Several months ago, a national magazine ran a story under the heading 'Youth' and the subhead 'Mother Is Bugged At Me.' It concerned an eighteen-year-old California girl who had been picked up for smoking marijuana and wanted to talk about it. While a reporter took down her ideas in the uptempo language of 'tea', someone snapped a picture. In view of her contention that she was part of a whole new culture where one out of every five people you meet is a user, it was an arresting photograph. In the pale, attentive face, with its soft eyes and intelligent mouth, there was no hint of corruption. It was a face which could only be deemed criminal through an enormous effort of righteousness. Its only complaint seemed to be: 'Why don't people leave us alone?'
This was the opening paragraph in an article written by John Clellon Holmes for the New York Times Magazine. It would appear that there is nothing unusual about this paragraph other than Holme's use of the phrase "language of tea". If that phrase was replaced by the phrase "language of hip hop", it might be assumed that the article was recently written.
The harsh reality is that Holmes wrote the article over fifty years ago. The 1952 article, This Is The Beat Generation, has been cited by cultural historians for originating the term "beat generation". Omitted from the paragraph above was the last sentence: It was the face of a beat generation.
No constitutional amendment was passed in 1937. Congress merely enacted the "Marihuana Tax Act" and that was that. In 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to prohibit alcohol. The 18th Amendment was then ratified in 1919. In 1933, Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th Amendment. It was ratified that same year.
It seems that Congress forgot that the Constitution made no provision for the federal government to regulate intoxicants. In 1917, Congress was aware that a constitutional amendment would be required for the federal government to prohibit alcohol. But in 1937, Congress no longer felt constrained by constitutional limits when they decided to prohibit marijuana.
The war on marijuana smokers has been particulary egregious because of the relative harmlessness of the substance. The government has relied primarily on propaganda to make the case for marijuana prohibition. In 1936, the movie Reefer Madness sent the message that smoking marijuana leads to certain insanity. The film is so absurd that generations of college kids have viewed the movie as a comedy - especially after smoking some marijuana.
The Bush administration continues to wage war on marijuana users. Last year, the administration decided to increase resources to fight marijuana - citing new "super-strength" marijuana as the reason.
Various organizations continue to refute the propaganda and myths advanced by the government as Reefer Madness strategies continue to be used.
No amount of research or reasoned debate has been able to persuade politicians to abandon failed drug war policies. The number of drug arrests continue to increase and the government continues to spend billions of dollars on a war it is losing. A convincing case can be made that the drug war acts as a price support program for drug dealers.
The hypocrisy of the drug warriors is overwhelming. While marijuana has caused zero deaths, alcohol is the third leading cause of death in America. The problems associated with alcohol use are widely known, yet the government makes no attempt to prohibit it again. There has been no legislation to imprison someone for 55 years for selling alcohol to a minor.
Laws that impose mandatory minimum sentences have created bizarre judicial outcomes where selling marijuana is more serious than murder. Last year, a man was sentenced to 55 years for selling a small amount of marijuana. The same judge sentenced another man to 22 years earlier that day for beating a lady to death with a log. In this case, it was the judge that complained of the injustice due to sentencing laws.
The hypocrisy of the current administration is especially evident when policies regarding drugs and children are examined. While the Bush administration wants to target marijuana users, it has created the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to screen children and provide them with dangerous psychoactive drugs. It would seem that the primary beneficiary of this program would be the pharmaceutical industry - a group that has been very generous to the President's party in recent years.
The Pragmatist published an article in their August 1988 issue that gave Twelve Reasons To Legalize Drugs. The article makes a good case for legalization and the reasons given remain valid today - perhaps even more valid. A synopsis of the 12 reasons are:
Legalizing drugs would make our streets and homes safer. It would put an end to prison overcrowding. It would free up police resources. It would unclog the court system. It would reduce official corruption. It would save tax money. It would cripple organized crime. It would make drugs safer. It would help stem the spread of AIDS. It would halt the erosion of other personal liberties. It would help stabilize foreign countries. It would repair U.S. relations with other countries.
The drug war has failed and the federal government has no constitutional authority to wage such a war on the citizens of America. The failed drug prohibition should be ended for the same reasons the failed alcohol prohibition was ended. In 2014, drug prohibition will be 100 years old. Like most wars, the results have been many casualties, the loss of constitutional rights, the loss of privacy, and the expenditure of billions of dollars.
Americans who believe the government drug war propaganda and continue to vote for politicians who support the drug war need to rethink their position. Many supporters of the drug war admit that it is a failure but claim the government would be sending the wrong message by legalizing drugs.
Perhaps they should think about the messages the government is currently sending: it is ok to ignore the Constitution, it is ok to subject people to random drug tests and searches, it is ok to kick down doors and shoot suspects, and it is ok to throw young people in jail where they may be assaulted or raped. As bad as drugs may or may not be, the drug war is far worse.
This article contributed by Tom Blanton of Richmond, Virginia.