Marijuana Prohibition

August 10, 2012

Marijuana can be abused. If a person feels depressed, bored, lonely, or can’t find a job and tries to find solace in the drug, their overuse may reduce their sense of initiative and thus hurt their chances of improving their situation. The way marijuana is more generally used, in moderation, it can be a boon. People love temporarily altering their consciousness. Even monkeys like to get drunk, Darwin found. MJ can enhance our artistic appreciation. Sometimes it allows us to see things from a different angle. Creative writers and artists sometimes get inspiration while high on MJ. Please smoke in moderation, if at all. If you are hanging out with a bunch of friends who feel they have to get high every time they get together, take the lead in finding other things to do with them. If you turn to the drug for solace, do yourself a favor—tail off and pursue a better future for yourself.

In this week's post, five writers come out against the prohibition. The points that emerge from these articles make the case for repeal.

  • The American public favors legalization for its favorite drug and has the right to enjoy it.
    Why isn't Washington getting the message?

  • Pure marijuana is much safer than alcohol and cigarettes. But with prohibition, users face the danger of an adulterated product.

  • Harsh pot laws do more harm than good. Jails, criminal records. Young men with drug convictions rendered ineligible for future legitimate employment. Prohibition is not having the intended effect of cutting either drug use or the social problems resulting from its abuse.

  • Prohibition helps organized crime, corrupts law enforcement.

  • Prohibition costs money to enforce. The police, DEA, interdiction, drug prosecutions, jails. Costs passed along to the general public in the form of higher taxes and higher costs for the marijuana.

  • Legalizing could produce revenues. Can you imagine the tourists and revenue that will flow into the United States when we lagalize marijuana? People coming from all over the world to breathe and enjoy the liberated air. Amsterdam times fifty. Enough to add many jobs to our hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-related businesses. That can produce a ripple effect throughout the economy. Increased tax revenues to fund government, infrastructure projects, and more.

  • The true reason prohibition has been enacted—special interest groups.

  • Hemp can be made into canvas cloth.

  • Marijuana has proven medical value.

Included articles:
Appearing in PIQUE, the newsletter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York

Letter to a congressman by Brian Lemaire

Too High To Fail by Doug Fine. Reviewed by Bill Maher in The New York Times

There's Been a Tectonic Shift on Marijuana Across the US, Except in Washington—Why Can't We Pop the Beltway Bubble?
by Paul Armentano appearing in

How Legalizing Drugs Would Strengthen Democracy From Afghanistan to Mexico, by Inge Fryklund.
Published in Foreign Policy in Focus, August 6

by John Rafferty

Appearing in PIQUE, the newsletter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York. July, 2012. Based in part on "New Survey: Most Americans Want to Legalize and Regulate Pot Like Alcohol and Tobacco", by Kristen Gwynne, on Alternet, 5/22/12

There is no question but that marijuana is America's favorite illegal intoxicant. Despite "gateway drug" nonsense from federal agencies cowed by the alcohol and tobacco lobbies (who spent big in the 1930s to get the feds to classify previously-legal marijuana as a drug) and by politicians beholden to those lobbies and pandering to the most ignorant of their constituents, a clear majority of Americans—56 percent—now favor making marijuana legal and regulating and taxing it. According to the Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voters, only 36 percent oppose legalization and regulation.

If that were an election, it would be called a landslide.

Why the landslide? Many adults know, as Alternet's summary-report showed in May, that marijuana is much safer than alcohol and cigarettes. We know that reckless behavior while stoned is more likely to be the over-consumption of ice cream than alcohol-related brawling or 90-mph driving. And that there is no record anywhere of anyone ever getting hooked on THC as this writer was on nicotine for 28 years.

The laws are counter-productive. As the Rasmussen Report opines, " ... harsh pot laws may encourage some people who would otherwise get stoned to drink instead. Legalizing and regulating the plant may thus allow some people to make safer decisions without risking unnecessary legal consequences."

Legalize-pot initiatives will be on the ballot in Colorado and Washington State this November, in spite of U.S. Department of Justice opposition, and both stand a good chance of passing. Even more states are considering medical-marijuana easements, also in spite of DOJ opposition.

The tide is turning.

So, why not just decriminalize MaryJane? Halfway measures would leave the importation and distribution of cannabis in the hands of the same narco-criminals operating on mega-business scales today, without doing anything for the American economy or putting a nickel in state and federal coffers. Fully legalizing pot will cut off a huge source of income for Mexico's murderous mobs. Let's grow pot, supervise it, sell it, and collect taxes on it right here in the U.S., just as we do tobacco. Let's use some of the hundreds and millions our state and federal treasuries will reap from those taxes to treat and get clean the millions whose lives have been blighted by heroin, cocaine, crack, crystal meth and prescription drugs. Let's unburden ourselves of the cost of imprisoning tens (hundreds?) of thousands of young men—nearly all African—American or Latino—whose only criminal act ever was selling, or even just possessing, some weed. Let's eliminate a major factor contributing to law-enforcement corruption all across the country. Let's take the first step away from the insane, 80-year-old, trillion-dollar and still-unwinnable "War On Drugs".

