A friend on Facebook recently questioned why I have a bug up my butt regarding President Obama's position on cannabis. Here is my initial response, which I am saving here for later honing toward a more succinct draft:
Regarding your comment, "Cannabis? really?" I am led to believe that it's not really an issue for you? Our president has also laughed it off several times as a non-issue. That is most marginalizing to a community of people already in danger of becoming lower than second-class citizens.
In case you consider cannabis to really not be an issue, consider these three things. First, among the wide diversity of cannabis strains, there is definitely legitimate medicine for many people suffering from MS, Crohn's/IBS, cancer, glaucoma, arthritis and epilepsy. It is arguably (although less so) medicine for some people with chronic pain/inflammation, anxiety, ADHD, Alzheimer's, and a host of other maladies. And everyone knows it has side effects, such as euphoria, paranoia (likely amplified by its illegality), lethargy, and short-term memory issues. Compare those side effects to the cautionary list at the end of your average pharmaceutical commercial, and you may be surprised at what some people consider 'acceptable' side effects. After giving states the green light in 2009, the Obama Administration has recently done a 170-degree turn on its states' rights policies, and has used the IRS, the DOJ and the DEA to force the businesses with the best practices and the best reputations--operating as model members of their communities, and within the state laws--out of business. These are not the thug-operations that are basically no better than drug dealers with a lease on a shanty. They were doing their best to follow state laws, turning people away with incorrect authorization, testing the products for potency and to make sure there are no fungus, mold, or pesticides, and labeling as accurately as possible. They were/are truly trying to serve those who need it medically. As the feds attempt to shove it all back underground, those people are running low on quality options.
The second important consideration is that the drug war is: a race war, a class war, and a culture war, all wrapped up into one. It is not a war on drugs. It is a selective war on people--our own people. A quick look around at the arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates can tell you which categories of people are most affected. People of color, stopped for DWB and a car search that finds a baggie of weed for example, become ensnared in a system that benefits from keeping them ensnared. The prison-industrial complex is alive and well, privatizing profits while taking our tax dollars, requesting the government to help keep their prisons full! For more on that, read Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow." Our nation's young men of color (though probably anybody would do) are worth more to some segments of the investor class behind bars than anywhere else. Meanwhile, in richer, whiter neighborhoods, people have custom-made marijuana-infused cakes and pastries delivered to their parties. If caught, they can pay for a good lawyer and get off scot-free like Rush Limbaugh. That touches on the class and race war elements. Regarding the culture war, it's no coincidence that the war on drugs started in 1970 on Nixon's watch, directed against the countercultural elements who happened to not only like being intoxicated in this fashion, but were also against Vietnam. With the rise of the military-industrial complex, we've seen the militarization of the drug war as well. Not a coincidence. The poor, the people of color, and the people of the counterculture all have common cause here even if they're from different social locations. Meanwhile, those who perpetuate the drug war are interested in marginalizing the voices of all of these people.
The third issue is money. Five hundred leading economists, including Milton Friedman, have stated that it makes clear economic sense to legalize
. Money spent incarcerating people for using a substance safer than alcohol and tobacco is wasted money. With federal support, however, drug programs are easy money to collect for local law enforcement looking to bolster their budgets. It's money that goes down the tubes, however. Putting a person needlessly in prison costs >$30k/year. Meanwhile, the person who comes out of a punitive prison system is not likely to be a better person, and with a felony on their record, will no longer be as employable to our economy simply because of that mar on their record, and we have another person either struggling at odd jobs, returning to the drug trade (which perhaps they didn't even do before, but now have scarce options), or living on the dole if they can. Instead of spending that $30k on prisons, it could be spent on educating our youth, or on really rehabilitating and restoring people with real drug problems. Obama has talked a good game on the benefits of treating the drug problem as a public health issue, but the proof is in the pudding. As a portion of budget outlay, police intervention is still the lion's share of the strategy. On the flip-side of the coin, there are arguments that with regulation and taxation, the government could earn a great new revenue stream. I think that while it could certainly bring in some money--enough to counteract the additional public health costs of legalization--it wouldn't be enough to make a dent in the federal debt, or even in the annual deficit: http://money.cnn.com/2005/06/07/commentary/wastler/wastler/
But $10-20 billion isn't chump change either. The real money comes indirectly from productivity gains as we are no longer decimating lives, families, and communities with a drug war that has done far more damage domestically and abroad than the drugs themselves could have done.