Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Case for the Legalization of Cannabis

Note: "Cannabis" refers to the plant Cannabis Sativa, also known as hemp, pot, marijuana, weed, etc. This term is a way to say all of those at once. On a side note, broccoli and cauliflower are also members of the cannabis family. I'm not arguing for these plants to be made legal, because they already are.

In August of 2008, one man, at the age of 23, was being praised as one of the greatest Olympic athletes in American history. Possibly Olympic history. By the end of the year, Michael Phelps had tacked on 8 more Olympic gold medals for a grand total of 14, and still holds seven world records in swimming. By his achievements alone, Phelps is an exceptional human being. Just recently, Phelps had his picture taken while taking bong rips at a party. The news media and blogging community jumped all over this, throwing around slurs like "stoner," "pothead," "dope fiend," and the like. People at the party said he was smoking like a seasoned pro, and knew exactly how to hit it. Phelps has referred to the incident as "regrettable."

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was arrested in 1998 on charges of possession, and had to pay a $500 fine for having six grams of marijuana on his person. Abdul-Jabbar said he had been using cannabis for years to help treat severe migraine headaches.

Abdul-Jabbar and Phelps are not the only prominent and successful people who have admitted to using cannabis. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Louis Armstrong, Willie Nelson, along with literally hundreds of others of some of the more famous names in American history have all admitted to smoking cannabis. The forced image of the slacking, unmotivated underachieveing stoner doesn't stand- indeed, 16 million Americans admitted to drug use in a 2001 survey, 76% of those were cannabis users. These aren't 16 million unmotivated slackers, but rather average Joes like you and me. These are people with jobs, education, homes, families, and busy lives of their own. And since 2001, cannabis use has risen dramatically, especially among high school students. If anything, this number is closer to 20 or 25 million people today. The only difference between these people and the rest of America is that these people choose to smoke cannabis.

In just one average year, more than 70,000 are arrested for cannabis charges, and over 5,000,000 were arrested for the same reasons in the past decade. These arrests were not for sale or trafficking, but simply for possession or use. Shouldn't law enforcement and taxpayer dollars be used for serious and violent crime, or at least for serious drug abuse? And in this economy, isn't it wasteful to throw money away at locking people away for inhaling smoke from a plant?

The war on drugs, specifically on cannabis, has not decreased the proliferation of drugs, nor has it curbed people from buying or taking drugs. In fact, both numbers of users have risen exponentially along with the purity of substances available today. The war on drugs has done nothing but create a very profitable black market that simultaneously creates profit for drug lords and eats away at tax dollars to incarcerate those who have done no harm to anyone else. Like other wars, the war on drugs is one of the biggest wastes of resources and ruiners of lives and careers.

By the end of this article, I hope to have changed your mind about this country's policy and attitude toward cannabis and those who use it. If not, I hope, at the very least, I made you think. As always, your thoughts, criticisms, and feedback are welcomed and appreciated.

A Waste of Money and Resources
According to the Drug Policy Center, the War on Drugs costs us around $40,000,000,000 per year and climbing. Additionally, it costs $20,000-$30,000 per year to keep a marijuana offender behind bars. In one year, the total cost for the incarceration of those for cannabis possession and use is $1,200,000,000. This is money that competes with education, being that prisons and universities are controlled on a state level, rather than federal. This means that money normally used for research grants, faculty pay and benefits, scholarships, and educational programs and curriculum is instead spent to punish people for doing something inconsequential to their own bodies. As the drug war has grown exponentially since its inception in the Nixon administration, it steadily consumes more precious taxpayer dollars that could be used for more constructive means.

Imagine what we could do with an extra $41,000,000,000 per year- we could put that money into public education, science and technology, infrastructure, healthcare, social security; the list goes on and on. The prohibition of cannabis is one of the biggest failures of our free market-driven government to capitalize on something since, well, the prohibition of alcohol. Like drug prohibition, alcohol prohibition also fostered an underground culture and black market, which led to gangland violence and senseless killings. Prohibition was rightfully repealed via Constitutional amendment. It's high time cannabis be given the same treatment.

And can you imagine what legalization would do for Mississippi? The money we would make from taxing it as a legal substance, like we do with liquor (a completely state-owned enterprise in MS) already? All the budget cuts we wouldn't have to make? We could actually fund government the way it needs to be funded, and we could even lower the tax burden on the middle class. What a concept!

Alcohol/Cannabis Prohibition and the Problems it Created
"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
-George Santayana

Now, before I get into a history lesson, I need to give you a few facts when we compare the prohibition of alcohol and the current prohibition of cannabis. Alcohol is the third leading cause of death, killing 75,000 a year, just in America. This is behind smoking (kills 440,000 Americans per year**) and obesity (kills 300,000 Americans per year). And no, cannabis isn't in the top 5. Not even in the top 100. In fact, cannabis has never actually been attributed to be the cause of death for any human being, ever. It is actually impossible to overdose on cannabis. However, cigarette smoking and poor eating/exercise habits were never made illegal. If anything, cannabis should be made legal, and alcohol deemed illegal, as it is harmful and toxic to the body. In spite of that, it is perfectly within the law to drink alcohol, as long as you're of an appropriate age and don't harm anyone else in the process. As it should be with cannabis.

