In the past 40 years, America has spent a lot of money fighting foreign wars. Vietnam, Iraq, Iraq again, Afghanistan and these wars obviously come with a considerable price tag.
However, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss an often-overlooked battle that also puts a hefty dent in the federal budget: the War on Drugs.
Since the 1970s, the American people were told increased spending on drug enforcement and harsher criminal sentencing would lead to reduced crime and drug use in the U.S. Instead, the exact opposite occurred. The drug addiction rate from 1970 to 2010 remains constant, fluctuating between 1 and 2 percent of the population. Meanwhile, drug control spending has skyrocketed. Since 1970, we’ve spent nearly $1.5 trillion fighting drugs. To put that figure in perspective, that’s almost one tenth of our current national debt.
Given our longstanding and expensive commitment to fighting drugs, we must be winning, right? Yeah … not so much. In short, the War on Drugs is an outdated and misguided endeavor that requires serious reworking. For example, drugs that may be considered less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, like marijuana, should be legalized so they can be regulated and taxed.
One facet of our drug policy that highlights its failure is the disproportionate number of minorities that are unfairly incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes. Since the 1970s, the number of imprisoned Americans has jumped by over 700 percent. According to a study released in 2008 from the Sentencing Project: “Disparity by Geography, The War on America’s Cities,” the proportion of white and black people who use drugs is about the same; however, black drug users are arrested at roughly three times the rate of their white counterparts.
I know we granted civil liberties to minorities a long time ago, but it seems as if our national drug policies still retain some racism. To make matters more absurd, among the 45 million arrests made for drug-related crimes, the majority have been for possession of marijuana.
Although we’ve tried our best to both educate and punish drug users, the fact of the matter is that people continue to use and abuse illicit substances like weed. Consequently, spending illogical amounts of money to incarcerate pot smokers makes zero sense and is a waste of taxpayer money, especially when, according to the most recent Gallup poll, 47 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Certain states are ready to jump on this progressive bandwagon. Not only did California nearly legalize weed in 2010, but Colorado, Washington and Oregon also have measures on their November ballots to legalize marijuana. In fact, among Colorado voters, the proposition to legalize pot is actually more popular than either of the current Presidential candidates.
Legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana is undoubtedly part of our national dialogue now, so why do our politicians continue to favor the outdated policies?
In the same vein, drug prohibition is far from new. Our current drug policy parallels prohibition measures in the 1920s. To remind readers, Prohibition was later repealed in 1933, because, by and large, not having legal alcohol around made conditions in America worse. Under Prohibition, organized crime spiked and Jay Gatsby still threw crazy sick, alcohol-fueled parties. Although it took 13 years, our predecessors recognized their lapse of judgment, and made alcohol legal again. Huzzah!
Legalizing marijuana under federal law would do the same thing for weed as ending Prohibition did for alcohol. If blazing blunts and bongs were legal, organized cartel crime on our Southern border would be greatly diminished, and assuming weed was to be taxed, it would generate desperately needed revenue. Basically, it’s time to regulate our number one cash crop in the same way we oversee alcohol and tobacco sales.
For the misguided folks (like our current President) who suggest that marijuana should remain illegal, I say that drawing a comparison between marijuana, alcohol and tobacco products is entirely justified. Objectively speaking, marijuana is safer and results in fewer casualties than do either alcohol or tobacco. Also, unlike alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is clinically proven to benefit terminally-ill cancer patients.
So how do we fix our problematic drug enforcement system? By directing our focus and money away from drug law enforcement and toward drug education, we could potentially reduce the number of individuals who smoke marijuana. It’s the exact same strategy we’ve used to reduce the number of teenage cigarette smokers by half.
Americans seem to forget that two out of the past three American Presidents have admitted to smoking weed. Were they imprisoned for doing what any coming-of-age youth would consider run-of-the-mill experimentation? No.
Might as well crown Clinton and Obama the “Cheech and Chong” of the oval office. Then again, isn’t their drug use a prime example of how smoking weed is relatively harmless and thus deserves the same legal status as alcohol and tobacco?
If marijuana is not regulated like alcohol and tobacco sometime in the next four years, I plan to do something really drastic: Like most other students at UCSB, I plan to undermine the fabric of our great American society by continuing to commit such misdemeanor crimes … one puff at a time.
Michael Roe has a simple philosophy: ignite blunts, not bombs.