In a recent demonstration of money well spent during the Bush Administration’s tenure, agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency raided medicinal marijuana clinics to confiscate the one medicine many believed could help them. Upholding the concept of federalism by granting supremacy to federal law over California state law, the DEA seized the contraband in part to honor the federal ban of marijuana.
Our country’s prohibition of pot began not as a concern for our health but rather as a reflection of early 20th century racism. Harry Anslinger, as commissioner of narcotics in the Bureau of Narcotics, campaigned for marijuana prohibition vehemently. The result was a 1937 act levying a tax on marijuana. During the hearings on the law when it was debated in Congress, Anslinger let this one slip: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
Marijuana would later be grouped with other narcotic substances like heroin and LSD after the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. President Richard Nixon, in a brilliant if not a politically evil move, used this as another way to battle against the anti-war protesters who were fervently pushing for an end to the Vietnam War. In the decades that would follow, the “war on drugs,” of which marijuana was a major target, would cost the American people billions. According to the 2006 Budget Summary for the National Drug Control Strategy, the federal government directly spent an estimated $12.5 billion on this war in 2005, with an astounding $734.5 million going toward the Andean Counterdrug Initiative. Additionally, in 2003, 20 percent of the population in state prisons consisted of drug offenders. The figure jumps to 55 percent for federal prisons. It should be apparent that our current policy is grossly misdirected.
In the spirit of The Michigan Daily’s infamous 1967 call for an end to marijuana prohibition, I propose two policies. If marijuana is to remain illegal, then we must also ban tobacco products, alcohol, high-fructose corn syrup and all fast food. Since cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases account for almost 30 percent of deaths worldwide, eliminating fast food and high-fructose corn syrup from the diet of Americans would certainly make us healthier.
Because such a policy denotes that Americans can’t be trusted to manage their own bodies as they choose, government intervention into our individual lifestyles would have to be the answer. The concept that one set of dangerous chemicals is bad for us while another set is perfectly acceptable – as long as that other set is provided by a corporation – is hypocritical and illogical. We would need to ban all nuclear power plants and any other products that may be carcinogenic, because cancer is another of the big killers, responsible for the death of 13 percent of humans on this planet.
The other policy is simple – complete legalization of all drugs, especially marijuana. The modern war in drugs, begun by Nixon in 1971 and continued through the present administration, must end unconditionally. We must recognize its utter failure and the injustice it has wrought. The so-called drug problem would need to be recognized as medical, not criminal. It would therefore go without saying that our anti-drug policies in Central and South America have to end. Our 1987 invasion to arrest Panama’s President Manuel Noriega – who through much of the Reagan administration was also on the payroll of the CIA – exemplifies the fallacy of our prohibition. The disbanding of the DEA or its complete transformation from a law enforcement agency into a health agency would be required.
Terrorists originating from central Asia whose main sources of funding are the production of opium and other very harmful drugs would find their profits seriously hindered if we ended our war on drugs. The freedom we purportedly wish to spread to Iraq and other areas of the Middle East would look much more genuine if we were allowed the most basic freedom to put into our bodies any substance which we choose.
I am not advocating the use of marijuana or any recreational drug. The health risks associated with such drugs are significant. But just as we are inundated with advertisements for alcohol, tobacco as well as fatty foods, and are still trusted to make the right choices, the same must be true for marijuana and other recreational drugs.
Anything else is unAmerican.
Jared Goldberg can be reached at email@example.com.