You’ve probably heard by now that Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul have introduced a bill to end the federal ban on marijuana and leave it up to the states to decide on the legality of weed. This comes forty years after President Nixon declared a somewhat misguided and likely losing war on drugs. Legalization is probably not that bad of an idea and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.
Americans have had a puritanical streak since the founding of the country. According to author Michael Pollan in his book The Botany of Desire, the cultural folk hero Johnny Appleseed; who planted apple trees all across the midwest, was well beloved not for spreading a bountiful sweet fruit across the land. In fact most of the apples he planted were bitter. But they did make for one desirable and beneficial by-product; hard cider. Johnny Appleseed was bringing the buzz to early America. Consequently, colonists with a puritanical bent had a penchant for chopping down apple trees.
And of course there was a period in our history where all liquor was outlawed. In fact, we even made a constitutional amendment solely for the purpose of prohibition. That’s no easy feat. Adding an amendment to the Constitution requires approval by 2/3 of congress, the President (Woodrow Wilson, who actually vetoed it), and 3/4 of the state legislatures (36 states at the time). I’m not certain that temperance was all that popular at the time but I’m pretty sure peer pressure was because enough people were convinced to pass the 18th Amendment that banned all sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol from 1920 to 1933.
What did we get out of the ‘War on Booze’? Well, there was initially a decrease in consumption but not necessarily demand. We also got organized crime. bootlegging, speakeasies, and NASCAR (stock cars modified to outrun law enforcement while hauling large loads of liquid). It was also difficult to enforce. The revenuer man just didn’t have the resources to catch everyone. Moreover, not many took it seriously and popular opposition grew, particularly when the depression started. The violence that accompanied the organized crime also had a negative impact, particularly the Saint Valentine’s day Massacre of 1929. Eventually the Franklin Roosevelt administration passed the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition. I suggest we’re approaching a similar occurrence with marijuana.
Not coincidentally, Harry J. Anslinger, the first director of the Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930′s would almost singlehandedly give marijuana it’s undeserved bad reputation as a drug that caused social unrest, lawlessness, and dementia. This culminated in the 1936 public service newsreel documentary (and now cult status comedy) ‘Reefer Madness‘. So while prohibition on alcohol lasted only a dozen years, the stigma on weed has lasted for decades. That prohibition has yielded similar results as those of alcohol did in the twenties. Distribution has gone underground, there’s a rampant culture of organized crime in Mexico built to satisfy the demands of Americans who think recreational use of marijuana is acceptable, and public opinion has become favourable to legalization.
And why not? Let’s face it, grass is pretty innocuous. We all know of mean drunks, but has anyone ever really met a mean stoner? Think of the stress relief as well. Probably no more road rage. Stoners would just wave at people who cut them off in traffic and say ‘Peace out, good sister’. The snack industry would blossom creating more jobs. People could keep their jobs without fear of random pee tests. I confess to not being a credible expert on the topic as I don’t personally imbibe. My body chemistry just doesn’t do well with it. I just eat a bag of Cheetos and go to sleep so any enjoyable benefits of smoking weed are lost on me.
Seriously though, there are several real benefits for regulating and legalizing pot.
- Revenue: taxation of grass would provide a much needed source of income and simultaneously reduce the expense of law enforcement.
- The market for hemp products would be unchained
- Hemp by-products have the potential for renewable energy as a biofuel
- Agriculture gets an economic boost
- We could free up a lot of jail cells
- People with minor drug possession charges would have their records expunged
- It would save lives. The Mexican drug cartels wouldn’t have any reason to try to stay competitive. Trafficking in illegal weapons would also be reduced.
- We might even see a decrease in alcohol related offenses.
Of course there are some problems that would need to be addressed:
- Enforcement. Currently, there is not a convenient method of determining if someone is under the influence of marijuana. That’s a problem for law enforcement and employers who operate machinery that could harm others if mishandled.
- Retroactive complaints. If grass is legalized it means that there are people in jail who would want to be released, fired employees who would want to be reimbursed because of a failed urine test that caused them to lose their jobs, and other people who have been penalized under the previous laws. If Marijuana were legalized, there would need to be language in the law that prevented the onslaught of court cases sure to be brought forth. Perhaps an amnesty clause of some sort. All offenses will be expunged on the condition of no contest; for example.
- Regulation. We would have to define the rules of appropriate use of marijuana as well as the restrictions and punishments of its abuse.
- Commerce. Laws governing both commercial and personal growth and use would need to be addressed. And what of exporting? How much could a grower plant and distribute?
- Legal. Could you be busted for possession in Arizona for weed purchased legally in California? Could you grow your own?
- Medical. Now that it appears that we will join the rest of the civilized world with universal health care, what does it mean for habitual pot smokers’ health insurance? Should the non-pot smokers be made to subsidize marijuana smoking maladies?
A lot of politicians think getting behind such an idea is tantamount to political suicide. Certainly if you were a relatively new politician running for a local office with such a plank in your platform, you could run the risk of looking like a flake. At least in certain areas of the country. But some current data suggests otherwise.
Just remember, it’s 4:20 somewhere. And cannabis is a naturally occurring plant. What if God really did smoke cannabis? It’s probably easier to deal with the fact that marijuana will always be with us. Perhaps even easier to regulate than to try and prevent its use or punish those who use it.
- Ron Paul and Barney Frank: End Pot Prohibition (lewrockwell.com)
- Marijuana Bill in Congress Would End Federal Ban on Pot (Huffington Post)
- If You Think Supporting Marijuana Legalization is Political Suicide, You’re Wrong (Huffington Post)