Upon reading stories about people serving forty (or more) years sentences in prison for the crime of selling marijuana, one is left with the uncomfortable feeling that something is missing from the picture. People who commit rape or murder serve less time.

What was/is so terrible about selling marijuana? Especially now that multitudes of people are making lots of money selling marijuana LEGALLY.[1]

At least in the 22 states that have legalized marijuana, shouldn’t all the previous such ‘crimes’ be dismissed and their ‘criminals’ be pardoned?[2]

Why is the boot of the government still on the necks of marijuana users and traffickers?

Historically, the first notable enthusiasm for marijuana prohibition came from law enforcement.[3], [4] It was no accident that the big push to criminalize marijuana came exactly at the moment alcohol prohibition ended. It gave fresh hope for employment to all the ‘revenuers’ who’d been busy tracking down and destroying bootleg stills. After Nixon declared a war on drugs, particularly marijuana, pot users became a nest on the ground for police looking to boost their arrest numbers, hence the money they could gain for the department. It didn’t hurt that arresting a pot head meant, in many places, police pocketing whatever money the hapless victim might have had in his pocket, even if it was his week’s pay meant to cover rent.

Seizure/forfeiture proceedings also led to police profiting from taking the car in which said culprit had been driving, or if at home, the house, land, equipment on the land, as well as jewelry and other valuables in the home which could be claimed as implements of a crime and therefore suitable for forfeiture to the state. The thing about seized assets is that the victim doesn’t have to be found guilty of a crime; the assets are guilty separately, and public defenders are not appointed to defend property. If the victim, now penniless, can scrape up enough money to defend his property, he might stand a chance of having it returned to him. But in many cases, his rights regarding his property are obscured in an Orwellian maze of legal procedures designed to profit the state and the arresting police department.[5]

There has never been a calculation of the loss to individuals, families, and society resulting from these prohibition tactics—loss of employment, loss of opportunity to parent children and preserve home and wellbeing for a family (and the family’s subsequent need for welfare), disenfranchisement not only from citizenship, but also from community standing—a permanent blow against that person for getting high on marijuana instead of beer.

Jobs and money were not the only motivations for marijuana prohibition within the nation’s criminal justice system. Most state inmates are required to work at jobs within the prison system. In Arkansas, much of that labor was/is in prison farms which produce millions of dollars’ worth of crops which does not necessarily end up on prison cafeteria tables but rather is sold to profit the system.[6] Other types of prison jobs pay a minimal wages, which benefit whichever corporate employer is able to gain this work force. The growth of for-profit prisons has increased exponentially, with states giving up their prison industry for a package deal with the corporates. [7]

More to the point, the lingering extremism of marijuana prohibition has been a half-assed effort to stop the awakening of an entire generation. Amid the civil rights movement whereby former enslaved persons and their descendants might gain their rightful place in society and the growing outrage over the war in Vietnam, the Baby Boom generation came of age as if awakening from a 1950s dream where their parents and America were right in the world. Slowly, as the scales fell from their eyes, facilitated by the enlightening effects of marijuana, young people were shocked then horrified by the catalogue of wrongs unfolding on their television screens and in their city streets. Police were beating people over the head for protesting. Young men of the generation were dying by the thousands in an unwarranted ‘war’ no one authorized or understood.

Slowly, the awakening of the generation produced a new vision of a righteous society. Women’s rights, minority rights, gay rights, rights for the handicapped. Organic food and natural medicine including natural childbirth. Protection of the environment. Free sex for the pleasure of it now that women had gained the right to control their bodies. These were topics of conversation among the thousands of young people as they sat in circles passing a joint. Their awakening sent shock waves through the established culture as Boomers turned their backs on corporate jobs and material consumption to live in teepees and grow their own food (and marijuana), as they joined with minorities and war veterans to demand justice. More importantly, they didn’t keep quiet about their awakening, but took to the streets to force institutions like universities and government to hear the good news.[8]

Therein lies the slavering hatred against pot dealers/traffickers/users that has permeated American culture in the ensuing 60 years. Not only did a generation of well-fed, highly educated 1950s youth turn their backs on all their parents and grandparents held dear, they had the gall to demand those folks accept revolutionary change. Perhaps most outrageous to the older generations was the embrace of alternative spiritual belief, practices like meditation and non-violence, or the growing movement toward no adherence to religion whatsoever.

