Obama Has the Chance To Be Another FDR -- He Can End the Era of Marijuana Prohibition
The parallels between the 1933 coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama must include the issue of Prohibition: alcohol in 1933, and marijuana today. As FDR did back then, Obama must now help end an utterly failed, socially destructive, reactionary crusade.
Marijuana prohibition is a core cause of many of the nation's economic problems. It costs the United States tens of billions per year to track, arrest, try, defend and imprison marijuana consumers, who pose little, if any, harm to society. The social toll soars even higher when we account for social violence, lost work, ruined careers and damaged families. In 2007, 775,137 people were arrested in the United States for mere possession of this ancient crop, according to the FBI's uniform crime report.
Like the Prohibition on alcohol that plagued the nation from 1920 to 1933, marijuana prohibition (which essentially began in 1937) feeds organized crime and a socially useless prison-industrial complex that includes judges, lawyers, police, guards, prison contractors and more.
A dozen states have passed public referenda confirming medical uses for marijuana based on voluminous research dating 5,000 years. Confirmed medicinal uses for marijuana include treatment for glaucoma, hypertension, arthritis, pain relief, nausea relief, reducing muscle spasticity from spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, and diminishing tremors in multiple sclerosis patients. Medical reports also prove smoked marijuana provides relief from migraine headaches, depression, seizures and insomnia, according to NORML. In recent years, its use has become critical to thousands of cancer and AIDS sufferers who need to it to maintain their appetite while undergoing chemotherapy.
The ban on marijuana include hemps, one of the most widely used agricultural products in human history. Unlike many other industrial crops, hemp is powerful and prolific in a natural state, requiring no pesticides, herbicides, extraordinary fertilizing or inappropriate irrigation. Its core products include paper, cloth, sails, rope, cosmetics, fuel, supplements and food. Its seeds are a potentially significant source of biodiesel fuel, and its leaves and stems an obvious choice for cellulosic ethanol, both critically important for a conversion to a Solartopian renewable energy supply.
Hemp was grown in large quantities by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and many more of the nation's founders, most of whom would likely be dumbfounded to hear it is illegal (based on entries in Washington's agricultural diaries, referring to the separation of male and female plants, it's likely he and his cohorts also raised an earlier form of "medicinal" marijuana).
Hemp growing was mandatory in some circumstances in early America, and again during World War II, when virtually the entire state of Kansas was planted in it. The current ban on industrial hemp costs the U.S. billions of dollars in lost production and revenue from a plant that can produce superior paper, clothing, fuel and other critical materials at a fraction the financial cost and environmental damage imposed by less-worthy sources.
On Jan. 16, 1919, fundamentalist crusaders help pass the 18th Amendment, making the sale of alcohol illegal. The ensuing Prohibition was by all accounts a ludicrous failure, epitomized by gang violence and lethal "amateur" product that added to the death toll. Its only real winner was organized crime and the prison-industrial complex.
In 1933, FDR helped pass the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, which ended a costly era of gratuitous social repression and gave the American economy -- and psyche -- a tangible boost.
Marijuana prohibition was escalated with Richard Nixon's 1970 declaration of the War on Drugs. There was a brief reprieve when Steve Ford, the son of President Gerald Ford appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone barefoot and claiming that the best place to smoke pot was in the White House. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter's last year in office, 338,664 were arrested for marijuana possession.
President Ronald Reagan renewed the War on Drugs and declared his "Zero Tolerance" policy, despite his daughter Patti Davis' claim that the Gipper smoked weed with a major donor. Following Reagan, President George Herbert Walker Bush recorded a low of 260,390 marijuana-possession arrests, but the numbers climbed again under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both of whom are reported to have smoked it themselves (though Clinton claims not to have inhaled).
On a percentage basis, at least as many American high school students smoke pot than students in Holland, where it is legal. In the midst of the drug war, U.S. students report virtually unlimited access to a wide range of allegedly controlled substances, including pot. Because so many Americans use it, and it is so readily available, the war on marijuana can only be seen as a virtually universal assault on the basic liberties of our citizenry.
In a 2005 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey, more than 97 million Americans admitted to having tried marijuana at least once. President-elect Obama makes it clear in his book Dreams From My Father that he has smoked -- and inhaled -- marijuana (he is apparently addicted to a far more dangerous drug, tobacco). His administration should tax marijuana rather than trying to repress it. Like alcohol and tobacco, a minimum age for legal access should be set at 21.
As a whole, the violent, repressive War on Drugs has been 40 years of legal, cultural and economic catastrophe. Like FDR, Obama must end our modern-day Prohibition, and with it the health-killing crusade against this ancient, powerful medicinal herb.