Thanks very much in part to a cultural surge in the use of prescription pain and anxiety drugs that are potent, highly addictive, and wildly dangerous when combined with other drugs or alcohol, drug-related deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States. However, marijuana did not kill your son or daughter days before his or her high-school graduation. Weed is not the culprit in the loss of troubled celebrities. Marijuana does not regularly cause horrific traffic accident deaths. Cannabis does not make people hit their girlfriends or start bar fights. It does not tear families apart. Yet alcohol and prescription drugs far too often do. Should we ban alcohol or prescription drugs? No. Prohibition in the United States was wildly ineffective; we learned our lesson there... or did we?
On the 75th anniversary of the Marijuana Tax Act, which prohibited the production of hemp in addition to cannabis, we have yet to learn our lesson on a drug that science strongly suggests has several beneficial effects. Marijuana can ease nausea and vomiting, stimulate hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients, and it can help in treating glaucoma, anxiety, and insomnia. Some individual studies have also found cannabis to be beneficial to a slew of conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to depression. In 2007 a British study ranked cannabis as one of the least harmful drugs.
Now in Los Angeles, one of our nation's most progressive cities, looms the threat of a backwards and hypocritical ban of medical marijuana dispensaries by the city council. Yes, why regulate a relatively harmless product that would create massive tax revenues in a desperate economy when you can just put that revenue back in the hands of illegal dealers and the drug cartels that their product hails from? Why allow access to a plant that could widely help patients with an array of medical issues when you can regulate drugs that are potentially much more harmful, like alcohol, nicotine, and Xanax? Why aide in the decriminalization of something that creates the threat of an overindulgence in cheese-based foods when you can just sell semi-automatic weapons to the public? Why cut down on the hassle and endless costs involved with nonviolent drug-offense arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations when you could put that money in the pockets of special-interest groups like the privatized prison lobby? The resistance by some politicians to accept the decriminalization of marijuana (at the very least the medical kind) is a testament to the lack of insight and education in our leaders that gives them such a bad reputation in this age of "do-nothing" politics.
While a potential dispensary ban in L.A. would be wildly frustrating for dispensary proprietors (a.k.a. small-business job creators) and their patients alike, there can be solace taken in the likelihood that it will merely be speed bump on the medical-marijuana superhighway being paved across the country. Pat Robertson recently said, "I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol ... I've never used marijuana and I don't intend to, but it's just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn't succeeded. ... I believe in working with the hearts of people, and not locking them up." When you have a conservative, evangelical, ex-Baptist minister who blamed 9/11 on feminists and gays coming out as a voice for the decriminalization of marijuana, the tide seems to be changing in a dramatic way. A heavily reported poll recently found that a majority of Americans think marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco. So far, medical marijuana has been legalized by 17 states, including California, and the District of Columbia.
It is time for our leaders to give up on this longtime prohibition, a prohibition that many believe was motivated by business competition at its foundation in the 1930s, not moral or health concerns. Do not doubt my unwavering support for him in November, but this call goes first and foremost to avid former pot smoker and current president of the United States Barack Obama. The president's administration has committed a multi-agency crackdown on the cannabis industry, raiding several California dispensaries even though they were operating in accordance with state law. Something tells me the president is "evolving" on this issue as he did with gay marriage. I only hope that he, and his subordinates at the Los Angeles city council, evolve a little faster.
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