It is a strange reality that a plant from central Asia that has been used for thousands of years has come to develop its own cultural identity and an almost unique status in the debate on drug prohibition. Cannabis enjoys a cultural status enjoyed by few other drugs, both legal and illegal. Not even alcohol, the most widely consumed drug, has the explicit exposure and attention enjoyed by cannabis. Whole films, albums, art collections, and writings have been dedicated to the plant. Yet for all its prevalence and wide spread use the U.S. government insists on keeping the sale, distribution, and possession of cannabis illegal. On this issue in particular, the American public are years ahead of the politicians.
One of the most telling and frightening examples of this was DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart’s recent testimony before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security where she refused to say whether she considered crack to be worse for someone’s health than cannabis. No one disputes that cannabis has effects on consumer’s body and mind. But for one of the country’s chief drug warriors to refuse to accept the spectrum of harm that exists amongst drugs is as shameful as it is worrying.
Part of the problem with the rhetoric of the "War on Drugs" is its use of the word "drug." Americans are already amongst the most drug-addicted people in the world, and they are mostly addicted to legal drugs. It should come as no surprise that much of the lobbying for the War on Drugs comes from those that currently manufacture legal drugs.
The categorization of drugs used by the DEA and other agencies is based on nothing more than culture war rhetoric. One of the most dangerous drugs, alcohol, is legal. Yet possession of cannabis sends people to jail for years.
Public opinion is turning too fast for politicians who continue to prosecute the war on drugs. Electorally the anti-prohibitionists have nowhere to turn. It is a disgrace that liberals are not protesting the president’s hypocrisy and pathetic record on drugs. There are legalization and decriminalization measures in place or already planned in a number of states. But judging by California’s experience there is no reason to expect the federal government to comply with the wishes of state governments.
The drug war has developed an incredibly harmful culture towards mind-altering substances and the role of the state. The war on drugs needs to end. Cannabis, and all other currently illegal drugs, should be made as available and alcohol and cigarettes. Only then might we get over our outdated and unfounded attitude towards ‘drugs’ and begin addressing issues the government should be tackling.
Matthew Feeney is Assistant Editor of 24/7 News at Reason.com