This fight is far from ending. Presidents Nixon then Reagan came to power in a backlash against this revolution. Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh recognized an opportunity to motivate their audiences through hateful rhetoric, forging a new kind of political mood that empowered religious extremists. Today, the rotten fruit of their blind self-aggrandizement is harvested almost daily in mass shootings and a population at war with itself as Republican powerbrokers use these differences like a cudgel to drive hysterical evangelical voters to the voting booth.

The misguided effort to put the genie back in the bottle has led and continues to lead to the legally-sanctioned crucifixion of entrepreneurs who dare to meet the market demand for marijuana. It is capitalism turned on its head. The cost of imprisonment in 2015 averaged an annual cost of $33,274 per inmate. Best estimates for the current marijuana prison population comes in around 40,000. A quick moment at the handy calculator shows that taxpayers of the United States are spending $1.33 billion dollars annually to punish the users and purveyors of this modest weed.[9]

Alongside the drug war and all its collateral damage has come the arming of local police forces with weapons of war and the glorification of guns. As citizen petitions slowly win some degree of sanity in nearly half our states, prisoners of this war still languish in prison cells.[10]

What ‘they’ fear is change. When will this tragedy of fear and loathing come to its rightful end?

[1] https://norml.org/laws/arkansas-penalties/

[2] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/where-is-marijuana-legal-a-guide-to-marijuana-legalization

[3] https://www.cbp.gov/about/history/did-you-know/marijuana

[4] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/harry-anslinger-the-man-behind-the-marijuana-ban/The man behind the marijuana ban for all the wrong reasons” by Cydney Adams, November 17, 2016 / 5:45 PM / CBS News

If you look for the roots of America’s ban on cannabis, you’ll find nearly all roads lead to a man named Harry Anslinger. He was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which laid the ground work for the modern-day DEA, and the first architect of the war on drugs.

Anslinger was appointed in 1930, just as the prohibition of alcohol was beginning to crumble (it was finally repealed in 1933), and remained in power for 32 years. Early on, he was on record essentially saying cannabis use was no big deal. He called the idea that it made people mad or violent an “absurd fallacy.”

But when Anslinger was put in charge of the FBN, he changed his position entirely.

“From the moment he took charge of the bureau, Harry was aware of the weakness of his new position. A war on narcotics alone — cocaine and heroin, outlawed in 1914 — wasn’t enough,” author Johann Hari wrote in his book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.” “They were used only by a tiny minority, and you couldn’t keep an entire department alive on such small crumbs. He needed more.” 

Consequently, Anslinger made it his mission to rid the U.S. of all drugs — including cannabis. His influence played a major role in the introduction and passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which outlawed possessing or selling pot.

Fueled by a handful of 1920s newspaper stories about crazed or violent episodes after marijuana use, Anslinger first claimed that the drug could cause psychosis and eventually insanity. In a radio address, he stated young people are “slaves to this narcotic, continuing addiction until they deteriorate mentally, become insane, turn to violent crime and murder.” 

In particular, he latched on to the story of a young man named Victor Licata, who had hacked his family to death with an ax, supposedly while high on cannabis. It was discovered many years later, however, that Licata had a history of mental illness in his family, and there was no proof he ever used the drug.

The problem was, there was little scientific evidence that supported Anslinger’s claims. He contacted 30 scientists, according to Hari, and 29 told him cannabis was not a dangerous drug. But it was the theory of the single expert who agreed with him that he presented to the public — cannabis was an evil that should be banned — and the press ran with this sensationalized version.

The second component to Anslinger’s strategy was racial. He claimed that black people and Latinos were the primary users of marijuana, and it made them forget their place in the fabric of American society. He even went so far as to argue that jazz musicians were creating “Satanic” music all thanks to the influence of pot. This obsession eventually led to a sort of witch hunt against the legendary singer Billie Holiday, who struggled with heroin addiction; she lost her license to perform in New York cabarets and continued to be dogged by law enforcement until her death.

