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75 Years of a Pointless, Disastrous War Against Marijuana

This year marks the 75th anniversary of federal marijuana prohibition in the United States. It only took 13 years for Americans to realize the futility of alcohol prohibition.

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Law enforcement’s overwhelming focus on marijuana arrests plays out in all kinds of sickening ways that are difficult to quantify. One recent example is  Ramarley Graham, the 18-year-old who was chased into his home and fatally shot by police officers as he tried to flush a small amount of marijuana down the toilet. Every day thousands of young people in communities of color are subjected to invasive stop-and-frisks – ostensibly intended to remove weapons from our streets, but much more often resulting in low-level marijuana arrests. Thanks to policies like these, there are more black people under correctional supervision today than were enslaved in 1850 – and millions more are saddled with criminal records that relegate them to lifelong status as second-class citizens. 

Perhaps the most peculiar hypocrisy of all this is that the federal government regularly supplies a handful of patients with marijuana produced by the National Institute on Drug Abuse – while telling the rest of the world there’s no such thing as medical marijuana. Starting in the 1970s, the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program supplied medical marijuana to seriously ill patients until it stopped taking new applicants in 1992 and the few people in the program at that time were grandfathered in. Today, the DEA raids medical marijuana dispensaries operating legally under state law on a near-daily basis and our drug czar is statutorily required to oppose any efforts to change the legal status of marijuana or other illegal drugs, effectively impeding and undermining state and local governments willing to try a new approach to sensibly regulating marijuana.

While states and localities were responsible for initiating marijuana prohibition, today they are vital to repealing it. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws, while voters in Colorado and Washington will decide this November whether to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Let’s make this 75th anniversary the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition.

Derek Rosenfeld is internet communications associate for the Drug Policy Alliance.