June 25, 2011

Congressman John Conyers
2426 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515

HR2306 : Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011

Dear Congressman Conyers,

I would ask you to support and report HR2306 for the following reasons:

  • From a libertarian, small government standpoint, our government does not belong in the business of telling its people whether or not they can get high.

  • From a budgetary standpoint, it costs the government a substantial amount of money enforcing marijuana laws, prosecuting, and imprisoning offenders.

  • Historically, why was this prohibition passed in 1937? The dynamics of the interest groups behind it: The Law Enforcement community keenly felt the loss of their beloved alcohol prohibition, a rich source of bribes and expanded job opportunities. They needed this new war on drugs to fill the void. To this we add today’s interest groups—the prison lobby and the drug cartels—who will fight any legalization attempts. Oh, and did I mention the industries of alcohol, tobacco, and big pharma? They all have mounted efforts to stop legalization, as they foresee marijuana cutting into their markets. Pot could partly replace the offerings of those three industries and fill our needs more cheaply and healthily.

  • The law was passed using culture-war imagery like the tactics of today’s Republican party, veering toward racial prejudice. Many people associated marijuana use with blacks, jazz musicians. This campaign used the imagery of blacks getting high, going wild, and accosting our young white maidens.

No doubt you have been contacted by the prison lobby about this. They have a vested interest in seeing more people in jail. I hope you will show the courage to resist their blandishments. I hope you will show the necessary leadership and report this bill

Sincerely yours,

Brian Lemaire

Too High To Fail by Doug Fine. Reviewed by Bill Maher in The New York Times

The real addicts of the drug war are the law enforcement agencies that live off this senseless game of cops and robbers. Mendocino County, CA.: the first county in the nation to decriminalize and regulate cannabis farming. Rather than turning the county into a police state, legalization made it safer. Revenues in the municipality increased, and cannabis farmers were treated as law-abiding citizens. In November 2011, the feds cracked down in Mendocino. Doug Fine boils down the difference between a cannabis-friendly county and an unfriendly one to “the career ambitions or personal cannabis views of the local D.A. and sheriff.”

The revenue and benefits to be had from cannabis without a single joint’s being lit: Throughout human history, cultures from Mongolia to Peru have used the non-psychoactive cannabis plant for food, shelter, clothing and medicine. Early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, and the covered pioneer wagons that took America westward were made of cannabis fiber. In 1942, cannabis prohibition was suspended because of a shortage in industrial supply during the war, and the government actually encouraged farmers to grow it, using a propaganda film, “Hemp for Victory.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s official stance is that it has no medical value at all: “Smoked marijuana has not withstood the rigors of science — it is not medicine, and it is not safe.” O.K., Doug Fine seems to say, but tell that to the doctors with evidence of its ability to shrink tumors and ease the effects of chemotherapy; or to the seniors of Orange County who depend on medical marijuana to treat their arthritis, and the doctor who uses it to treat his glaucoma; or to the 30-year-old Iraq war veteran with the shrapnel injuries who thanks God every day for this drug. It is prescription drugs that are now the leading cause of fatal drug overdoses — more than 26,000 each year. Also each year, over 23,000 Americans die of alcohol-related causes. None have died from cannabis alone.

July 10, 2012 AlterNet / By Paul Armentano

There's Been a Tectonic Shift on Marijuana Across the US, Except in Washington—Why Can't We Pop the Beltway Bubble?

America is at a tipping point when it comes to the politics of pot. Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending this nation’s nearly century-long experiment with cannabis prohibition and replacing it with a system legalization and regulation. Moreover, state and local politicians beyond the ‘Beltway bubble’ for the first time in many decades are responding to this sea change in public opinion, even if their colleagues in Washington are acknowledging that being pro-pot reform equals votes. The question is: Why isn’t Washington getting the message?

For some time, a primary component of NORML's stated mission has been to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the repeal of marijuana prohibition. But now that we have arguably done so, another, perhaps tougher, question remains: How do we turn the public’s sentiment into effective public policy reform? In short, will cannabis consumers and the marijuana law reform community as a whole ever become a persuasive and powerful player in Washington, DC politics?

While the answer to the above question is, ideally, ‘yes,’ the reality is that this change will arguably take place slowly. Marijuana law reform does not lend itself well to the standard rules that typically govern inside-the-Beltway politics. The majority of cannabis consumers are not single-issue voters and thus they are not readily identifiable by either major political party as a significant potential voting block. . . .

Further, those people who tend to be most adversely and disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, primarily those under age 30 and young, urban people of color, tend to wield the least political influence in Washington, DC. . . . they do not attend political galas and fundraisers, and they typically lack the financial means to contribute directly to candidates’ election campaigns or their PACS. In short, they are not on members of Congress’ radar. Similarly, these same young people also lack the financial means to fund the limited number of marijuana advocacy organizations, such as NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, that lobby on their behalf.

Equally problematic are the existing social stigma and legal repercussion surrounding cannabis. Unlike most conventional voting blocks, many cannabis consumers do not wish to identify themselves publicly to politicians or to the media. Their fear is warranted. Annually, over 800,000 Americans are cited or arrested for violating marijuana laws. Further, in many instances, cannabis consumers can lose professional licenses, parental rights, housing, adoption privileges, and other liberties simply for acknowledging that they use (or, in extreme cases, simply advocate on behalf of) the plant. Given this reality, it is no wonder that millions of Americans keep their pot habits or advocacy safely hidden in the closet. Their inaction, however, allows their elected leaders to continue to falsely presume that cannabis law reform is a ‘fringe’ issue of little concern to ‘ordinary’ American voters.

As a result, there exists an echo chamber among politicians (and their strategists) inside-the-Beltway that believes that advocating for marijuana law reform costs politicians votes. Yet, despite many hailing this mentality as ‘conventional wisdom,’ there is little to no truth behind it. (By contrast, there is growing evidence that just the opposite is true.) Notably, a handful of high-profile politicians from both political parties – including US Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barney Frank (D-MA), James Moran (D-VA), Ron Paul (R-TX), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Peter Stark (D-CA) – have actively lobbied for marijuana law reform while in Congress and have suffered no tangible backlash from voters for their pro-pot stance. Even more to the point, President Barack Obama as a candidate repeatedly spoke out in favor of marijuana law reform, most notably pledging to cease utilizing “Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws” regarding medical cannabis (a pledge he has since broken). Yet not even Obama’s political opponents, much less American voters, held it against him.

How Legalizing Drugs Would Strengthen Democracy From Afghanistan to Mexico, by Inge Fryklund. Published in Foreign Policy in Focus, August 6

. . . mayhem and corruption of government officials caused by the drug wars in Mexico, Colombia, and other points south of our border. . . these problems are all consequences of drug prohibition, not of the drugs themselves. The demand for marijuana will not be eliminated.

We need to rethink our prohibition of drugs. What problem are we trying to solve by making drugs illegal? Have we chosen the most effective and affordable solution? Are the collateral consequences worth it?

Prohibition of Alcohol

The American experience of Prohibition is instructive.

The U.S. ban on alcohol served primarily to corrupt public officials and endanger the public. Supplying the unabated demand for alcohol required traffickers to pay bribes to police and politicians. As prices increased as a result, cutting quality was one way to keep the retail price down, which resulted in deaths from adulterated products. Moreover, the rise of violent, organized crime during this period—required to move the product and handle disputes within the trade—created criminal organizations that endure to this day.

The Prohibition experiment was relatively short-lived. Part of the impetus for repeal was that Prohibition was not having the intended effect of cutting either alcohol use or the social problems resulting from its abuse (the potential for alcohol tax revenues in the midst of the Great Depression was another factor). Whatever successes the experiment had were outweighed by the costs in corruption and violence, not to mention widespread public cynicism and hypocrisy.

Most importantly, the substantial and unanticipated costs of Prohibition were borne almost entirely by the United States. It was our own police and elected officials who were corrupted. It was our own cities afflicted by the criminal patronage networks battling over turf. We never attempted to force other countries to make the trade in alcohol illegal or participate in our war on alcohol.

The day after Prohibition was repealed, beer distributors no longer had to turn to the Mafia for enforcement of their franchise agreements. They took their disputes to court. The collateral violence largely stopped, and corrupt politicians and police suddenly lost a source of income. Product quality could be standardized. States could make individual decisions about regulating and taxing alcohol.

Of course, the social problems—particularly family violence—that were the ostensible reason for Prohibition continued, as they do to this day. My own experience as a prosecutor in Domestic Violence Court in Chicago in the 1980s is illustrative. If it hadn’t been for alcohol-related crimes, the court could have been closed. Alcohol had adverse effects on families that many other drugs did not have.

. . . I have come to the conclusion that we persist on this course primarily because the costs of our drug policies are borne by other countries, not by us. . . Our war on drugs is fought on the territories of countries such as Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. The headless bodies in Mexico barely make the inside pages of American newspapers (imagine if dozens of mutilated bodies were dumped in suburban Maryland). We have requisitioned foreign turf for our war on drugs. Citizens of these countries have no voice in the matter. Their leaders’ acquiescence to U.S. policies undercuts electoral accountability, and corruption of their police and courts undermines the rule of law. We have compromised democracy in our own hemisphere.

