Monday, November 19, 2012

A Brief Summary of America’s War on Drugs

Below you will find a brief summary of where we stand regarding America’s War on Drugs:
  1. The Carter and Reagan Years

  2. Some Astonishing Statistics

  3. Obama and the Hypocrisy

  4. Washington and Colorado Legalize

  5. Our Present Predicament

  6. How to End Prohibition

I. The Carter and Reagan Years

In 1973 Oregon became the first state to modify its law and decriminalize marijuana use, which meant possession became a civil offense punishable by a fine. A key reason for this legislative change was pressure exerted by the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), a private citizens group founded in 1971 that believed drug laws were unfair to recreational users. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Bar Association (ABA) also supported marijuana law reform – the AMA came out in favor of dropping penalties for possession of insignificant amounts of marijuana in 1972, while the ABA recommended decriminalization in 1973.”
“Ten other states followed Oregon in decriminalizing marijuana and it appeared the nation was well on its way toward a federal policy of less stringent marijuana regulation. This policy seemed all but guaranteed when Jimmy Carter, a liberal politician, was elected to the White House in 1976.”
“Carter chose Dr. Peter Bourne as his special assistant for health issues and instructed him to come up with a plan for reorganizing drug policy. Borne… argued in March 1977 in favor of decriminalizing marijuana. Five months later President Carter asked Congress for legislation to eliminate federal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Though a call for drastic legal change, this was not an extreme departure from everyday reality, as most local police departments were not arresting individuals for possessing small quantities of marijuana.”

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the elections, and the War on Drugs entered a new stage. “In his first year in office, Reagan called for total abstinence and substantially more funding for law enforcement – under the Reagan administration the enforcement part of the federal drug control budget shifted from one half to two thirds. The following year, Reagan launched a huge new campaign to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. It involved a variety of federal agencies and included the Defense Department, which was allowed for the first time to take an active part in the war on drugs. Vice President George Bush played a prominent part in the campaign by leading a task force to combat trafficking in Florida.”

“By 1984, thirteen antidrug task forces involving multiple federal agencies were operating nationwide and Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ campaign, a program that promoted the value of a drug-free life style, was being inaugurated in the schools. A year later, 1985, a federal drive was begun to combat the growth of marijuana plants.”

II. Some Astonishing Statistics

Since the beginning of this new “crusade”, the United States “has experienced a surge in its prison population, quadrupling since 1980, partially as a result of mandated sentences that came about during the ‘war on drugs.’”

click to enlarge - source

Disproportionately, it has been minorities and the poor that have received the harshest sentences.

click to enlarge - Source 1 (direct), Source 2 (main)

African-Americans are arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned for drug offenses at far higher rates than whites. This racial disparity bears little relationship to racial differences in drug offending. For example, although the proportion of all drug users who are black is generally in the range of 13 to 15 percent, blacks constitute 36 percent of arrests for drug possession. Blacks constitute 63 percent of all drug offenders admitted to state prisons. In at least fifteen states, black men were sent to prison on drug charges at rates ranging from twenty to fifty-seven times those of white men.”

Source 1, Source 2 (pdf), Source 3 - Table (pdf)
Additional: Source 4 - Table (pdf) – Federal and State – includes Hispanic ratios as well

According to the FBI, in 2011 49.5% of arrests for drug abuse violations were related to marijuana, 43.3% of those for simple possession. “Police made 757,969 arrests in 2011 for marijuana-related offenses,” a minor decrease from the past 5 years when the total was over 800,000 arrests per year.

The monetary cost of this has been astronomical to the U.S. taxpayer. In 2007 alone, a staggering $74 billion was spent on corrections, $104 billion on policing, and $50 billion on judicial, even though reports indicate that $37 billion would be saved annually with legalization.

click to enlarge - Source

This is the cost of the Prison-industrial complex in the United States and the difference between good infrastructure and bad infrastructure.
"The sacrifices we make to build these prisons are astonishing. Between 1987 and 2007, state spending on prisons increased by 40 percent (as a percent of the general fund). State spending on higher education decreased by 30 percent. We are financing our prisons by cutting our colleges.

"We continue to build even though prisons are often disappointing for economic development. The best jobs go to people from out of town, and dollars spent on prisons have little 'multiplier' effect. They don’t generate future additional dollars of economic activity, as do dollars spent on transportation, schools and so forth. Every dollar invested in highway construction generates $2.50 of gross domestic product in the short term. Raising teacher wages by 10 percent is associated with a 5 percent decrease in drop-out rates. But still we shortchange our schools and other rural enterprise, and build new prisons."


Keep in mind that “the United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners”, with "1 in 100 U.S. adults behind bars.” The numbers become even more mindboggling when you consider that “the U.S. correctional population -- those in jail, prison, on probation or on parole -- totaled 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 adults.

