Thursday, February 28, 2008

Whose Reefer Madness?

October 2007

By the time you finish reading this, approximately eight people will have been arrested for the use or possession of marijuana in the United States. A recent government study has reported that in 2006, a record 829,000 people were arrested for nonviolent marijuana offenses. This hefty number eclipses the total number of arrests in 2006 for all violent crimes. In the United States, more people are being arrested for marijuana than for murder, manslaughter, assault, robbery and rape combined.

This study is eyebrow-raising, to say the least. But are we smelling smoke of victory or tasting tears of tragedy? Before we bear our politics and fortify the frontiers of our ideological fences, let’s investigate a little further into pervasiveness of this issue and contemplate the magnitude of the statistics.

Eight million Americans have been incarcerated for marijuana related offenses in the past ten years. These figures show trends of exponential growth. In the past 15 years there has been an increase in marijuana arrests by 188 percent; arrests have tripled since the early 1990s. The price of this vast incarceration campaign costs taxpayers between 10 and 12 billion dollars annually.

But the arrest itself is only the beginning of the story. Prison statistics add another layer of significance to the narrative. One in six federal inmates is imprisoned for marijuana. For better or worse, the consequences of these marijuana offenses are undeniably severe. While the average sentence for convicted murder in the United States is about six years, in 15 states, citizens can receive a life sentence for a nonviolent marijuana offense. In Montana, a single plant will land you in the slammer for life.

Whether these words resonate like clarion trumpets of justice or funeral dirges of dignity, the story is not over. Despite the enormity of legal danger that marijuana use entails and the immensity of money invested in its prohibition, all studies seem to show that both supply and demand for the substance are increasing. In a poll by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, more than one-third of teens said they could find and purchase marijuana in a few hours. The same poll reported that for teenagers, marijuana is easier to buy than cigarettes or alcohol. ABC new reported in 2006 that marijuana is the largest cash crop in the United States.

Meanwhile, the rise in marijuana related arrests has been reflected inversely by an unsettling decline in arrests for the use and possession of harder and more lethal drugs. The prohibition of marijuana seems to grow in a shadow of legal liberality towards more dangerous and addictive substances. The statistical decrease in arrests for cocaine and heroin related crimes in recent years should provoke an honest and bipartisan inquiry into the strategies of law enforcement policy.

In any pragmatic analysis of America’s drug dilemma, it’s necessary for all parts of the political spectrum to recognize that the war on drugs has provoked a cultural war. The briefest perusal of popular mainstream media outlets from MTV to NBC will reveal an unabashed celebration of drug culture. In a country of rehab clinics well stocked with stars, every anti drug advertisement, whether glimpsed between Cheech & Chong reruns or beer billboards, has to contend with celebrities from Snoop Dog to the Bush daughters.

Among disenfranchised citizens, drug lords from El Capone to Pablo Escobar enjoy celebrity status as wealthy and powerful opponents to the global order. Prohibition has granted to the reprehensible brutality of drug cartels the romantic mantel of Robin Hood.

Among those who suffer from the repercussions of this ambitious prohibition are police officers themselves. Law enforcement agents are on the front lines of the drug war, and are well acquainted with its perils. One organization that commands significant moral authority on the matter is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Founded in 2002, LEAP is comprised entirely of current and former members of law enforcement, and advocates the legalization and regulation of all drugs. Those of us in the habit of choosing sides and building fences would do well to get to know who we are including or excluding.

As tax paying citizens it devolves upon us all to investigate the consequences of the policies and politics that we pay for, which currently result in one marijuana related arrest every 38 seconds. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has a slogan that seems sane and pertinent: “Remember prohibition? It still doesn’t work.”

Liberals and radicals will probably have little contention with such an argument. Those of us with more conservative values might do well to remember the words of Albert Einstein: “Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws that cannot be enforced.”



References:

Marijuana Arrests For Year 2006 – 829,625 Tops Record High.
September 24, 2007 - Washington, DC, USA
http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=7370

http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/09/25/142232
Tuesday, September 25th, 2007,

Marijuana Called Top U.S. Cash Crop
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=2735017

Interview with Eric Schlosser
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/interviews/schlosser.html

Same Problem - Same Solution
http://www.leap.cc/cms/index.php?name=Content&pid=44

TEENS SAY BUYING DOPE IS EASY
by Greg Toppo, (Source:Associated Press)
20 August 2002
http://www.mapinc.org/norml/v02/n1539/a06.html

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