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Marijuana Prohibition and the War on Drugs Have Utterly Failed
What Have We Been Smoking? Marijuana prohibition has been an utter failure, and it's time for a change.

In March, a bill was introduced in the Senate which, if passed, would legalize state medical
marijuana programs at the federal level, and
take marijuana off the Drug Enforcement
Agency's Schedule I drug list.

Schedule I is reserved for drugs so dangerous that neither cocaine nor "meth" makes the list.
The new law would move marijuana down a level of severity to join those substances, which the DEA classifies as having "less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs" like pot.
Lest this sound like an arcane matter of federal drug classifications, let us be clear: Drug crime is the leading path into the federal prison system, and Americans put more people in federal prison for crimes related to marijuana than any other drug.

There are state laws on the books that specify
prison sentences of five years for the possession of an ounce of marijuana.

In Florida, the growing of 25 marijuana plants constitutes a second-degree felony.

This is insane. To lock a man or a woman in a cell for anything to do with this plant ought to be something out of a dystopian novel. Yet we've gotten used to it, and on a grand scale.

From 1980 to 2008 the U.S. prison population more than quadrupled, to 2.3 million. With about 5 percent of the world's population, the United States of America today is home to almost 25 percent of the world's prisoners. This makes us the world leader in incarceration, in raw numbers, and second only to the Republic of Seychelles, population 90,024, when it comes to the rate at which we lock up our people.

The so-called "war on drugs" has played a major part in this unprecedented shift: there are about 10 times as many people in our prisons today for drug offenses as there were in 1980.

Still, we should take comfort in the fact that
these are mostly violent criminals and hardened drug kingpins, right? Not so. About half the inmates in the federal prison system are there for nonviolent drug crime – up from 16 percent in 1970 – and the leading drug involved is marijuana.

Of course, none of this seems to have made marijuana remotely difficult to procure for those who want it.

If once our federal prisons might have functioned to keep violent criminals off the streets, today they serve chiefly to lock away economic offenders, disproportionately members of ethnic minorities historically excluded from the mainstream economy.

After drug offenses, the next most prevalent way to become an inmate in the federal prison system is through undocumented immigration, that other nonviolent "crime" I discuss in these pages.

If the situation at the federal level is out of
control, how does it look at the state level?

Variations in policy from state to state can make the picture seem complex, but the following image shows, at a glance, where things stand.

The words in the map summarize the laws in each state. In the states shown in red, it remains a crime to sell or possess marijuana. In the states shown in green, marijuana is legal. The other colors represent the spectrum of laws in between, as indicated in the key at the top:

[Image: 150713-weed-graphic.png]

Notwithstanding variation across states, year
after year, possession of marijuana is the leading charge in drug arrests nationwide.

This represents a precipitous rise. Arrests for
marijuana possession, as a portion of all arrests, have tripled since 1991.

When it comes to arrests for sale and manufacture, marijuana runs neck and neck with hard drugs nationwide. Only a portion of these arrests leads to jail time, but to take comfort in this would be a bit like pouring liquid into a funnel and, reasoning that the spout is small, taking one's eye off of the overflowing container beneath the spout.

The war on drugs, with its heavy use of mandatory sentencing, has grown a prison population of nonviolent offenders (nonviolent, at least, when they enter).

I will never forget, while observing counseling
sessions at a nonprofit program, hearing a
woman speak of half a lifetime spent in prison
for being caught holding drugs during a bust.

Imagine trying to get a job in the lawful economy after years in prison. Even if you have never known someone who has "done time," try to put yourself for a moment in the shoes of one who has over a nonviolent offense related to drugs.

As a group of my undergraduates dramatized in a video they created last year, if the drug is
marijuana, this is comparable to being locked in a cell for being caught with a bag of coffee.

Move over Pablo Escobar – meet Howard
Schultz, head of the notorious Starbucks cartel.
It sounds ridiculous, but is our war on drugs any less so?

To be sure, the U.S. has problems with addictive drugs. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, our country is the world's largest consumer of cocaine and the leading consumer of Colombian and Mexican heroin.

This represents a severe problem with enormous human costs, but it is a problem the drug war has utterly failed to solve.

Contrast our experience with that of Portugal, which in the 90s had high levels of drug addiction. A little over a decade after the country decriminalized drugs, taking the funds it had been spending on its version of the drug war and investing them in treatment and public health, addiction had dropped by half.

Yet when it comes to marijuana, the effects of
the drug itself pale in comparison to those of the mass incarceration its prohibition has fed.

Marijuana speeds heart rate and produces intoxication, yet it is virtually impossible to overdose on pot, and the health risks
associated with it are notoriously mild compared to those of legal drugs like cigarettes, alcohol and the pharmaceuticals to which so many turn for chemically-induced relief.