“The insanity of the racism is a thing to behold when you go into his archives,” Hari told CBS News. “He claims that cannabis promotes interracial mixing, interracial relationships.”

The word “marijuana” itself was part of this approach. What was commonly known as  cannabis until the early 1900s was instead called marihuana, a Spanish word more likely to be associated with Mexicans.

“He was able to do this because he was tapping into very deep anxieties in the culture that were not to do with drugs — and attaching them to this drug,” Hari said. Essentially, in 1930s America, it wasn’t hard to use racist rhetoric to associate the supposed harms of cannabis with minorities and immigrants. 

So as the nationwide attitude towards cannabis began to fall in line with Anslinger’s, he testified before Congress in hearings for the Marijuana Tax Act. His testimony centered around the ideas he had been pushing all along — including a provocative letter from a local newspaper editor in Colorado, saying “I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigaret can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents.”

All these years later, many of the threads in Anslinger’s arguments are still present in the American conversation about legalizing marijuana. The act was passed in 1937, and the rest, they say, is history.

[5] It was not until the year 2000 that Arkansas instituted a system requiring police to record seizure of any asset including cash and vehicles, and establishing a method of tracking the distribution of those assets . See https://ij.org/report/policing-for-profit-3/?state=AR

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison_farm

[7] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/062215/business-model-private-prisons.asp

[8] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/06/todays-protest-movements-are-as-big-as-the-1960s/613207/

The Rage Unifying Boomers and Gen Z, By Ronald Brownstein, JUNE 18, 2020 The ATLANTIC

The 1960s have achieved almost mythic status as a hinge point in American history. Both those who welcomed and those who feared the convulsive changes the decade brought can agree on one thing: Socially, culturally, and politically, the nation was a very different place when the ’60s ended than when they began.

This could be another such moment.

The ’60s watershed moments—the civil-rights campaigns in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama; Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and the anti-war March on the Pentagon; the outpouring of demonstrations following the shootings at Kent State—can seem in retrospect like towering peaks of transformative activism far beyond any contemporary experience. But history may look back on this period as a comparable transition in the nation’s politics and culture, driven primarily by the largest generation of young Americans since the Baby Boomers who flooded the streets decades ago.

Enormous differences separate the two periods. But they may ultimately prove united by the magnitude of the change they impose.

The 1960s saw the emergence of social movements around civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, feminism, Mexican American activism, and environmentalism, as well as the first stirrings of gay rights. The past decade has seen youth-led movements around climate change, gun control, immigration, and inequities of gender (#MeToo) and race (Black Lives Matter).

Seen as one long wave of change, modern activism “has the sweep of the ’60s,” says Todd Gitlin, a historian (and veteran) of those protest movements and a sociologist at Columbia University. And just as the 1960s triggered big changes in American attitudes on issues from premarital sex to trust in authority, the past few years have also witnessed big shifts toward greater support for gay rightsmore agreement that human activities are causing climate change; and recognition that systemic racism remains embedded in American life, a consensus that has rapidly solidified since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Young people have been at the forefront of each of these changes.

Today’s long wave of protest shares one other quality with its predecessor: It has changed popular culture and the contours of public opinion more quickly than it has public policy or the nation’s electoral landscape. Now, as then, an electoral system that favors older generations—through structural imbalances that favor rural states with older and less diverse voters—is responding slowly to calls for change from younger Americans.

And yet, just as with the Baby Boomers before them, Millennials, Gen Z, and the generation following them will eventually define the new American mainstream through their priorities and viewpoints, as over time they become a majority of the nation’s population. In that way, the huge number of people on the streets of America’s major cities this month may offer a preview of how profoundly these younger generations may reshape the country’s politics once they vote in numbers that more closely approximate their growing presence in the population overall. “This transition is inevitable,” says Ben Wessel, the executive director of NextGen America, a group that organizes young people for progressive causes. “The question is: How quickly is it going to get here?”

