EARLIER THIS WEEK, ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC Holder announced that the federal government would continue to prosecute marijuana-related crimes even if Proposition 19, a California ballot proposition for the legalization and potential taxation of marijuana, passes.
It looks like Californians plan on calling Holder’s bluff. Prop. 19 is up in both the betting markets and the polls. Currently, federal agents conduct less than 1 percent of marijuana arrests. Imagining the Drug Enforcement Administration trying to make all of the necessary arrests in California is like writing an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
But while the Holder-California drama is certainly interesting, the critical question remains: Why are there drug prohibition laws in the first place? It doesn’t make any kind of sense whatsoever. George Harrison once said that he wanted to “put acid in the government’s tea.” When I look at U.S. drug policies, I wonder if he succeeded.
Let’s look first at the health effects of marijuana. The Academy of Medical Sciences has deemed pot less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. Deaths attributed to pot use are almost nonexistent; meanwhile, tobacco and alcohol kill hundreds of thousands of people yearly.
Not that pro-War on Drugs folks have ever cared about facts. Before launching the War on Drugs, Nixon appointed a commission to study the health effects and societal impact of marijuana. The commission unanimously agreed that marijuana should be legalized.
Nixon promptly threw the report in the trash and blamed “the Jews” (I’m not kidding).
How about the staggering amounts of wasted taxpayer dollars? The Office of National Drug Control Policy spent $1.4 billion on anti-drug ads, discovered that kids who saw the ads were more likely to use drugs, hid the evidence and continued to spend our money on thoroughly useless ventures. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron recently estimated that decriminalizing drugs could save up to $88 billion annually. Where are the fiscal conservatives on this one?
An even more mind-boggling question is why anyone would think it’s moral for our government to lock up recreational potheads. There is nothing moral about politicians claiming they have the right to control what you put in your body. There is nothing moral about politicians ordering armed men into your home to stop you from smoking marijuana.
If the government should prohibit us from taking drugs because they’re harmful, then there’s a long list of things that should also be illegal. We’d need laws against alcohol, tobacco, law school, Thomas Friedman’s writing, and running for public office – things that, while possibly pleasurable, are harmful to both individuals and society. Plus, even if drugs are really bad for you, it’s not like jail makes your life any better.
Those are only a few of the reasons, and a few of the examples, of why the criminalization of marijuana and drugs in general, is a nonsensical policy. How about the militarization of police or the perpetuation of drug cartels? There’s always the accidental shooting of innocents by both cops and drug gangs. Criminalization means nonviolent offenders are locked up and unable to contribute to the nation’s economy, virtually unfettered drug activity goes to the black market, police resources are directed away from investigating more important crimes, and there are billions of dollars of incentives for corruption, here and abroad.
With nonviolent offenders being thrown in jail, they and their families are pushed deeper into the cycle of poverty and broken families. The rift between the police and their communities widens as people see their siblings and parents locked up for possession. Needless to say, the constitutional justification for pot laws is tenuous at best.
arijuana criminalization simply doesn’t work. When President Reagan re-declared the War on Drugs in 1982, 88.5 percent of high school seniors said it was easy to obtain marijuana. In 2000, that figure remained at 88.5 percent. As far as I can tell, the only real beneficiaries of drug laws are drug cartels, who benefit from lower competition and higher profits, and drug warriors, who get elected to spend lots of our money on policies that don’t work.
But what does work? It turns out that since Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001, usage rates have not risen and deaths from overdoses and sexually transmitted diseases have dropped dramatically. Drug abuse rates in Portugal are among the lowest in the European Union.
Hopefully Californians will demonstrate that they have more common sense than the federal government this November. If Prop. 19 passes, it could be a bellwether for sanity and freedom, encouraging other states to follow suit. I can’t wait.
Preston Mui is a sophomore in the College and founding president of Hoyas for Liberty.