“America is mired in the longest, most costly and most futile war in U.S. history.” – The Hightower newsletter Prohibition was the worst social meddling in the lives of American citizens. The second worst is the bogus war on drugs. Stupidity is a hallmark of puritanical America. This wrong-headedness has been abetted by politicians who want to appear tough on crime. They tell voters what they want to hear rather than what they ought to hear. Result: The road to reason is low and slow. Nevertheless, some state legislatures are coming to their senses about medical marijuana. Fourteen states, aware that pot is a tremendous medical aid, have legalized medical marijuana. Next step: legalizing marijuana. State legislatures, so strapped for cash that they are making unconscionable cuts to education and social services, should overcome their political inhibitions by realizing potential tax windfalls. Sam Harris in his 2004 book, “The End of Faith,” writes: “The total cost of our drug laws — when one factors in the expense to state and local governments and the tax revenue lost by our failure to regulate the sale of drugs — could easily be in excess of $100 billion each year. “Our war on drugs consumes an estimated 50 percent of the trial time of our courts and the full-time energies of more than 400,000 police officers.” Others blister the drug war. Norm Stamper, former police chief in Seattle, says: “The drug war has arguably been the single most devastating, dysfunctional social policy since slavery.” A more restrained judicial voice, but a powerful one, came from Justice Stevens. Dissenting to the Supreme Court’s silly denial of First Amendment protection to an Alaskan school kid who unfurled a pot banner, Stevens said: “The dominant opinion supporting the war on drugs in general and our anti-marijuana laws in particular is reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student. “While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was then condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs.” Stevens observed that thousands of “otherwise law-abiding citizens” patronized bootleggers and speakeasies during Prohibition and today “literally millions of ‘law-abiding users’ smoke marijuana.” Now listen to Randall Sheldon, criminal justice professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas: • Pot is not a gateway drug. “Numerous studies have shown that the majority of those who use marijuana do not in fact ‘progress’ to harder drugs.” • Legalizing drugs would not mean an explosion of drug use. “Studies of states that have decriminalized certain drugs show no upsurge of drug use.” • Anti-drug laws do not protect youth. “The fact is that the drug war has ruined the lives of thousands of young people because of high arrest rates, saddled then with criminal records and prevented them from leading useful lives.” Racism plays an ugly role in the drug war. Columnist Cynthia Tucker notes: “Much of the social cost has been borne by black men who use illegal drugs at rates about equal to whites but are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as are adult white men.” But it was ever thus. Harry Anslinger, the nation’s first drug czar, proclaimed in the 1930s that “reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” and “their satanic music, jazz, and swing result from marijuana use.” More facts: Pot is illegal and, although mildy addictive, kills no one except in the rare cases of driving when stoned. Smoking is legal, addictive and leads to the death of 450,000 Americans annually. Alcohol is legal, addictive, causes thousands of fatal highway crashes annually and causes enormous social consequences. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972 declared: “Marijuana use … is neither causative of nor directly associated with crime.” It concluded that pot should be legalized. President Nixon, the scurviest of scurvy politicians, denounced the report and promptly buried it. But enough about pot. It is a purely harmless recreational drug. Let’s legalize all drugs. Let the moralists howl. Hard-drug legalization can be controlled by government. Above all, tax revenues would be huge. Finally, it is absurd to send nonviolent drug users to jail. Jailing creates drug gulags and senselessly overcrowds prisons. Supreme courts of nations like Germany, Argentina and Colombia have ruled that drug jailing unconstitutional. So it is. Mexico is enlightened about drugs. It has eliminated jail time for possession of small amounts of pot, cocaine, heroin, LSD and meth. America should do likewise.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.