Regardless of whether Hash Bash is held this year on the Diag, every U.S. citizen should critically evaluate the continuation of America’s failed drug policy, exemplified by the War on Drugs. Michigan and our country as a whole are facing economic and fiscal problems with no clear solutions in sight. But we continue to spend billions of tax dollars on policies that are proven failures. The War on Drugs is nothing but a financial blackhole. In fact, America’s War on Drugs under the reign of George W. Bush has actually led to a two-fold increase in cocaine production worldwide.

The benefits of fully decriminalizing marijuana far outweigh the supposed consequences of its existence – this viewpoint does not call for the decriminalization of more severe drugs like cocaine, crack-cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. According to a 2000 estimate, prior to a spending increase by the current administration, the federal government alone spent roughly $19 billion annually on the War on Drugs. This number increases drastically when you factor in spending on drug enforcement by state and local governments.

But consider the many ways that our money could be better spent. For example, a city/state restoration fund could be established to finance renovations in struggling areas across the country (think Detroit or New Orleans). The money could also be re-routed to assist overburdened government programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. It could be spent on public education, humanitarian work in developing countries, alternative energy sources, college financial aid and renovation of America’s crumbling infrastructure. And don’t forget our never-ending adventure in Iraq.

The damage caused to this country by the War on Drugs is not limited to its pocketbooks – it affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens every year. According to The New York Times, about 800,000 people are arrested every year for marijuana possession, with an outrageous majority receiving criminal charges for possessing tiny amounts of marijuana. Having such charges on peoples’ records can prevent them from receiving higher-paying jobs – hurting employment rates and consumer spending – and can even cause some people to lose their right to vote in certain states. The right to vote is the essence of our government and should not be revoked under any circumstances, otherwise how will those who are wronged by the system have the opportunity to change it?

Given Michigan’s dismal economy and budget problems, I’m surprised at the astonishing lack of practicality displayed by Michigan’s legislators. It is going to take innovative solutions to bring Michigan back to national prominence, so here is one to consider: Full legalization of hemp and marijuana. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world to make hemp production illegal. Growing hemp would provide Michigan farmers with a versatile product that could be used in a wide variety of products.

I’m not implying that legalizing hemp would be the cure-all for Michigan’s problems. It would have only a tiny impact on Michigan’s overall economic situation. However, to be blunt, any step forward would be a good step right now. Legalization is beneficial in two ways. First, it saves the state money by reducing the costs of law enforcement. Second, it brings in revenue from the sale of growing licenses to individuals and from a tax on the marijuana sales by companies.

Enough is enough. Both the Michigan and the United States are going to have to wake up to the economic and fiscal realities they are facing. We have too many problems that need to be addressed to be wasting billions of dollars annually on policies that give no return on investment except to certain weapons contractors. And please, don’t cling to the “moral” argument that marijuana is illegal because it is bad for you. There are roughly 16,000 alcohol-related deaths and even more tobacco-related deaths – yet, these substances are legal, even when there has never been a single recorded death due to marijuana.

America became great because of its innovation, I hope it does not continue its fall from grace because it desperately clings to outdated and irrational polices beautifully clad in the cloth of “moral superiority.”

Jeff May is an LSA sophomore.

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