Wakeup Call: Are You Prepared for Post-Prohibition America?
Will California lead the nation in legalizing pot? A few years ago, this question would have seemed absurd, even unthinkable.
As recently as 2007, federal agents in full body armor and automatic weapons raided Hollywood pot dispensaries. This action took place within the context of chronic Orange Level Terror Alerts, so the population was already conditioned to endure a certain amount of heavy-handed government intrusion under the rubric of national security. The incident passed without much comment.
What a difference a few years can make. Today, with the election one month away, Proposition 19 now has more voter support than any candidate running for any statewide office. The ballot measure, which would legalize the sale of marijuana to adults, is performing better in polls than Senator Barbara Boxer or her opponent Carly Fiorina, and it has consistently garnered more voter support than either Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown or his rival Meg Whitman.
Already, California has led the nation by decriminalizing possession. Governor Schwarzenegger has downgraded possession to the level of a traffic ticket. And today pot is widely available via medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. At one point last year, there were more medical marijuana shops in Los Angeles than Starbucks coffee shops. (Eventually even the ineffective Los Angeles city council woke up to that fact and closed a few pot shops). Fourteen other states have followed in California’s footsteps, enacting legislation to legalize medical marijuana despite opposition from the Federal government.
Now there are even professional pot critics for newspapers. No kidding. Watch this clip. Ten years ago this clip would have appeared on Saturday Night Live as comedy, not on CNN as news.
Legalization is the next logical step. And it looks like voters are prepared to take it. Of course, that won’t be the end of the story: if the ballot measure is passed, it will pit the State of California against the Federal government. But, on the other hand, it will also set a trend that several other states are sure to follow.
I’m no advocate for pot. I don’t care one way or the other about this particular item. But I am in favor of common sense. Prohibition has been a complete failure and a colossal waste of taxpayer money.
So Proposition 19 is really a referendum on common sense. Are we ready to stop wasting money to preserve the illusion of control? Are Americans ready to discard unproven myths about “gateway drugs” and reefer madness?It’s no longer controversial to assert that the war on drugs has accomplished nothing. Drugs are more easily accessible than any time in modern history, and at far greater potency than ever before. For teenagers, it is easier to purchase illegal drugs of any sort today than alcohol. Prohibition has done nothing to limit access to drugs.
And as well all know, prohibition is a boon for organized crime. The beneficiaries of the current prohibition have been: mafias, drug smugglers, private for-profit prison operators, unionized prison guards and small rural towns with a booming local prison business.The victims of prohibition have been American citizens. No, I don’t mean pot smokers. I refer to all of us. The war on drugs has led to an increase in government interference, a rollback of civil liberties, a massive increase in urban violence and government-sanctioned violence, and misguided laws like “three strikes” mandatory sentencing requirements that reduce the scope of judges to exercise independent judgment in their own courtrooms.
The recent growth in the US prison population has been fueled by the campaign on drugs. Convictions for drug-related offenses have increased 550% during the past 20 years. The US has the largest prison population in the world. One quarter of the prison population is behind bars for drug-related offenses, and most of those are small scale infractions. One-eighth of the prison population is behind bars for pot-related offenses (and it costs more than $1 billion each year to keep them there). These burdens fall disproportionately on minority and lower-income citizens. And prisoners convicted of non violent crimes get immersed in a culture of professional criminal practices. Prison has become graduate school for violent professional criminals. This outcome is a perversion of the reform principle.
The damage doesn’t stop at our borders. After 40 years of the so-called “war on drugs” to choke supply at the source, Latin American countries today are more capable than ever of producing high potency drugs for export. The US government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into drug policing without making any lasting or discernable impact. And the toll has been dreadful: decades of violence in Columbia, endemic corruption throughout the region. Recent modest gains in Columbia have been offset by the downward spiral in Mexico, where beheadings and execution-style murders provide vivid evidence of the power of drug traffickers who operate with impunity. Don’t take my word for it — read this item from the former presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Columbia in the Wall Street Journal (not your typical weed-smoking leftists!)
Worse, massive spending on the “war on drugs” has diverted government money away from other projects, such as rehabilitation, treatment, job training, infrastructure, education. Yet there is nothing to show for four decades of spending. The money has gone up in smoke.
This is no longer an issue that divides right and left. The ultra-rightwing Cato Institute recently issued a report that estimates that government would save $41 billion annually on drug-enforcement expenditure, and would gain an additional $8.7 billion if marijuana were taxed at levels comparable to the legal drug tobacco.
Besides, there is a gigantic discrepancy in our drug policy. We forbid consumption of drugs, except those produced by major pharmaceutical companies, breweries, wineries, distilleries and tobacco farms. If pot could be manufactured in a factory, you’d better believe that there would be a huge pro-cannabis lobbying effort.
Finally, the current prohibition has done nothing to stop the real criminals. Kingpins rarely get sentenced. Small fry take the fall.
The war on drugs is hyperbole in service of hypocrisy. Fancy words and a ton of money to shore up an illusion.
If you find it impossible to believe that a nation can spend endless amounts to preserve an illusion, consider the following anecdote: