CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta came out in favor of medical marijuana recently. While the science that Gupta claims to have originally missed has been around for years, it’s nice to see someone whose career is grounded in facts to come to this conclusion. President Obama could learn something from Dr. Gupta; it should be easy since he has already shown a penchant for "evolving" when public opinion gets in the way of his previously stated positions. The president would do both himself and America a service by continuing to evolve on federal drug policy towards state’s rights to regulate narcotics and reclassification of drugs on the federal level. This move towards a more moral and rational policy will help us end an economic burden that unfairly affects minorities and destroys their families for generations.
The legalization successes in Washington and Colorado have forced the Justice Department to reckon with federal drug policy in relation to the Tenth Amendment. More recently, New Hampshire overwhelmingly passed legislation to nullify federal laws on medical marijuana and the San Francisco Police Department has changed focus towards enforcing serious crime and treating addiction as a health issue. A report from the ACLU showed that blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for pot in San Francisco, and 3.73 times more likely nationally, despite similar rates of usage when compared to whites. Both of these are examples of states taking ideas from other marijuana-friendly laboratories of democracy who have not fallen into chaos. As more states have lifted prohibitionist drug laws, the federal government has cracked down, with marijuana arrests steadily increasing since 2001.
The Obama administration’s schizophrenic drug policy can’t hide the fact that since October 2009, they have initiated more than 170 aggressive SWAT-style raids in medical marijuana states, totaling over 61 federal indictments. They did take a step in the right direction last week when they ordered federal prosecutors to leave out the quantity of drugs when charges are filed and small reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing for low level drug defenders. While this move is welcome, it doesn’t change the fact that drug sentencing has an essential moral problem: It criminalizes addiction and a drug that has a lower addiction than tobacco or caffeine and life-saving medical properties.
Prohibition leads to black markets, which facilitate organized crime, promote unsafe practices, and increase prices. This strengthens both the prison industrial complex and the drug cartels, fostering a cycle of violence and vilification of non-violent offenders. There are examples of national legalization success stories, like Portugal, where drug use actually went down after legalization.
Eric Holder is right that the problems in the prison system impose "a significant economic burden" totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone and "human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate." Indeed, not to mention the long term damage to their criminal records, preventing them from achieving gainful employment. When America has 5% of the world's population, yet 25% of the world’s prison population, that means American nonviolent drug offenders make up 6.25% of prisoners on Earth. These numbers are crazy, and clearly indicate the need for further reform.
One of the main reasons there is such a disconnect between federal policy and state policy is because of the way the federal government classifies narcotics. As Dr. Gupta pointed out when he came out of the weed closet, the federal classification of marijuana is completely antiquated and explicitly disregards science. In 1970, Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Roger O. Egeberg recommended"that marijuana be retained within schedule one at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue."
Since we live in 2013, our policy views should reflect the reality of the world we live in. There are plenty of studies that empirically show the benefits of marijuana. In his 2008 inaugural address, Obama pledged that “we will restore science to its rightful place." It’s time to stand by your claim, Mr. President.
By stopping the ridiculous number of citizens going into prison for useless drug offenses, we set our next generation up for success by keeping families together. Children that grow up in a household with only one parent are more likely to have lower high school graduation rates, lower GPAs, and greater risk of drug use. When around 25% of children in America are living in single parent homes the rate for black children is more than double, we aren’t doing any good by locking up black men and women for nonviolent drug crimes at higher rates than whites.
The War on Drugs is most certainly the new Jim Crow. It has destroyed the future of black children for generations. In an attempt to fix a problem, it created a form of economic slavery. If we continue to enforce what a majority of Americans say isn’t worth the cost, we will always be chasing a dream of equality. Until the United States federal government frees itself from the chains of these racist policies, it will remain the biggest promoter of racial inequality in human history.