In Afghanistan, we have failed to connect the dots between drugs and corruption. At the July 2012 donors’ conference in Tokyo, donor after donor urged President Karzai to combat corruption. However, as long as we insist on the illegality of poppy, we are making a demand that cannot possibly be met.

A country that supplies 80-90 percent of the world’s demand for poppy products must necessarily be corrupt. To move the heroin, opium, and marijuana from field to market, officials and police can demand payment to look the other way (or engage in the trade themselves). The import of chemicals for processing requires the cooperation of customs and border police. Even the poppy eradication process itself has been corrupted, as officials target the fields of rivals while protecting their own. And any eradication in one area inevitably pushes production to another, simply pushing a bubble around in a balloon.

The “L” Word

If opium and heroin (as well as marijuana) were legalized, what would happen? Corrupt Afghan officials would suddenly lose a source of income, as poppy is illegal in Afghanistan primarily at U.S. insistence. The Taliban would be unable to extract protection money from farmers, or tax the drug trade. The war might wind down to a speedy conclusion, and Afghanistan could fund its own development and security forces out of sales of a legal commodity. Latin American democracy too would undoubtedly be strengthened and violence would decrease.

The U.S. government could save all the money it now spends on the DEA, interdiction, and drug prosecutions. States could make their own decisions about drugs. Local police and sheriffs could quit chasing after pot growers (who could now standardize and advertise product quality and potency), and devote scarce public safety budgets to the crimes that the average citizen prioritizes. State prisons that are overwhelmed with drug offenders could downsize. Of course, the entire anti-drug enterprise of U.S. officials and government contractors, greased by U.S. security assistance to drug producer nations, would drastically downsize too—and so the anti-drug lobby seeking to preserve its livelihood would undoubtedly be a political force in opposition. Likewise the manufacturers of medicinal morphine who have a monopoly on licensed poppy from India.

On the demand side of the equation, prices might well drop as the costs of paying protection were eliminated. It’s possible that usage would increase, but users don’t seem to have much difficulty obtaining supplies right now. With all the resources freed from fighting an unwinnable war against drugs, we could attend to the social problems that facilitate certain kinds of drug use (heroin use being primarily a lower-class phenomenon) and result from substance abuse. There are many options to explore once the problem is defined honestly and resources are available for experimentation.

Even if the middle class doesn’t care what happens to the lower class, the costs of prosecution and incarceration are a direct drain on the public purse, and an indirect drain as imprisonment itself causes family disruption and disintegration. Under a legalization regime, we would no longer have so many poorly educated young men with drug convictions rendered ineligible for future legitimate employment. Curtailed voting rights for those with felony convictions also means that individuals affected by drug laws have had no voice in changing them—a fundamental requirement of a democracy. Citizens in the 1930s could vote their interest in repealing Prohibition. These rights must be restored.

The immediate response to potential drug legalization is usually, “Why do you want our children hooked on drugs?!” (The rationales of 1914 are no longer mentioned.) Remember, however, that those campaigning for repeal of Prohibition did not say, “We’re in favor of alcohol-induced family violence.” Or, “Let’s have more alcohol-related carnage on the highways.” People were quite aware of the problems—which continued during Prohibition as before and since. We as a society concluded in 1933, however, that prohibition was an ineffective way of dealing with this particular societal ill, and that illegality created second- and third-order effects that were far worse than the evil that Prohibition was supposed to address.

As with alcohol, we need to be honest with ourselves about the costs and benefits of our social policies and recognize that not all problems have comprehensive or entirely satisfactory solutions. We can only do our best to make decisions that take into consideration all of the costs and benefits of our choices and not pretend that moral crusades are costless. We need to address honestly the morality of foisting upon other countries the violence, corruption, and damage to democracy caused by U.S. drug policies and driven by U.S. demand.

Legalization is the only solution to the problem of Afghan and Latin American violence and corruption—and the less obvious but more insidious problems of poverty, over-incarceration, and the misallocation of public resources within the United States. Only legalization can change the worldwide nexus of drugs and criminality.


I went in October of 2013 to a talk delivered by Norman Dorsen, a former president of the ACLU. In the Q&A session a member of the audience raised the issue of the War on Drugs in regard to marijuana. This issue, Mr. Dorsen said, involves the principal of autonomy—personal autonomy to act, free of government interference.

In the turbulent 1960s the ACLU declared an individual right to smoke marijuana (and later hard drugs).

Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Inge Fryklund was a Chicago prosecutor during the 1980s. From 2004 to 2012, she spent more than four years in Afghanistan.

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