, in practice, is incarceration industry welfare.