In Response To: The Fight Over Medical Marijuana (NY Times Op-ed)


While I am neither on the side of those who oppose or those who condone the legalization of marijuana, it has, as a broad subject, been in the news more so recently, hence, the posts about it. If I were to label myself, as at some point all political views boil down to an either or perspective, I would be on the side of legalized use, outside of the bounds for strictly medical reasons. Conservative mores argue against allowing it to “become prevalent” in our society, for a variety of ethical reasons, either individually or socially, while alcohol is consumed for purely recreational activities and traditional customs, having as we have been witness, personally or anecdotally. Following such logic, alcohol should be illegal. Prohibition in the 1920’s, which failed (I’m able to walk into any convenience store, grocery store or gas station, talk about hypocritical, and purchase beer or malt liquor), because people fueled its production through the black market. The act of drinking, morphed from a socially accepted activity, consuming it at home, because it was available for purchase, or down at the pub, into a cultural rebelliousness that turned a cultural norm into a no-no, elevating those who broke the law into anti-establishment heros. And, who doesn’t worship, or at least appreciate, the role of rebel when an oppressive force has taken, or threatens, to take away a perceived liberty. Even if one didn’t drink during that era, as a personal choice, obviously not a result of lack of access, American individualism, and the support of individual rights, created tension between social expectations and legal code.

In that sense, people consume marijuana out of enjoyment, of course, but also out of an inherent, if not unconscious, disregard for false social morality. Traditional American puritanism, tucked neatly into our social fabric, must be addressed when its influence stymies a comparative dialoge. Cannabis faced its first legal opposition in the United States when it was classified as a poison in the early 1900’s when one of the larger paper barons created and funded a social and political war against it when he realized hemp produced a better product compared to his use of wood pulp. In addition, over the objections of the American Medical Association, the Marihuana Tax Act was signed into law on Aug. 2, 1937; while It did not directly outlaw cannabis, it did impose a tax that effectively made it illegal to distribute. The act was subsequently supplanted by other laws regulating the drug, eventually ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and repealed in 1970 (How much do you know about marijuana?). Its easy to say that its legal consumption, favored and allowed socially and politically so long ago, and its current classification as a Schedule 1 drug is the result of social and moral progression, and that all drugs, irregardless of their nature, create horrific affects born by government programs and families. I must concede that opium, and all of its incarnations, and a variety of other drugs, do pose an unacceptable social harm; and must also admit their transition from a once normal, generally accepted bartered good into an illegal classification was the right and proper thing to do. If you have ever seen a person worn threadbare from an amphetamine addiction you can attest that just because something is available doesn’t mean it should be legally accessible.

The unfortunate reality of the war on drugs, again I’m speaking solely of marijuana, is a prison system, federal, state, and county, that is facing severe overcrowding due to unreasonably harsh legislation for intent to sell (possession, while previously illegal in all states, represents only a small fraction of all drug related incarcerations). In response to shortfalls in state budgets (maintaing adequate funding for current prison populations is proving difficult, to say the least), and a shift in popular consensus, 18 states have ratified their stance on medicinal use, while Colorado and Washington have removed all state sanctioned barriers (Colorado just legalized pot. Now what?), making it legal to purchase and consume outside of holding a card. In addition, “Washington state prosecutors have have begun dismissing pending marijuana possession cases in the wake of last week’s vote to legalize marijuana in the state.” (Washington DAs Begin Dropping Marijuana Possession Cases). In addition, quotes a statement last Friday from King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg:  “although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month.”

What of the financial realities states and the federal government face when enforcing anti-marijuana legislation? Jeffrey A. Miron, a Harvard professor of economics, wrote in 2005, The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition, outlining the cost of prosecuting and policing marijuana. While all 50 states are represented in his work, CaliforniaMontana, and Oregon are highlighted here:

Percentage of Arrests Due to Marijuana Prohibition

 Total Arrests    MJ Possession   MJ Sale/Man   Poss%   S/M%   Poss%/2
 California  1428248  50149  12338  0.035  0.009  0.018
 Montana  30396  384  35  0.013  0.001  0.006
 Oregon  157748  6336  283  0.040  0.002  0.020

 Expenditures Attributable to Marijuana Prohibition ($ in millions)

 Police Budget   Judicial Budget   Corrections Budget   Total
 Total/MJ Prohib  Total/MJ Prohib  Total/MJ Prohib  Total/MJ Prohib
 California  8703/227.97  6255/681.80  7170/71.70  22,128/981
 Montana  136/1.02  66/7.19  125/1.25  327/9
 Oregon  696/15.23  356/38.80  747/7.47  1,799/61.50

Read the article here: The Fight Over Medical Marijuana

4 thoughts on “In Response To: The Fight Over Medical Marijuana (NY Times Op-ed)

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