One of my favorite documentaries, American Drug War: The Last White Hope, came out in 2007. It focuses on the war on drugs that we started fighting around 1970 when Nixon started using the phrase as part of public discourse. If we can, in fact, classify the “war on drugs” as a war, it is one of the longest running in American History.
What prompted my post today is actually a part of this “war on drugs” that has directly impacted friends of mine. Obama made a statement about leaving the feds out of states that had legalized the use of marijuana within the first six months of being in office. His executive order is being broken. The state in which I reside has made legal the use of medicinal marijuana. My friends must visit the doctor each year to get a recommendation for their medicine. They then visit dispensaries and make donations in order to pick up their medicine. Today one of my friends was unable to do so. The dispensary was filled with federal agents. After visiting a different local dispensary, he learned that it, too, would be shut down by the end of the weekend. As it turns out, an appellate court ruling in our county found that it is legal for cities to ban non-profit collectives, and so they are.
This is where the story gets a bit more complex. I am unsure if we’re fighting a war on drugs at this point or merely attempting to collect taxes. Some of these dispensaries try to pay taxes but are unable to due to federal limitations. The substance is illegal federally, so federal taxes cannot be collected for its sale. Regardless of which angle you take, the end result is simply irrational. If we’re talking about taxes, why focus on small-time non-profit businesses when jumbo corporations such as Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, Boeing, Chevron, and General Electric are not paying taxes at all (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/03/recipients-corporate-tax-breaks-elections_n_856630.html)? If they’re using taxes as an excuse to break up these collectives, they have bigger fish to fry.
If this recent decision is, in fact, fighting a “war on drugs,” we have a whole other issue on our hands. Recent polls using data compiled from the General Social Survey and the Pew Research Center indicate that nearly half of American citizens are in favor of the legalization of marijuana (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/19/marijuana-legalization-public-support-growing_n_851238.html) This forces me to ask the question: why are we draining scarce and valuable resources fighting a harmless substance when we could be improving our education system, health care system or bailing out bankers (oh, wait…)? Drug related arrests were at less than half of a million in the late 70’s, shortly after this “war” began. In 2010, there were more than 1.6 million drug-related arrests (Siegel, 2011:493) and we’re already up to 1.5 in the year 2011 (www.drugsense.com). In addition, there are over 265,000 people behind bars for drug offenses (Siegel, 2011). At approximately $30,000 dollars per inmate, per year, we’re running up quite the bill and ruining many people’s lives, mostly over the possession or distribution of a plant.
The bottom line is that prohibition has never worked. The temperance movement and the prohibition of alcohol failed. When alcohol couldn’t be purchased legally it went underground and was essentially run by organized crime syndicates. A similar truth exists for marijuana. Just because it is illegal in most of the country does not mean people are unable to get their hands on it. Instead it creates unnecessary dangers and risks. The war on drugs has gone on far too long. The numbers speak for themselves.