Professor Joan Kennedy
8 March 2011
The Undemonization of Marijuana
Bush, Clinton, and Obama have all admitted to smoking pot in their younger days. Imagine if they had been caught. It would have changed the course of their lives and history. Ironically, each one of them eventually served, or continues to serve, as the chief gatekeeper and supporter of a campaign that vigorously apprehends, incarcerates, and fines individuals who are found doing exactly the same thing they did, turning even the occasional pot smoker into a criminal—a campaign, had they been unlucky, that could have ruined their lives.
President Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 at a press conference, citing drugs as “public enemy number one in the United States” ("Frontline: Drug Wars: Thirty Years of America's Drug War | PBS"). In 2008 over 850,000 citizens were arrested and processed through the judicial system because of marijuana offenses (U.S. Dept. of Justice). Not only did it represent about half of all drug offenses, almost 90% of the offenses were for mere possession (Nadelmann). At an average cost of $10,400 per arrest, is the enforcement of marijuana prohibition a responsible and productive allocation of resources (NORML)? This is a question every tax payer and government policy maker must ask themselves, given the fact that the targeted criminalization of marijuana has had no effect on marijuana activity in the country whatsoever. In fact, it is widely accepted that the war on drugs is as effective as the alcohol prohibition of the 1920’s and 1930’s. In other words, it is a dismal failure which continues to drain the country’s resources with nothing to show for it. In his 2010 report, The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition, Dr. Jeffrey A. Miron, professor of economics at Harvard University, estimates annual combined savings and tax revenue of almost $18 billion, if the U.S. were to legalize and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana. Why not look to President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to Prohibition’s failure? In 1933 he lifted the prohibition of the sale, manufacture, and consumption of alcohol, thereby putting an end to the bleeding of federal law enforcement resources and minimizing underground black market criminal activities associated with illegal alcohol. During the prohibition there were “anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs” (“The Volstead Act”) in New York City alone—a testimony to the campaign’s failure. Once President Roosevelt decriminalized alcohol, these speakeasy clubs became a source of tax revenue.
California undemonized marijuana when they legalized its sale and use for medical purposes in 1996. In almost every year thereafter, another state has followed suit. Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology and oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and professor of clinical medicine at UC San Francisco, says he is glad he lives in California when he sees his cancer patients who are depressed, not sleeping or eating well, and are in a lot of pain, because, “I can talk to patients about medicinal cannabis (and) I’m often recommending it to them for these indications” (Adams). Cannabis (the marijuana plant) is also prescribed by doctors for chronic-pain syndromes, AIDS wasting syndrome, chemo nausea and vomiting, as well as multiple sclerosis (Adams). Because federal law still prohibits the use of medicinal marijuana, lucky are the doctors who live in a state that allows them to add this drug to their repertoire of pain management solutions for their patients. Since federal law preempts state law, and as more states legalize the drug for medical purposes, the federal government eventually will have to respond appropriately. The clock is ticking--how long will the tail continue to wag the dog? The war on marijuana has already passed the point of diminishing return and is a costly exercise in futility.
While most agree on the