The differences between Baby Boomers and today’s young people are easy enough to see. Younger generations now are far more diverse: White people made up four-fifths of the Baby Boom (defined as those born between 1946 and 1964), but represent only three-fifths of Millennials (born 1981 through 1996) and only a little more than half of Gen Z (tentatively defined as those born from 1997 through 2014).Allen Matusow, the author of The Unraveling of America, a seminal history of the country during the 1960s, noted another key difference in an email: Back then, many of the protests grew out of an assumption of abundance after two decades of the nation’s post–World War II boom; young people today face more precarious prospects. While the white, college-attending component of the ’60s generation “assumed unending growth, abundant consumption, and good jobs when they were ready to take them,” young people now face “environmental degradation, rising sea level, [and] concentrations of wealth that threaten democracy,” among other challenges, said Matusow, who is also a fellow at the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University. Put another way: One movement was a revolution of rising expectations; the other is a struggle to gain a foothold.

And while the great social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s had clearly identified leaders who became iconic figures—King and Malcolm X for civil rights; Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Hayden for the anti-war and student movements; Cesar Chavez for farmworkers; Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem for the feminist movement—today’s activism is largely leaderless, notes Kirsten John Foy, the founder of the Brooklyn-based activist group The Arc of Justice. Particularly within the Black Lives Matter network and the broader uprising against discriminatory policing, Foy says, “We have moved beyond this messianic notion of leadership, even in the black community. It has democratized the movement and it has reenergized the movement.”

In both decades, the fulcrum of change was the emergence of a vast new generation determined to question the rules and priorities that it inherited. Young people were hardly the only voices agitating for change during the 1960s, just as they are not the sole source of activism now. But in each case, the sheer bulk of the rising generation provided a critical mass for social movements.

At its peak in 1964, members of the Baby Boom represented 37 percent of America’s total population, according to Census figures provided by the demographer William Frey. Frey calculates that, at their peak in 2015, Millennials constituted a little less than one-fourth of the population. But Frey projects that, combined, Millennials and Gen Z will exceed two-fifths of the population from 2013 to 2035. They’ll fall only to slightly below that level through 2050. (Surprisingly, there were about 11 million more births during the Gen Z years than during the Millennial years.)

In the ’60s, the huge pool of baby boomers receptive to change provided the infantry for the succession of protest movements. “The rise of organized movements among previously marginalized groups was indeed contagious in these years,” wrote the historian James T. Patterson in Grand Expectations, his sweeping history of America in the first decades after World War II. The visibility and impact of the early movements—those in support of civil rights and against the war—encouraged the development of those that came later: for environmental protection and rights for women, Chicanos and farmworkers, and, finally, the gay community. Each helped clear the path for the next.

Although today’s social movements have largely been viewed as independent, even isolated, efforts, a similar progression is visible over roughly the past decade.

  • The Black Lives Matter movement coalesced in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting the African American teenager Trayvon Martin, and the movement took a huge leap forward in public consciousness following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
  • Young people brought to the country illegally by their parents—the so-called Dreamers—have kept up a steady drumbeat of protest throughout the decade to achieve, and then protect, their legal status.
  • The women’s marches against Donald Trump’s administration in January 2017 brought out massive crowds in cities across the country.
  • The #MeToo movement that grew rapidly in fall 2017 after exposés on the sexual-harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men has forced sweeping changes in Hollywood, the restaurant and fashion industries, and other institutions.
  • Students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, organized mass marches for gun control in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other cities in March 2018.
  • Protesters likewise turned out that June in Washington and cities across the country to oppose Trump’s family-separation policy at the southern border.

The massive nationwide demonstrations since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have provided a kind of culmination for these disparate strands of activism. The protests have been notable for the racial diversity of their crowds. A poll released Thursday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that while young people ages 18 to 29 account for 52 percent of all adults who have protested—more than double their share of the overall population—participants closely tracked the nation’s overall racial breakdown. “All of those things are coming together in this moment,” Foy, a Pentecostal reverend, told me. “You have not just black people on the streets … You have all of diverse America on the streets.”

Despite the legendary status of the ’60s demonstrations, recent protests have likely involved more people. King’s March on Washington attracted 200,000 to 300,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963; the anti-war March on the Pentagon brought probably 50,000 to 100,000 people in October 1967. Although exact numbers aren’t available, millions of Americans may have participated in protests since Floyd’s death. In the Kaiser poll, 10 percent of American adults say they have joined in the demonstrations, a result that would translate to some 25 million people.

