On June 8 about 70 miles from Los Angeles, authorities seized tens of millions of dollars of marijuana and arrested 23 people for growing it. Government bulldozers are destroying the crop as you read this.
A thousand miles to the north, the state of Washington announced a “Joints for Jabs” program. Until July 12, any adult who gets a COVID vaccination is entitled to one free marijuana cigarette.
The most potent mind-altering drug isn’t one that you stick up your nose or inject into your arm. It’s called the truth. In spite of your best efforts to sometimes keep it out, it tends to migrate straight to an important internal organ that biologists identify as the brain—but it can take a long time and a tortuous route to finally get there. The war on marijuana is a case in point.
Before you jump to conclusions, please note: I don’t smoke the stuff and I don’t encourage anybody else to unless they derive some personal pleasure or medical benefit from it, and as long as they don’t harm anybody else when they do. I just don’t believe the best way to deal with a popular plant involves cops, helicopters, raids, shoot-outs and prisons. Marijuana has killed far fewer people than swimming pools; it’s the war against it that does all the violence.
The evidence has been staring us in the face for years. Laws against the growing, possession or use of marijuana have been a colossal and expensive failure. Anybody who wants it can get it, easily. The war against it is no more effective or desirable than alcohol Prohibition was in the 1920s and early 1930s. Until we threw in the towel on that fiasco, Americans spent a fortune in a doomed and senseless effort to keep people from their booze and we shot up the streets in the process. Organized crime was the biggest beneficiary because the cops were busy jailing the less fortunate competition.
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Recreational use and sale of marijuana is now legal in 18 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. Penalties for use or sale in the other 33 states vary, and the federal government still prohibits both. The feds claim marijuana serves no medical purpose and is subject to abuse (the same is true of beer and lots of other things). The evidence seems overwhelming: Marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol and many physicians argue that it has therapeutic benefits in relieving stress or pain. To this day, no deaths from an overdose of marijuana have been documented, but deaths related to alcohol abuse are in the news every day.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 55 million Americans currently use marijuana—about 17 percent of the population. Approximately 45 percent have tried marijuana at least once, and 24 percent of 12th-graders have tried it in a recent year (2017). After decades of expense, heartbreak and violence, marijuana is easily obtainable everywhere.
Statistics compiled by a private group called The High Court tell a sad tale:
- Over 663,367 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2018.
- Since the Nixon administration, America has spent $121 billion on 37 million arrests of nonviolent drug offenders, out of which 10 million for possession of marijuana.
- The price of marijuana has changed little in decades, suggesting that the costly attempts to reduce its supply have been in vain. Anybody who wants it can easily get it.
Drug Policy Facts provides a wealth of information on its website that leads inescapably to one conclusion: The war against marijuana is almost all cost and no benefit.
A map of the U.S. showing the status of marijuana laws in each state is viewable here. The Foundation for Economic Education’s Brad Polumbo explains here, what the life-saving public health benefits would likely be if the war on weed were ended.
Thanks largely to remaining marijuana prohibitions, American governments (state and federal) prop up Mexican drug cartels with billions in artificial profits. The associated violence in Mexico on both sides of the border kills and maims thousands more in any one year than marijuana itself has in the last century. More than 40,000 people are languishing in jails and prisons right now on marijuana charges—virtually all non-violent offenders—at an average cost of more than $20,000.
What on earth do we have to show for all this stupidity? Nothing but pain and sorrow and diminishing public treasuries, not to mention the liberties we have lost because of property forfeiture and other intrusive police powers.
If we banned milk, we would produce precisely the same effects we’ve seen with marijuana prohibition. The streets would be full of milk pushers. The milk business would go to the Al Capones of the world instead of your local grocer. But anybody who wanted to drink milk and pay the price would get it anyway, right down the street next to the police station.
It would be charitable to say the war on marijuana is a failure or a futile effort. It’s a human tragedy. Just say no to it. Surely the cops have better things to do these days.
Lawrence writes a weekly op-ed for El American. He is President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Atlanta, Georgia; and is the author of “Real heroes: inspiring true stories of courage, character, and conviction“ and the best-seller “Was Jesus a Socialist?“ //
Lawrence escribe un artículo de opinión semanal para El American. Es presidente emérito de la Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) en Atlanta, Georgia; y es el autor de “Héroes reales: inspirando historias reales de coraje, carácter y convicción” y el best-seller “¿Fue Jesús un socialista?”