Source: chart, table

III. Obama and the Hypocrisy

One of the most astonishing aspects of the war on drugs, specifically in relation to cannabis, is that even though the federal government has classified it as a ‘Schedule I’ substance, which means that according to the federal government the cannabis plant “has no currently accepted medical use”, in the United States there are at present 5 people who have a federal medical marijuana license.

Rather than respond to public and political demands for marijuana's medical availability, federal drug agencies are instead promoting bureaucratically sanctioned alternatives which are synthetic, expensive and often ineffective. It is ironic that after decades of pretending marijuana is medically useless, federal drug agencies are now aggressively pushing synthetic Marinol, the so-called ‘pot pill,’ by arguing it is as safe and effective as marijuana.”

Will Obama finally fulfill the US administrations promise to end prohibition, a promise that was made by President Jimmy Carter over 30 years ago? After all, Obama did support the decriminalization of marijuana in 2004:
“The war on drugs has been an utter failure, and I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws.”

Unfortunately, however, the answer is no. In March 2009, during an Interactive Town Hall Meeting, Obama stated that:

“‘There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high (it was actually the number 1 question) and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation, and I don’t know what this says about the online audience,’ Mr. Obama said, drawing a laugh. He said he wanted to make sure the question got answered. ‘The answer is no, I don’t think that was a good strategy.’”

The above statement made just a few short weeks after taking power showed what a complete hypocrite Obama had turned out to be. Since his dismissal of the number one question from the online community, “the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multi¬agency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush.
“The feds are busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana…

“‘There's no question that Obama's the worst president on medical marijuana,’ says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. ‘He's gone from first to worst.’”
The audacity of a leader that is willing to destroy countless lives for something that he has admitted to doing himself, frequently, must be taxing to those who have and are still willing to support him.

IV. Washington State and Colorado Legalize

There are, however, major changes taking place. On 6 November 2012, Washington State and Colorado join the fray and legalized the recreational use of cannabis.
“’It’s very monumental,’ said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a Washington-based group that advocates legalization. ‘No state has ever done this. Technically, marijuana isn’t even legal in Amsterdam.’”
Under the measures, “personal possession of up to an ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana would be legal for anyone at least 21 years of age. They also will permit cannabis to be legally sold and taxed at state-licensed stores in a system modeled after a regime many states have in place for alcohol sales.”

In addition, the cultivation of up to six plants for personal use will be legal in Colorado while still remaining illegal in Washington State.

How this will play out with the federal government’s war on cannabis is anyone’s guess.

After Historic Votes Legalizing Marijuana, Colorado & Washington Prepare for Federal Gov’t Showdown

What we know for sure, however, is that everything has changed and that change is reverberating around the globe. Below you will find the most recent global map available from wikipedia on the legality of cannabis. Please pay special attention to the two dark blue areas shown in the United States of America. Expect there to be more.

UPDATE: "Pot in the Air: Marijuana Legalized in Oregon, Alaska and DC"

click to enlarge - Source: “Legality of cannabis by country”

V. Our Present Predicament

Just to recap, in the United States, hundreds of thousands of people are being arrested for marijuana violations under the pretence that marijuana has no medical use, but at the same time the government has allowed 5 people to carry a federal medical marijuana license. The US government has also authorized pharmaceutical companies to synthesize THC, the active ingredient of marijuana, and to market and sell it as medicine. Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, Washington State and Colorado have gone beyond the medical marijuana debate and legalized the recreational use of cannabis.

Amazing times indeed.

We are now in 2012, and we have a president that has stated publicly that he has smoked and inhaled marijuana. He has also stated that “we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws”, in essence agreeing with Jimmy Carter when he stated that:

“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marihuana in private for personal use... Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marihuana.”
While we wait to obtain our freedom we should keep in mind that those who consume cannabis are not criminals. They are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, our grandparents and our children, and many have been sacrificed to further the agenda of certain individuals and organizations who feed off the profits from the criminalization of a plant.

VI. How to End Prohibition

As for what we, personally, can do to help end America’s war on drugs? Our best option is to support grassroots organizations that are working towards repealing prohibition, they did, after all, get the ball rolling on this.
In 1973 Oregon became the first state to modify its law and decriminalize marijuana use, which meant possession became a civil offense punishable by a fine. A key reason for this legislative change was pressure exerted by the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), a private citizens group founded in 1971 that believed drug laws were unfair to recreational users."
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs - Johann Hari on RAI (1/2)

Below you will find the names and websites of some of the more prominent groups spearheading the battle to end prohibition in the United States and Canada. They are trying to bring sanity back into our lives and I’m sure they would appreciate our support as much as we appreciate their efforts.

Organizations Working Towards Ending Prohibition

  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)

  • Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

  • Erowid

  • Moms for Marijuana

  • Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

  • Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)

  • DrugSense

  • Educators For Sensible Drug Policy (EFSDP)

  • National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (USA) and NORML Canada

  • The November Coalition

  • Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER)

  • Drug Policy Alliance (DPA Network)

  • Alternate title: A Brief Summary of America’s War on Drugs