The women’s marches the day after Trump’s inauguration also brought out millions, but only for a single day. The ongoing Floyd protests may represent the most Americans who have protested in the streets on a sustained basis since the demonstrations that followed the killing of four anti-war protesters at Kent State University in May 1970, when about half the nation’s college campuses erupted in discontent.

Nor have the current protests shown any sign of flickering out. Foy’s group, for instance, is organizing motor caravans in 33 cities on Juneteenth to demand independent investigations into people who have died at the hands of law enforcement and call for sweeping reforms in police procedures. One distinctive element of the project is that the local groups will also be encouraging participants to register to vote.

That latter focus represents one of the biggest uncertainties about the current wave of protest. The ’60s movements were divided between those who wanted to influence elections and engage with elected leaders (an instinct strongest within much of the civil-rights movement’s leadership) and those who disdained traditional politics as unlikely to produce fundamental change (a tendency strongest in the initial years of the anti-war and student movements). “There were very few people who came out of the new left who were ready to plunge into electoral politics,” says Gitlin, who served as president of Students for a Democratic Society during the ’60s and later wrote a classic history of the period, Years of Hope, Days of Rage.

Reporters following the current protests have found no shortage of local activist leaders equally suspicious of mainstream electoral organizing. One of the pivotal questions of American politics over the next decade may be how quickly, if at all, the young people now protesting in the street develop electoral clout comparable to their numbers. While the Baby Boomers changed social attitudes and popular culture relatively quickly, they did not elect one of their own as president until Bill Clinton, in 1992. In fact, with only one four-year interruption (Jimmy Carter), Republican presidents who largely positioned themselves against the cultural changes that the ’60s unleashed occupied the White House from 1968 until Clinton’s victory.

While the ’60s movements contributed to important changes in law on issues from civil rights and voting rights to the environment and decriminalizing private sexual behavior, their supporters’ failure to win subsequent presidential elections is the reason why Gitlin summarized their impact this way: They were “a great political defeat and a great cultural success. That’s how we ended up with the left marching on the English department while the right took Washington.”

The next decade could produce a similarly bifurcated outcome for Millennials, Gen Z, and the even younger (and more diverse) cohort following them. Their preferences already dominate popular culture, and their tolerance of diversity has lit the path for broader changes in social attitudes, such as public support for gay marriage.

But their electoral impact remains less defined. There’s widespread agreement among activists and observers alike that the election of Trump—a candidate who overtly defined himself in opposition to racial and cultural change—has created a sense of embattlement that’s fueled the expanding protest. “We are seeing those accomplishments, the things that people died for, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X died for, literally being stripped from us,” Foy said.

But, despite their animosity toward Trump, only about half of eligible Millennials and Gen Zers voted in 2016. And while turnout among younger voters was much higher in 2018 than in the previous midterm election, in 2014, many surveys have found only modest enthusiasm among them for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Significant numbers of younger voters say they are considering either voting for a third-party candidate or not voting at all.

The energy coursing through the current protests—as well as Trump’s decision to position himself against them—might offer Biden a new opportunity to engage younger voters who have been cool to him so far. The payoff would be enormous if he can: Frey calculates that Millennials and Gen Z will comprise almost exactly as large a share of eligible voters in November as Baby Boomers and their elders do now (just under two-fifths in each case). By 2024, that balance will tip toward the younger generations, and the gap will widen steadily after that.

“Millennials are a bridge between the white-baby-boom-dominated culture of the past and the diverse America that will define the nation in the 21st century,” Frey told me. “I think these protests, made up of multiethnic Millennials and Gen Zers, are the tipping point of this shift.”

While the past decade’s social movements focus on discrete issues, all of them, as Wessel notes, are drawing on “the same frustration: We have an unequal society that benefits the few—the old, the white—over the many: the young, people of color. That is the crux of all these conversations.” Trump’s political strategy relies on mobilizing the Americans on the winning side of that contrast. Like the Baby Boomers during the 1960s, the younger generations dissatisfied with those arrangements have demonstrated, year after year, that they can fill the streets in protest. Their next test is to do what the baby boom could not: tip the outcome of national elections while they are still young.

