As the days of Just Say No and Cartoon All Stars: To The Rescue fade further from our collective consciousness, the US is reaching a tipping point regarding marijuana prohibition. With states finally taking matters into their own hands, President Obama said recently that now is the time to have a “serious national conversation” about the popular drug.
Okay, Mr. President, let’s converse: the federal government should stop implementing draconian pot laws and let states decide.
Marijuana use for recreational, medicinal, and spiritual purposes dates back to the glorious yester-years of the Bronze Age, about 3000 BC. The cannabis plant itself – or “ganjika” as the O.G. ancient Hindus of Nepal called it – has an even more impressive resume: Chinese civilizations first cultivated hemp to make fibre over 12,000 years ago. For the better part of history, the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis enjoyed widespread participation (seriously — Shakespeare was into it) and few legal sanctions.
It wasn’t until 1860 (AD) that the US began regulating the sale of cannabis and its derivatives. Originally decided by localities and states, marijuana prohibition quickly expanded to the national level: first as a tax, and later under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Today, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug: simple possession is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
Since the seventies, states have become increasingly resistant to federal prohibition: 18 states and Washington, D.C legalized medical marijuana for residents, and 14 states decriminalized possession for small amounts of weed. In 2012, historic initiatives in Colorado and Washington ushered in the first state laws regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana for recreational use.
While 50 percent of Americans support legalization, the federal government is taking the opposite approach to US marijuana laws: going full-on narc. Despite releasing a statement in 2008 claiming he “supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice,” ex-stoner Obama showed little to that effect during his first term. In the ultimate buzzkill, states with legally operating marijuana dispensaries saw the most aggressive raids ever under the current administration.
On Feb. 11, US drug czar Gil Kerlikowske cemented the collective come-down, telling a Canadian newspaper that the Drug Enforcement Agency intends to aggressively pursue pot distributors, even in states that voted to legalize marijuana. In a botched comparison to alcohol, Kerlikowske explained that, ”Making drugs available without any sanction would only lead to more abuse.”
The availability argument is one that prohibition proponents love: increased access means increased use, especially among susceptible young folk. But several studies refute that claim, including a 2010 adolescent survey by the International Journal of Drug Policy that found, “Marijuana use rates did not differ across countries … Based on these findings, the case for strict laws and policies is considerably weaker for marijuana than for alcohol.”
There are a lot of problems with the federal prohibition of marijuana. US consumer’s insatiable appetite for pot enables a black market that fuels violent crime, money laundering, and human trafficking. Meanwhile, prosecutions within the US disproportionately affect minority and poor communities, and rack up costs amounting to $7.7 billion a year.
The case for marijuana is growing increasingly loud. The medical uses for cannabanoid are extensive, including treatment for cancer and ADHD. And financially speaking, legalizing marijuana is hypothetically a bipartisan lovechild – generating new tax revenue while cutting back on unnecessary expenses.
But such a logical approach must be intimidating to the federal government, which invested the better part of last century in stigmatizing marijuana as a gateway to drug abuse. And although the last three US presidents all admitted to smoking dope (and two of them even admitted to inhaling,) the political conversation remains one-sided from the executive seat.
Using marijuana is a personal choice. But there is an inherent hypocrisy in politicians winking to constituents about a drug-filled past, then condemning the practice in a legal framework. Because the real conversation we should be having – as Obama so aptly demonstrated with his youthful “mistakes” — is about the blatant truth: marijuana is here to stay.
So turn on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” channel Jeff Spicolli, and tune in for the prohibition fight of the century. It’s poised to be one helluva time.
[Image by Elizabeth Preza]