It's Time to End the War Against Marijuana

"It is time for an honest and common sense approach focusing effectively on the drugs that cause most harm." This statement came from the nation's top law enforcement official in late October. Unfortunately, he isn't working for the United States.

The comment was made by Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett. As the U.S. continues to dedicate thousands of officers and budget dollars to the fight against marijuana, other countries such as Britain, The Netherlands and Canada are taking a new approach.

"This is a clear signal that [marijuana possession] is not such a high priority as it was perceived to be. There are lots of other more high-profile issues for police officers to tackle," comments Britain's Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens.

Britain has decided to downgrade marijuana's classification, thus eliminating 90,000 arrests a year. Britain's government isn't likely to legalize or even decriminalize the drug too soon. However, intelligent debate and legal change (are) taking place on that side of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, states across the U.S. (struggle) to pay for education on all levels (from elementary to universities), while the U.S. government has approved an additional $2 million to fight marijuana cultivation in California and Kentucky. Both the House and Senate approved this in late October, with little opposition from either party.

As if that wasn't enough, proof of the excessive fight against marijuana was delivered by our own government on October 19th, 2001 in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report. The report shows that police arrested an estimated 734,498 persons for marijuana violations in 2000. This is the highest number of marijuana violations ever recorded by the FBI, yet it comprises just under half of all drug arrests in the United States that year.

"Today's war on drugs is really little more than a war on marijuana smokers," charges NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St Pierre. "Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers approximately $10 billion per year. This is a tremendous waste of national and state criminal justice resources, which should be focused on combating serious and violent crime, including terrorism."

While arresting drug suppliers and dealers would seem to be the government's wisest target, nearly 88 percent of those aforementioned arrests were for possession only, not "sale/manufacture." Equally disturbing is the fact that the total number of marijuana arrests far exceeds the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Some might say this spike in arrests shows that we are winning the war against marijuana. The problem is, the number of arrests shows that the war on marijuana has done little to slow the marijuana trade or its users from accessing the drug. Instead, it's increasing prison populations and wasting billions of tax dollars better spent on education and treatment.

Unfortunately, the same people deciding the laws are the ones profiting from them. Politicians still see fighting drugs as a vote-getter and receive soft money from the prison industry (Wackenhut, Jacobs Engineering Group, Prison Health Services and Gilbane Building Company, to name only a few, donate thousands of dollars a year to politicians). Other big businesses also don't want to see the laws lifted.

Public opinion is shifting, however. In August 2001, an annual USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 34 percent of Americans support legalization. That's an increase of nearly 10 percent in the last twenty years and a 3 percent increase from the prior year alone. Another study, released in August 2001 by Australia's New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, found that "prohibition is not the dominant consideration in individual decisions to use or desist from using the drug." The majority of respondents said, instead, they either don't like marijuana, don't think they would like it, or cited health concerns.

Relatedly, an October report in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry shed light on health concerns related to marijuana smoking. According to Dr. Harrison G. Pope, Jr., lead author of the report, "It appears that cognitive impairment from marijuana use is temporary and related to the amount of marijuana that has been recently smoked rather than permanent and related to an entire lifetime consumption."

While I'm not going to argue that smoking marijuana is good for your health, I do feel that it is time to put laws against marijuana to rest. The fact is we are wasting money and resources fighting a losing battle against a drug that, time and time again, has been proven to be no less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco--two legal drugs. American adults deserve the respect to make wise decisions, especially when those decisions affect no one but themselves.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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