A while ago on PolicyMic, I wrote in favor of legalizing meth. However, given that today is 4/20, the unofficial day of celebration for marijuana, and the president has just been to a summit that included a discussion on drug policy in the Americas, it is worth examining why marijuana in particular is in urgent need of legalization. There are no good economic or medical reasons for banning marijuana. The drug war continues only because of the self-appointed moral superiority of hypocritical politicians, most notably the president.
To many the "War on Drugs" might be a cute name for the collection of operations law enforcement officials conduct in order to reduce the sale and consumption of prohibited substances. However, to many it really is a war. The last five years of the drug war have killed at least 48,000 in Mexico alone, with thousands of others across the globe killed or missing. The war is fought with military precision and professionalism on both sides, with the cartels using not only automatic weapons, but also submarines and tanks. In the U.S. drones and small tanks have been deployed not only on our southern border, but in states such as New Hampshire. All of this might seem worth it to the pro-drug war lobby, except that there might as well not have been all of these resources expended, and all of those lives lost. Drugs still flow into the U.S. and around the world with incredible ease. It is hard to find any area of suburbia in the whole of the country where marijuana is not readily available.
Even a libertarian such as myself is willing to accept that there are differences between what meth will do to you, and what marijuana will do to you. Marijuana can in some instances have negative effects on those who smoke it. However, there are proven medical benefits to the drug. For those undergoing chemotherapy, chronic-pain treatment, AIDS wasting syndrome and nausea cannabis has been shown to offer welcome relief. Were marijuana legal it is possible that there might even be a benefit to the government, who could tax additional profits.
Perhaps more importantly, the drug has negligible external effects, especially when one compares the harm legal substances have on external parties. Alcohol has well over double the measured external harm that cannabis does, yet remains readily available. Were someone to say that both alcohol and marijuana should be illegal they would at least be making a consistent and sound argument. I have yet to meet anyone who can make this argument with sincerity and not just as some intellectual exercise.
What is shameful is how normalized Washington, and most of the rest of the global political establishment is to the "War on Drugs," even when some of the war’s wealthiest backers used the drugs they now lock people up for possessing. During his 2008 campaign Obama made the following statement about his use of marijuana, “I inhaled frequently, that was the point.” This is of course quite funny until one considers that Obama is now the head of an organization that engages in deadly paramilitary raids for the very activity he admits to partaking in years ago. Obama now supports policies that could have had him killed or imprisoned years ago. Liberals should be ashamed that the only politican running for the White House in 2012 who is against the war on drugs is the most right wing candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Many thought that Obama would change the severity of the drug war in part because of his work as a state senator and his admitted use. But the president has done nothing to lessen the level of violence being inflicted on American citizens.
It is in the prison system that the true absurdity of the war on drugs can be seen, where there are inmates serving decades for a victimless crime. The United States has the shameful accolade of being the country with the most prisoners. Almost 1% of Americans are locked up, which accounts for close to 25% of the world’s total prisoners. Put into perspective; one in twenty people are American, but so are 1 in 4 prisoners. China, with four times as many people has a little over half the number of prisoners than the U.S.
The fact is that other policies are working. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs, with beneficial results. Indeed, even conservative politicians in Portugal have come round to the policy, and no major party now opposes it. The U.S authorities have got to stop looking at drug addicts as if they are criminals but rather begin implementing policies that treat them like patients. We do not lock alcoholics or chain smokers. If we are to have a drug war, I still do not see why these two groups are except from prison time.
Even if you remain unconvinced by the medical arguments and the economic benefit legalization would have, the fact remains that prohibition has not worked by any measure, and it is destroying lives and destabilizing whole nations. Is this a price worth paying for government-sanctioned nannying?