Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Robbie Gennet Headshot

Sound Science and The War on Drugs

Posted: Updated:

When it comes to the EPA, President Obama recently said that "rigid ideology has overruled sound science" as he implemented some well-needed science back into the department. I just want to know how soon we can apply this to the War on Drugs, which has wasted so much money, ruined so many lives and has kept a black market thriving because demand hasn't dropped at all. We have a full-on narco war across the Mexican border, which is spilling into our cities and national parks. We have more people in prison for non-violent drug possession than most other countries do for all crimes combined. And the DEA continues to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have approved them, even though Obama has said these raids will stop under his administration. To wit: On Jan. 22, the DEA - assisted by the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, the South Lake Tahoe-El Dorado County Narcotics Enforcement Team and the South Lake Tahoe Police - raided Ken Estes' Patient to Patient Collective in Lake Tahoe. It occured just two days after the Inauguration. Estes, a 44-year-old quadriplegic and single parent, had nine employees and had paid over $51,000 in sales taxes to the state in the past three months. One more fact: in 2007, over 800,000 people were arrested on marijuana-related offenses, 89% for simple possession, according to NORML. The US has the highest level of marijuana use despite having some of the strictest anti-marijuana laws. The fact that the laws are doing nothing to undermine demand should be a huge red flag that our drug policies are not working for us. Well, they are working for the Prison Industry and for the Law Enforcement budget and for the Black Market, but certainly not for US Citizens individually or collectively.

The War on Drugs has been a War on Drug Users and it has not had any effect in slowing down actual use. It is estimated that since we began waging this "war" in 1971, the United States has spent close to 1 trillion dollars. In fact, many teens are now abusing prescription medications in record numbers, making their parents "legal"medicine chest more of a danger than any dealer of illicit substances. But the War on Drugs focuses so much of its efforts on marijuana that it has allowed other more serious threats- such as crystal meth and prescription drug abuse- to spiral out of control. We are short on law enforcement, homeland/border security, prison space and taxable income, not to mention compassion, all of which could be rectified by legitimizing the medical marijuana trade (or all marijuana trade, really) and bringing this cash crop out of the black market and into taxation and regulation.

By applying "sounds science" and common sense to our drug policy, we can move towards decriminalizing marijuana and letting states tax and regulate it, much like they did after alcohol prohibition in the 30's. Lest you forget: from 1920-1933, the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol were banned by the 18th Amendment (later repealed by the 21st Amendment). That's right, it was not just illegal but UNCONSTITUTIONAL to drink alcohol! Sounds ridiculous, right? So does marijuana prohibition, which does far more harm than the drug itself. But think back to Prohibition- gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran made millions selling bootleg liquor; Capone himself controlled 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago. There was a demand for alcohol and the Black Market was all too happy to supply it. Once Roosevelt repealed Prohibition in 1933, the Black Market lost it's profits and reason for existing. Apply that to the narco-war to the south and our own Drug War at home and you remove their reasons for being and for draining our resources, not to mention add a whole new stream of revenue to state and federal budgets. But it's a third rail no politician has been willing to touch for fear of being soft on drugs, especially in the eyes of parents concerned about their kids safety.

For those that say decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana would encourage kids/teens to smoke it, I ask you to look at the facts on the ground right now. As things stand, kids/teens have access to and are smoking marijuana in consistent numbers regardless of the laws and anti-drug commercials. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that half of all teens try marijuana before they graduate high school and they are evidently finding the anti-drug propaganda to be far from the reality of marijuana, which they've obviously tested personally. A combination of politics and faulty science has been used to keep the status quo, but the time to review marijuana- and really all drugs- for re-scheduling by the DEA has come. Can we get a sound scientific basis for how we schedule drugs and then apply it indiscriminately to all substances? It's interesting to note that the FDA has blocked any research on marijuana while simultaneously rejecting it's use medical or otherwise because it is not FDA approved. How convenient. Between the FDA and the DEA, neither has given sound scientific evidence as to how marijuana is more dangerous than other legal drugs, such as nicotine (which is far more toxic, addictive and lethal than marijuana). And guess what? Nicotine isn't even scheduled as a drug on the DEA's list! Nor is alcohol. Imagine that.

