I am not someone who partakes in marijuana or other drugs nor would I advise anyone else to do so. However, for the past few years, I have believed that marijuana legalization is the policy that is wise for this country. I believe this because I recognize that marijuana is part of a War on Drugs that has largely been a failure. I believe this because we need to legalize marijuana to understand its true medicinal benefits. I also believe that marijuana is not as harmful to society as murder and rape are and that drug addiction should be treated as health issue not as a criminal issue.
The War on Drugs has only been successful in discriminating against hippies and members of the black community. Nixon began the War on Drugs to lock up people he didn’t like. Nixon needed an excuse to stow away left-wing activists and black Americans who stood in his way. He saw that these groups both used marijuana quite frequently. Thus, he cast marijuana as a fictional threat to the national order to covertly target his strongest opponents. It’s clear Nixon was more interested in destroying opposition than public health when he appointed prescription drug addict Elvis Presley as a drug enforcement officer.
Since 1970, the War on Drugs has cost the American people $1 trillion. That includes paying for the enforcement of drug laws, drug-related legal procedures, and incarceration. Incarceration costs the American taxpayers $51 billion a year. Today, half of U.S. federal prisoners are incarcerated due to a drug offense. We are spending dozens of billions of dollars on prisons that harden drug offenders into criminals instead of investing a few billion dollars on educating people for future careers. The fathers we imprison for drug crimes are often separated from mothers and children who desperately need paternal guidance and support. We’ve also failed to reduce drug overdose deaths because we treat drugs as a criminal issue not as a health issue.
We need to change the way we approach our national drug policy, and the Americans are slowly but surely starting to agree. For too long, marijuana has been lumped in the same group as heroin, which the DEA states has no medicinal value. We have to understand that marijuana has a variety of strains with varying medicinal value. Marijuana strains that have high THC content (the part that creates a psychoactive effect or “high”) have less medicinal value than marijuana strains with high CBD content. Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN fame reversed his opposition to medicinal marijuana upon learning about Charlotte’s Web, a strain of marijuana with high CBD content and very little THC. A young girl named Charlotte suffered from hundreds of seizures of day and her parents didn’t know what to do. Then, one day, she began using a drop of CBD oil on her cereal. Her seizures dropped from 300 seizures a day to 3.
A revised drug policy can also open the door to new legal economic opportunities. Street-side drug transactions have blighted many urban communities. Drug-related crimes occur not because of the drugs themselves, but because they are illegal. Because they are unregulated transactions, someone buying drugs has very little protection from a drug dealer if a deal goes wrong. With access to legal marijuana, no longer do drug users have to deal with shady drug dealers who could murder them in cold blood if they didn’t pay up. Additionally, much of illegal marijuana comes from violent drug cartels in Mexico. Allowing Americans to grow and sell their own marijuana plants has already taken business, and power, away from these drug cartels.
Legalization of marijuana and other drugs also eliminates the stigma against coming out and seeking medical attention for drug abuse. Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs has been widely successful in reducing drug-related deaths and HIV infections. While the statistics indicate that Portugal’s decriminalization policy has led to a growth in drug use, consider the fact that the Portuguese are more comfortable admitting drug use when the penalty is less severe. They can also seek medical attention for heroin addiction or overdose without being legally implicated.
Ultimately, our drug policy needs to be one that increases safety and informs people how to make wise health decisions. We shouldn’t encourage people to do drugs that are harmful or allow children to start using drugs that have absolutely no medical value to them. However, we also shouldn’t spend billions of dollars on a drug policy that doesn’t solve the problems it claims to be fighting. Use the revenue generated by legalization of marijuana, and we can spend some of that revenue of medical treatment of drugs and education to keep children away from harmful drugs. That’s what a sensible 21st century drug policy should look like.