Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Marijuana, pot, weed, hashish, MaryJane–America’s drug of choice is known by many names and comes in even more forms, from run-of-the-mill “schwag weed” to the expertly cultivated and expensive Northern Light breed. To botanists, Cannabis sativa is a green or brown plant characterized by long, star-like shaped leaves and a strong aroma. To the U.S. government, it’s grounds for war, but it hasn’t always been that way.
The first law made by the American government concerning marijuana was passed in 1619 by the Virginia assembly. This law required every household to grow the plant. Due to the hemp plants’ high value as an assemblage commodity, several colonies actually allowed hemp to be used as currency in order to help increase their production. In 19th century America, cannabis preparations could be purchased at pharmacies and were hailed as treatment for many common ailments of the day.
Flash-forward to America in 2011, where the marijuana plant is a booming industry–as are the government’s efforts to squelch it. Well, at least for the many industries helping it along, anyway. For the government’s so-called War on Drugs, marijuana alone has cost the nation literally billions of dollars.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly “abused” illicit drug on the market, with close to 40% of senior high school students admitting to have indulged at some point in their lives. Estimates on how many Americans grow marijuana range from 1 to 3 million with anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 harvesting to sell (Schlosser38) . Contrary to what many might assume, these individuals that cultivate the drug do not fit any “pothead” stereotypes. The business of growing cannabis is a thriving one that leads many to start farms solely for the purpose of profit. Marijuana has indeed become for many Americans a highly organized, efficient and notably lucrative trade because of the high domestic demand and the crackdown by the U.S Border Patrol which has rendered it more difficult for marijuana to be imported.
With so many citizens secretly smoking and growing marijuana, law enforcement has its hands full to say the least. There is a drug arrest every 19 seconds in the U.S. and of the 1.6 million drug arrests in 2009, 82 percent were for possession alone. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau Statistics nearly 800,000 people were arrested for marijuana charges in 2005. To boot, the mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana-related charges currently in place have led to inordinately long sentences for many relatively minor and non-violent crimes.
In response to these numbers, an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has emerged on the scene. Comprised of current and former members of law enforcement and the criminal justice community, LEAP takes the stance that the “War on Drugs” is not only failing miserably in its intent to stop people from selling and using drugs, but is also detrimentally affecting the lives of countless Americans. LEAP sees drug abuse as a health problem–not a criminal one–and are calling for a system of both regulation and control that would be a “less harmful, less costly, more ethical, and more effective public policy.”
So why is the government so resistant to altering their anti-marijuana stance when it has been repeatedly proven that: A. drug use has actually increased under the current, toughened legislation; and B. is costing the government (and taxpayers) billions of dollars?
While in some extreme cases it may be needed, the so-called call for treatment from marijuana law reformers is really a rallying cry for the decriminalization of a substance which Americans are undeniably fond of and has no proven adverse health affects when used moderately. The masses of clandestine growers in Northern California don’t need ‘treatment,’ what they need is to be able to provide their fellow citizens with a natural, recreational drug comparable to alcohol and less harmful than cigarettes without the fear of heavy-handed retribution from their government.
We do not need a “therapeutic state,” but what Americans do need is a law of the land that reflects the reality of the nation’s desires and habits. The current marijuana laws do not provide this. Wasting billions of tax dollars to implement useless pot laws while standing in pulpits to publicly decry the plant in fear of the stigma aligning oneself with decriminalization has placed countless citizens needlessly behind bars. The current pot laws turn what ought to be a personal decision into a federal crime that wastes tax dollars and ruins lives.
If the government is not constructively responsive to persistent phenomenon demonstrated by its citizenry, then how democratic can it really be? When an illegal drug like pot is easier for kids to obtain than legally controlled, age-regulated alcohol, shouldn’t we stop and ask ourselves: “What’s wrong with this picture?”
Schlosser, Eric. Reefer Madness. New York: Houghton Mufflin Company, 2003. Print.