Marijuana is used more than any other illegal drug but its top level scheduling doesn't reflect its actual danger (or lack thereof). If marijuana alone were decriminalized, the benefits would be astounding. It is the largest cash crop in California and it would be taxed, which would add hundreds of millions of needed dollars to Californias coffers. It would clear up prison overcrowding almost overnight, with tens of thousands of incarcerated non-violent drug offenders either commuted to treatment or dismissed altogether. It would remove marijuana from the black market, allowing law enforcement on both sides of the Mexico-US border to concentrate on harder drugs like meth, cocaine and heroin. It would allow local, state and federal law enforcement to redistribute their efforts, manpower and funds to more important issues, especially terrorism and immigration. It would also unclog the courts for more urgent and pressing business and remove the criminal stigma from medical marijuana patients seeking relief without chemical/pharmaceutical medication. There are a myriad of other areas that would feel a ripple effect from all this, especially when it comes to industrial hemp, which has no intoxicating effect. However, it does have the potential for use in everything from paper and food products to fiber and biofuels, which tie in nicely with National Security issues and reducing our dependence on foreign oil (and oil altogether). In World Wars 1 & 2, farmers were encouraged to grow Victory Gardens of Hemp for use of its fibers by our military. Henry Ford ran a car on hemp oil and knew the possibilities of the plants oil and fiber. But the economic powers of his day- Dupont, Rockefeller, Rothschild, Mellon and Hearst, to name a few- felt hemp to be a threat to the oil and petrolium industries they ran and they demonized marijuana into prohibition in 1937 (thank you Harry Anslinger!). Since then, it was only revisited seriously once, when President Nixon got the opinion of The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (aka the Shafer Commission) in March of 1972. Their formal (and ultimately ignored) recommendation was this:

"Neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety. Therefore, the Commission recommends ... [the] possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration no longer be an offense."
For those that still say decriminalizing (or legalizing) marijuana would give the wrong message to our kids/teens, it could hardly be worse than the false scare propaganda our government has foisted on them. According to the 2008 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey, marijuana use among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders, which has declined a bit since the mid-1990s, appears to have leveled off with 10.9 percent of eighth graders, 23.9 percent of tenth graders, and 32.4 percent of twelfth graders reporting past year use. And just compared to last year, the proportion of eighth graders who perceived smoking marijuana as harmful and the proportion disapproving of its use have decreased. Add to that this fact: seven of the top 10 drugs abused by twelfth graders in the year prior to the survey were prescribed or purchased over-the-counter. Kids/teens are smarter than you think and know the difference between bullshit rhetoric and reality. Once they figure out for themselves that marijuana isn't the Evil Gateway Drug that they've been told, they fully question any other anti-drug propaganda, even the ones that happen to be telling the truth. Telling kids/teens the truth about ALL drugs for a change will instill a sense of trust in them so that when the government warns that "Crack is wack" they will know that it's based on science, not politics or fairy tales.

With Obama promising a "top-to-bottom audit to eliminate spending for programs that don't work" he should set his sights directly on the War on Drugs, which would include reforming our Prison System and Judicial Department as well. On tax revenue alone, here is a great example for you from the great state of California: According to California NORML, Californians consume as much as $2.5 billion worth of medical marijuana per year, enough to generate $100 million in sales taxes. Ten times as much could be generated by complete legalization (yes, that would be a BILLION dollars). At a time when state budgets are deep in the red, that money could help tremendously. Bringing an entire shadow economy out of the black market would have a greater effect than almost anything we can do besides ending the war in Iraq. Let's hope that under Obama, "sound science" gets a fair chance to dispel the "rigid ideology" holding our country hostage to a failed "war" on drugs.

------------------

Follow this thread back to a piece I wrote in 2007 about the scheduling of Nicotine.

Two notable quotes:

Make the most of the hemp seed. Sow it everywhere. --George Washington
Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and prosperity of the nation. -- Thomas Jefferson

A few notable links:

See "Hemp for Victory" produced by the US Government in 1942

Nixon tapes show why US Government outlawed marijuana.

www.norml.com

www.mpp.org

Register To Vote