Ronald Brownstein is a senior editor at The Atlantic and a senior political analyst for CNN.

[9] https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/cannabis-prisoner-scale

[10] https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/opinion/todaysdebate/2022/08/02/marijuana-40-years-edwin-rubis-legalize-cannabis/10100749002/

On Legalizing Drugs

“Americans must confront the reality that we are the market,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this past Thursday. “We Americans must own this problem.”[1]

Meeting with his Mexican counterpart, Tillerson acknowledged the role of American drug consumption in the proliferation of violent Mexican drug cartels. Citing the enormous demand for heroin, cocaine, and marijuana by Americans eager to get high, he argued that “drug trafficking had to be addressed as a ‘business model,” attacking cash flow, gun procurement, production and distribution.’”

Oh, please. You’d think that an administration that promised new approaches would make some tiny effort to think outside the prohibition box. But never once in Tillerson’s comments or those of his colleague Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly did a new idea appear. Never once did they hint at any effort to consider the success of other nations where various types of legalization and regulation have greatly reduced drug problems.

Take, for example, the success of states like Colorado now in its fifth year of marijuana legalization. Sales of the legal herb generated tax revenues exceeding $150 million between January and October 2016, $50 million of which the state is using to pump up its school systems.[2] Significant shares of this revenue stream will support improved drug treatment, drug education programs, and various projects targeting at-risk populations.[3] All these expenditures help increase education, job skills, and opportunity for persons who might otherwise fall victim to substance abuse.

Yes, Americans are the market. But instead of devoting resources to learning more about why Americans are uniquely prone to drug use and abuse, outdated policies continue to treat Americans as children to be scolded and punished. This attitude helps foster voters’ disgust with government.

Punishment has become increasingly more severe as subsequent generations of policymakers have embraced the government-as-nanny model. Any incremental step away from prohibition has come wrapped in controversy, implemented only in states where the voice of reason has a chance to be heard. Now with the Trump Administration and its appointment of Jeff Sessions as head of the Justice Department, we face the prospect of a full-bore return to the good old failed policies of the past.

Why is there no discussion of legalization and regulation? A modest approach might be similar to that of Portugal, who years ago legalized all drugs. “Weed, cocaine, heroin, you name it – Portugal decided to treat possession and use of small quantities of these drugs as a public health issue, not a criminal one.”[4]

While our nation’s drug warriors lament that such an approach would lead to higher use rates among the young and greater ease of availability would increase use rates, the fact in Portugal is that youth aren’t using more, adults are using slightly less, the rates of HIV and Hep C infection are down, and – hear this – hardly anyone dies of overdose.

Compare that to the alarming rise in U. S. deaths from opiates which more than tripled between 2010 and 2015.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin.[5]

It’s way past time to face reality: people are going to use drugs. As far back as we can peer into human history, people have consumed everything from beer to cannabis to opium to hallucinogens. These practices are part of who we are, part of our religions, part of our ability to think outside or within ourselves.

Legitimate questions await answers about why various types of drug use throughout the millennia have transformed into today’s raging torrent of human suffering, but we’re not devoting any resources to answer those questions. Have the pressures of our fast-paced modern age forced us to seek refuge in intoxication? Is our multicultural society at fault in erasing old customs and rites of passage that could help us confront our existential crisis? Have the conveniences of our technological age created too much leisure time? What is the impact of a pharmaceutical industry’s marketing campaign flooding us with ads suggesting that the solution to every human ill is a drug?

We simply don’t know.

We should have learned a hundred years ago that criminalizing a popular intoxicant only creates bigger problems. Those who championed alcohol prohibition wanted to stamp out drunkenness. The blissful concept assumed that if alcohol were made illegal and its producers and users criminalized, everyone would simply stop drinking.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watching agents pour liquor into the … New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZ62-123257)

Far from it. For their trouble in passing the Eighteenth Amendment, the “dry” crusaders found their cities overrun by heavily armed criminals fighting over territory. People flaunted the law, patronizing highly popular speakeasies where drinking served as joyous rebellion against overweening authority.[6] No matter how many barrels of liquor were spilled into public gutters, ever more enterprising moonshiners set up shop in hidden hollows.

