Thursday, May 20, 2010

Marijuana prohibition isn’t just stupid. It’s deadly.

1973_Colt_AR15_SP1 President Calderón of Mexico is visiting the United States this week, speaking with President Obama about a range of issues including the controversial new Arizona anti-immigration law, the North American economy, border violence and even climate change.  But there’s something that the two statesmen are unlikely to discuss (via Drug
President Obama calls Calderon Mexico’s Elliott Ness…but Elliott Ness never stopped illegal liquor. The lifting of Prohibition did. Similarly, the only solution to the drug trafficking and violence on both sides of the border is to legalize drugs. (Edward Schumacher-Matos, The Washington Post, 5/19/2010)

I have been meaning to author a drug war-related post for a while now, and the occasion of Calderón’s visit seems as good a time as any.  I don’t think I have anything to add to the discussion that hasn’t been explored in much greater depth at Drug, a site which I regularly monitor and highly recommend.  So I guess mainly I’d just like this post to direct traffic there.

Because I don’t think that President Obama is an idiot, I find it hard to imagine that he could identify Calderón as a “Mexican Eliot Ness” without also thinking through the historical parallels that would lead him to conclude that the real problem is not some harmlessly euphoric plant but Prohibition itself and the entrenched paramilitary and propaganda institutions that owe their existences to it.

Obama, at least, spouts relatively less drug-war nonsense than previous presidents, and I’m actually hopeful that if he wins a second term he might opt for spouting sense.  After all, even as thousands have died and are dying needlessly and uselessly in Mexico since Calderón ordered the first 6,500 federal troops into Michoacán in 2006, there have also been positive changes both in law and in attitude in the US.  A bill that could allow seriously ill patients to benefit from medical marijuana (a good start, though full legalization and regulation is really the only sensible policy) has even been introduced in my home state of Pennsylvania (HB 1393).

Nevertheless, it seems that even among my primarily liberal and informed friends, when I occasionally note in conversation that some medical marijuana law has been introduced, or when I point out some politician’s support for either legal reform or the drug war as a point for or against them, there is this smirking sense that ending prohibition isn’t really a serious cause, or rather, that what motivates and organizes my thinking is merely a personal, even selfish, desire for legal weed.  As though the only people victimized by marijuana policy are a bunch of funny, college-age stoners having to watch their cartoons and eat their sugary cereals in secret.

Many of the privileged, middle-class, members of my generation, who grew up during the Reagan administration and graduated in elementary school from laughable D.A.R.E programs will allow that marijuana might make you lazy but is mostly harmless.  According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 41% of Americans over 12 years of age have at least tried it, and I doubt that many of them would conclude from the experience that the outright lies constituting anti-drug fear campaigns are justified.  best-magazine-covers07But surprisingly few will associate marijuana prohibition with the cartel war in Mexico because their perspective as end-users obscures the illegal market dynamics that connects their enjoyment of Pink Floyd and soft-serve both to a prison/enforcement-industrial complex and professionally trained cartel security forces armed with AK-47s and R-15s. 

Hmm.  It sounds a little like I’m blaming the user here, and that’s not at all my intention.  I just watched a commenter on CNN do just that.  He invited any drug users who were watching to “just stop and think” about the “real” costs of your “ounce for Saturday night…as harmless as you think it may be.”  This reminds me of that National Lampoon magazine cover that threatened to shoot the dog if you didn’t buy the issue.  The illegal market dynamic that connects drug use to drug violence is no more natural or necessary than the dynamic that might associate magazine sales with canine stays of execution.  Prohibition policy is what transforms American drug demand into something from which both the DEA and the Sinaloa cartel can benefit.  So it is the legislators and enforcement agencies that should “just stop and think” about the “real” costs of their preoccupation with how people spend their leisure time. 

On the other hand, what I do want to impress upon recreational drug users as well as non-users is that until these drug policies are reformed, we are all complicit in drug war violence.

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