Today is Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010. Today California has been given the opportunity to vote on the legalization of Marijuana. Today, I voted to end Marijuana prohibition in California. I hope you did too, and this is why:
Contrary to popular belief, the issues of marijuana legalization and drug policy in general have deep roots which influence a multitude of societal factors. The question of legalizing marijuana is not, as many people seem to view it, simply a question of “Should we let the college kids get stoned in order to raise some tax dollars?” In the hopes that I’m not shattering your world view, I must bring light to the alarming fact that the college kids are already getting stoned. Additionally, aside from the students who have lost their financial aid, the kids in college are hardly being punished for their officially immoral acts. No, the college kids are not the issue here.
Neither are the working professionals, male and female, who earn moderately high wages, participate in all the expected mainstream social institutions, and smoke weed on the weekends.
The prop 19 vote is not just about whether or not these people should be considered criminals, whether or not these people deserve to lose their jobs, or whether or not these people should be accepted by society at large.
No, prop 19 is about much more than that. The opportunity to vote on prop 19 is the opportunity of the people of California to express their disapproval with the way our country is handling its drug problem. It is a chance for the people of California to say “We understand that the harm coming from the war on drugs is exponentially more damaging than the harm coming from the drugs themselves. In no case is this more clear than in the case of Marijuana, and we are not okay with public policies which debase freedom, unjustly lock-up minorities, and fill our streets with violence.”
It is imperative that citizens recognize that prohibition is a serious issue which extends far beyond tax revenue and young white stoned adults living in the suburbs and driving their parents SUV’s. It is so important because drug policy dramatically influences almost every issue that politically concerned citizens ought to be concerned with. In fact, a bit of research into the area of drug policy will reveal that drug policy is a human rights issue, a public health issue, a class warfare issue, a minority rights issue, a states rights issue, a gang violence issue, a prison-industrial complex issue, a civil liberties issue, a corruption issue, and an economic issue.
I know, thats a long list, and it might seem like Marijuana is not linked to most of these things. But, Marijuana, and the drug war in general, is actually a huge influence on all of the aforementioned issues. If you happen to be concerned with any or all of those issues, I would recommend doing some research on drug policy to realize how big of a role it plays in our society. In my opinion drug policy is the single biggest political issue (save possibly the wealth distribution ratio) facing us today. Just so this post doesn’t seem entirely mute, i’ll briefly discuss some of the ways the war on drugs is tied to the plethora of serious issues mentioned above, but a full understanding will, unfortunately require more words than I can write tonight.
Here it goes:
Human Rights – Currently, people in border cities all along the US Mexican border, especially in places like cuidad juarez, are afraid to leave their homes as a direct result of the actions of the people and governments of the United States. The people create an insatiable demand for drugs which their government has not been able to curb by any means, and their government refuses to allow any method of filling this demand through legal means. The result is a violent black market which erupts into warfare just 20 minutes from my home town. The warfare which goes on at our border produces more deaths annually than our publicly despised Iraq war, and creates a climate where innocent kids and well intentioned families are too afraid to leave their homes. That is a human rights violation and that is directly due to the United States’ war on drugs, of which marijuana makes up a large part.
Public Health – Drugs are, almost by definition, a public health concern. Many drugs cause all sorts of damage when they are abused. What is interesting is that if drugs were regulated, we could ensure that the people who use them do not suffer from the added affects of drugs which are impure, laced, or sold as things they really are not. With Marijuana, many people argue that THC in weed “now-a-days” is so much stronger that it is dangerous now, even though it didn’t used to be dangerous. In reality, THC is about as safe as milk, and higher THC levels mean less carcinogens required for a given affect, so the point is mute. But, if you’re swayed by the “Super Weed” argument, you should realize that regulation, not prohibition, can control THC levels.
Class Warfare – Arresting people on drug violations ends up putting lots of poor people into the criminal justice system. Poor people are arrested disproportionately for drug possession and use. The rich can do it without punishment, but the poor cannot.
Minority Rights – This is the same issue as mentioned above. In Los Angeles, just to throw out a quick example, Black people account for 11% of the population, yet they account for 49% of Marijuana possession arrests. Blacks do not use disproportionately more marijuana. This is a clear instance of institutional racism.
States Rights – The United States Government considers marijuana a Schedule I drug. That means it is more dangerous and addictive and less medically beneficial than cocaine or crystal meth according to them. This shows any person who possess any degree of common sense that the Federal Government is off their rocker. What sucks is that the feds deny states the ability to decide the issue of marijuana legalization themselves. If you are in favor of leaving these decisions with the state, where the constitution says they should be made, you should have a big problem with federal drug policy.
Gang Violence – Common sense dictates that gangs make money in only a few different ways, namely selling drugs, selling guns, and controlling prostitutes. Although I don’t know exactly how much money comes from Marijuana, I can assume it must be a fair amount. The other drugs must supply the gangs with lots of money too. The drug trade gives money to criminals and leaves their disputes to be settled by guns on our streets – just like Al Capone did during prohibition.
Prison-industrial Complex – There are certain people who benefit by having lots of people in jail. It is called the prison-industrial complex, and consists of everyone who runs the business of housing criminals. They have been making increasingly more money over the last few years as prison populations grow. Making Marijuana legal will stop us from spending so much money housing people who otherwise would not be criminals.
Civil Liberties – This one is a no brainer. Civil Liberties and the general notion of freedom dictates that people should be in charge of what they do to their bodies so long as that something does not directly harm others. This is an important issue. Its not up to the government to tell you what to eat, it shouldn’t be up to them to tell you what to smoke either.
Corruption – Anytime you prohibit something that has no victims, you end up creating a system where the only people with a stake in stopping that crime are the police. With murderers, the general public has a stake in stopping, finding, and arresting them. With stoners, the general public has no stake in stopping them so the police are put in a situation where the public is not cooperative in finding the perpetrator. This, combined with a lucrative market, inevitably leads to corruption among police, judges, and lawyers. For more information on this check out Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and former Police Chief Norm Stamper.
Economic – The economic issues are pretty obvious. Taxing marijuana generates revenue. Putting people through the criminal justice system drains revenue.
As you can see there is a whole lot to this issue. It really does turn out to be a matter of life and death. It is more than a matter of letting hippies and college kids do what makes them happy, although that is important too.