It took just over fourteen years for prohibition fervor to sour. Amendment Twenty reversed it in 1933.

As Lincoln famously said in 1840:

“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”[8]

Sadly, it seems little of this lesson actually sank in. Prohibition policies continue to frame our national approach to substance use and abuse, siphoning money into hit squads of heavily armed urban police and burgeoning prisons instead of desperately needed research and treatment of addiction.

Reality is that prohibition does nothing to reduce the market for drugs, but it does create a thriving underworld where dealers make huge profits. Stamp out every drug producer/dealer in the nation and tomorrow another crop will rise to the surface. Among the poor, especially those in marginal economies of Mexico and other Latin American countries, the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. Our inner city youth’s only hope of achieving the American dream seems to lie in the profitable drug trade. It’s about supply and demand.

The economics of prohibition can’t be overstated. Trade in illegal drugs generates so much profit that gangs can afford all the expensive weapons they might ever want. The spiraling up of urban warfare now involves military gear and tactics among the police and armor-piercing bullets in automatic weapons carried by adolescent criminals. The payoff comes in fancy cars, jewelry, and a lifestyle not achievable by legal means. Tax free.

A war on drugs is, after all, a war on our people, with rising collateral damage to our cities, institutions, and most of all, innocent bystanders.

Ironically, prohibition policies fail utterly to accomplish the goal of eradicating drug use/abuse. A smattering of evidence from states with legalized marijuana shows that teen use has dropped, suggesting that by removing the ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect of the drug, rebellions teens may lose interest. Meanwhile on the black market, no ID is required for purchase, and studies have found that teenagers can obtain marijuana more easily than beer. [9]

We the people have to decide what we’re going to do about this, because our so-called ‘leaders’ won’t make the first move. We have to decide and then make our voices heard. Compare:

  • a militarized police force versus friendly neighborhood police to protect and serve.
  • urban warfare versus reclaimed neighborhoods and inner cities
  • illegal search and seizure and loss of property even you’re not convicted of a crime versus government butting out of private lives
  • an overwhelmed judicial system versus our Constitutionally-guaranteed due process
  • half of federal prisoners in jail for drugs and the fact that drug offenses comprise the most serious offense for 16% of state prisoners versus an enormous reduction of prison population
  • our ever-growing investment in prisons versus a renewed investment in schools, mental health care, and state-of-the-art addiction treatment centers.
  • taxpayers struggling under drug war costs versus a regulated, taxed drug industry ensuring purity, restricting sales to adults only, and producing substantial new revenue streams
  • American citizens treated as children by government deciding what they can do in their personal lives versus each person responsible for his/her welfare. Want to be homeless, die in a ditch? Go ahead. Ask for help, we’ll be there for you.
  • overdose of drugs like heroin often resulting from zero information about purity or strength versus a regulated market that includes labeling for purity and precautions about use.

There are no upsides to the drug war. By any tally, this approach has been an enormous policy fiasco partly responsible for the decline of inner cities and disrespect for government in general. Government has never bothered to assess the effectiveness of its policies. No one can cite data showing that getting tough on drug traders and users has reduced supply or demand.

Indeed, judging by the rhetoric of our newest batch of politicos and the news flowing to our ears and eyes on a daily basis, we can say with certainty that drug prohibition continues to be an abysmal failure.


[1] http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-tillerson-puts-onus-of-drug-trafficking-1495131274-htmlstory.html

[2] http://fortune.com/2016/12/13/colorado-billion-legal-marijuana-sales/

[3] https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/15-10_distribution_of_marijuana_tax_revenue_issue_brief_1.pdf

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/05/why-hardly-anyone-dies-from-a-drug-overdose-in-portugal/

[5] http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States

[7] http://www.autofoundry.com/293/the-best-moonshine-cars-of-all-time/

[8] http://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44807229.pdf

[9] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/teens-pot-easier-to-buy-than-beer/