Also, I should mention that cannabis is considered by many(republicans) to be a "gateway drug." This statement is disingenuous; indeed, tobacco and alcohol are also drugs in and of themselves. One could feasibly argue that cigarettes and alcohol will eventually lead to harder drug use; however, these two drugs are very common, and both legal, so they obviously are the first step for those very few who are interested in trying harder substances. Indeed, cannabis's very nature, being illegal, will be lumped into the pile with the other Class 1 substances. However, it is by far the most common drug, seeing as it is a plant that grows virtually anywhere. The main difference between cannabis and opiates are that popular opiates like cocaine and heroin are synthetically manufactured, while the cannabis plant is a perfectly natural substance. But as previously stated with cigarettes and alcohol, just because something is common doesn't necessarily mean it is a first step down the line of harder and harder substances. This study shows that there are actually very few cannabis users who move on to harder drugs.

Around this time of the year (Jan. 29) 90 years ago, alcohol was prohibited through the ratification of the 18th amendment. In the 1920's and 1930's, bootlegging(alcohol smuggling) rose in the United States as an extremely profitable industry for organized crime syndicates. One of the more notorious bootleggers was Al Capone, in Chicago. When Johnny Torrio handed over his business to Capone in 1925 after an assassination attempt, his bootlegging industry in Chicago alone pulled in around $10,000,000 per year. Adjusted for inflation, this would be about $117,385,000 by today's standards. Indeed, this doesn't even come close to the money made on the marijuana market today, or even to the $40,000,000,000 we spend each year in the war on drugs.

In fact, the use and sale of cannabis was legal until 1937. That's right; for 18 years, alcohol wasn't legal, but pot was. you could buy it at a grocery store, or even in cigarette form from newsstands. However, while alcohol is legitimately toxic to the system, the banning of cannabis had nothing to do with its toxicity or addictive capabilities, but rather due to misleading and demonstrably false propaganda spread by those who made products that competed with products made with cannabis. The government took this to a new extreme when Harry Anslinger was the brains behind an injection of racist propaganda by coining the term "marihuana," which is a Mexican form of opium, in an effort to associate cannabis with a sudden influx of Mexican immigrants.

Around 1935, the DuPont chemical was gearing up to release its patent of synthetic fibers, which would produce paper from wood pulp rather than from hemp, which had been used up to that point. However, DuPont was worried about the inferiority of his product to its natural predecessor- one acre of hemp can produce just as much paper as 4-10 acres of wood.* It should also be mentioned that hemp paper is much more durable throughout the years than wood paper. In fact, the Constitution was written on hemp paper, and is still very much intact today. DuPont was also fearful of hemp hurting their profits, as it is capable of making nylon and plastic.

DuPont, one of the leading chemical companies at the time, was headed by Lamont DuPont, who was heavily invested in by William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper tycoon. With the aid of Harry J. Anslinger, who was looking for a way to get into the national spotlight after his alcohol law enforcement career, Hearst and DuPont spread malicious propaganda about hemp and cannabis through the newspapers. Anslinger used this propaganda as justification for the prohibition of cannabis. Once cannabis was taxed with a hefty $100 per pound, whether used for rope or clothes, people stopped making hemp because it was too expensive for use. Additionally, factories were more equipped to manufacture with fibers like cotton and wool, while its hemp manufacturing equipment was substandard. Thus, hemp was an easy target for the government. With hemp out of the way through the successful facilitation of yellow journalism and false propaganda, DuPont got his money and secured a veritable monopoly after eliminating his strongest competitor. However, this came at a great cost, as the cannabis plant is one of the most versatile plants on the planet.

The Benefits of Cannabis
Presently, we've been looking for ways to produce alternative energy as the petrochemical industry is starting to live out its last days of being useful as the environment and economy both wane. We're also struggling with food shortages and crop problems due to erratic weather patterns from global warming, making grocery prices rise. Healthcare costs are rising, and we're slaves to the privately owned pharmaceutical companies, who are out for the most profit rather than helping the sick get better. We're also in debt to other countries up to ears, which could be cut down if we manufactured and exported products of our own. All of these problems could be solved if Cannabis Sativa was made legal. Studies have shown hemp to be a completely viable source of paper, fabric, textiles, biodegradable plastics, healthy food, medicine, and fuel. Cannabis would be a much cheaper and more efficient way to manufacture all of these things, considering the plant can grow basically anywhere in the world.

There are currently 14 states that allow cannabis to be used for medicinal purposes; cannabis has been proven to help patients gain their appetite back, and to relieve pain. Readers should be aware that the federal law system equates cannabis with cocaine and heroin as a class 1 substance, and openly states that smoked marijuana serves no medicinal purpose.

Contrary to what the Department of Justice says, the Federal Drug Administration actually gives government joints to seven US citizens with chronic pain. One of them is Irvin Rosenfeld, a stockbroker who suffers from a tumor condition that could potentially kill him if untreated. He smokes at least 5 or 6 joints a day just to be able to live through the pain his condition causes. Sort of a hypocritical thing for the federal government to do, especially when it's made a habit of demonizing cannabis for more than 70 years. Even moreso when one department of the federal government states that smoking marijuana has no medicinal function.

Cannabis laws are outdated, and based only on shaky foundations of racism and fearmongering. It's time for us to stop ignoring the facts and to start listening to the truth. If we want to strengthen our economy, our workforce, our budget, and our own lives, cannabis needs to be brought to the fore, and petty 1930's politics and greed need to step aside.

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