Sunday, February 13, 2011

(Pot) Prohibition: What are the Costs?

My biggest concern in the War on Drugs is cannabis prohibition's effects on society, on crime, and on our children. The third category is especially important, as our children truly are the future of our nation, and they are being subjected to an underground black market that endangers them on multiple fronts. As a matter of fact, all of us are facing various consequences because of pot prohibition, and they cannot be ignored.

To begin with, let's look at a common scenario: a minor, seventeen years old and feeling invincible, attempts to purchase alcohol at a local grocery store with a fake ID. The cashier is well aware that the ID is a fake and refuses the sale; defeated, the teenager returns home empty-handed. Now imagine this same scenario in a future where marijuana is legal and sold in convenience stores over-the-counter: the child, who legally must be 18 to buy cannabis, is stopped by the same cashier and sent home again with nothing to show for it.

Isn't this a much better alternative to the current system? Under marijuana prohibition, children who want cannabis must seek it in the underground black market since the drug is currently illegal. Legal drugs such as alcohol, ephedrine, and pseudo-ephedrine can only be sold to legal adults, and if a cashier to sell them to a minor then he or she will face criminal penalties (on top of being fired). Illegal drugs have no such protective barrier; any kid who wants to get high may do so, because a drug dealer will not be checking your license, but your wallet instead. As long as children have access to money (and popular recreational drugs remain illegal) then they will have access to illicit drugs.

George W. Bush once said that people who quit using illegal drugs are supporting America's War on Terror. I think that these two couldn't be anymore unrelated. As a matter of fact, the government supports drug dealers by keeping drugs such as marijuana illegal: it takes the potential tax revenue from the plant's retail sales and keeps it in the hands of dangerous cartels.

The federal government also wastes a great deal of money fighting the war on drugs without making any revenue to replenish the money lost to prosecuting drug offenders. According to this Drug War Clock, over $1.75 billion has been spent this year on the war on drugs as of this writing. The vast majority of that money is used on marijuana offenses (in Indiana, $684,226 was recommended for marijuana eradication in the 2007-2008 fiscal year); if cannabis was made legal, then all of this money would automatically be available for a number of other budgets, such as public transit, libraries, or the healthcare system. Additionally, the drug could be taxed (rather heavily, as demand would be quite high) just like cigarettes and alcohol are, and this money could be combined with the money saved by not prosecuting cannabis users.

Pot prohibition opens up the drug black market and makes illicit substances available more easily to our youth, while at the same time discussing drug abuse as a public health issue. Just as alcohol prohibition did nearly a century ago, marijuana prohibition fosters crime and makes the drug it is purporting to restrict more available to the general populace; after all, did you know that alcohol consumption levels rose during prohibition? The substance was illegal and strictly enforced after the passing of the Volstead Act, and yet people were still getting their hands on it...a lot of it.

Andrew Furuseth, the merchant seaman who helped form the Sailors' Union of the Pacific and the International Seamens' Union, was called to testify before Congress in 1926. According to him, conditions in Portland, Oregon drastically declined two years into Prohibition. “They will find it somewhere,” he said of working class men searching for alcohol. “If it is to be bought in the vicinity any where they will find it. And the condition is worse than it ever was, because the stuff that they drink is worse than ever.”

The same is true for marijuana. The laws may become more restrictive, but users will find ways to get high, and in many cases the marijuana they find will not always be safe because there is no quality control or regulation in the drug black market; as a matter of fact, the U.S. government at one time exacerbated this situation by spraying Mexican marijuana fields with a toxic herbicide known as paraquat, which can kill humans with a dose as small as 0.1 oz and can cause pulmonary fibrosis and lung hemorrhage when smoked.

Where is the justice in that? U.S. citizens who smoked the herbicide-covered marijuana were irrevocably damaged for their “crimes.” That is what pot prohibition has done. It's not enough to prosecute ordinary American citizens for smoking a naturally occurring plant...the federal government felt it necessary to corporeally punish these innocent men and women for smoking a flower that came from the earth.

That, my friends, is the cost of pot prohibition. It costs us money; but generates no revenue and destroys a powerful source of tax money; it seeks to protect our nation's youth, but puts them in harm's way by providing them easier access to drugs; it fails to work on a legal level, and then stoops to killing innocent U.S. citizens to get its point across. Prohibition didn't work with alcohol, folks, and it's never going to work with marijuana.

Alcohol prohibition made the career of Al Capone possible. What exactly do you think pot prohibition is doing?

-John D.. McGaughey

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