Still, some may ask, won't decriminalization send the wrong message to vulnerable teens?

Leaving aside the question of why our
policymakers are not at least as worried about
the binge drinking culture on campus or the
widespread abuse of pharmaceuticals, let us focus on the question that understandably
concerns many parents.

Has the repeal of prohibition in key states sent a pro-marijuana message to kids? The answer, at least for now, appears to be "no." Early evidence suggests that as the repeal of prohibition has gained steam in those states, teen marijuana use has gone down.

As the Washington Post's Chris Ingraham pointed out, teen use actually appears to have risen with the expansion of the drug war, and
then leveled off as medical marijuana programs picked up speed. It is tempting to wonder whether the cadre of stiff, frowning authority figures imposing taboos around marijuana might not have given it greater adolescent allure.

Whichever factors are responsible for the
correlation Ingraham observed, what seems
clear is that the feared Rise of the Slackers has failed to come with legalization.

According to Forbes, since Colorado's dispensaries took off, there has been a slight decline in marijuana use there while, nationally, overall use has been on the rise. Colorado's governor, who opposed his state's legalization amendment before it went through, suggested that it is mainly the people who were smoking illegally before legalization who are smoking legally now.

But what about driving under the influence of

Should not this, at least, be a cause for grave concern? I once had a cab driver tell me, while I was paying the bill, that he felt he did his best driving when high, because he could really feel the flow of the traffic. What I felt was happy to be home in one piece. Still, I would have felt the same way had he made the identical claim about good Scotch whiskey.
Actually, had he been drinking, I should probably have felt much greater concern.

Research suggests that the impairment effects of marijuana on drivers may be significantly less severe than those of alcohol.

In controlled studies, marijuana appears to impair peripheral vision and reduce the driver's capacity to manage distractions, but unless used along with alcohol, it fails to impair performance in many of the most severe ways in which alcohol has been shown to.
To operate a high-powered vehicle in anything but the clearest state of mind is a highly serious matter, of course. Yet this can be
addressed through appropriate laws the way drunk driving is today, as opposed to through
penalizing possession, manufacture and sale.

What exactly have we, as a nation, been
smoking, to sustain this second failed national
experiment with prohibition and allow it to fuel
mass incarceration?

In the 1920s, alcohol prohibition proved to be a boon to organized crime; over the last 30 years, the drug war has been a wrapped present to the international drug cartels.

While states across our land continue to imprison nonviolent users and low-level growers and dealers, such cartels depend
for a non-trivial portion of their revenues on the false premium supplied by prohibition.

Since prohibition has been repealed in key states, the prison population appears finally to have begun to decline, and cartels face falling prices for marijuana.

The rollback of prohibition throughout the states in the union must be a priority for those of us who care about public safety and economic sanity in America.

In the face of Colorado's experience, we can put to bed exaggerated fears of marijuana-fueled degeneration. What we do need to be afraid of is the fact that the U.S. now imprisons more people than any country on earth.

With Russia and China we account for half of the world's people behind bars. Meanwhile we continue to make marijuana a funnel to the prison system and pour our people into it like there's no tomorrow.

In my home state of New York, a pioneer in mass incarceration for nonviolent crimes, through its so-called Rockefeller drug laws, one out of every eight arrests is still for marijuana possession alone.

In the trailer for the 1930's film "Reefer Madness," the voiceover warns of "debauchery, violence, murder, suicide, and the ultimate end of the marijuana addict – hopeless insanity."

Hopeless insanity is about right as a description for those who seduce us into arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning people over pot. To have metastasized our prison system and militarized drug interdiction in supplier countries – making drugs attractive and giving drug producers the boon of a lucrative black market – is insane.

This isn't merely bad governance, bad health policy and bad economics. It is madness, and it must be stopped.

It is time to repeal prohibition throughout the United States.
A True Friend
Freely Advises,
Justly Assists Readily,
Adventures Boldly,
Takes all Patiently,
Defends Courageously
Continues a Friend Unchangeably.

William Penn
Jails are real money makers for the states. That is why they prefer to have more people incarcerated than less, which is another reason they hAve Marijuana listed as a schedule 1. Sad times.
Schedule I for Marijuana is yesteryear way of thinking. Legalize it, control, it -Government- tax it for needed revenue.

Still be enough convicts for the states to make money on jails.
Wow! What a terrific post IceWizard. I know the not for profit social services world very well and it's amazing how they equate MJ with other much serious drugs. My state has decriminalized MJ as well as legalized medical MJ and you would think that satan has been released from the gates of hell by what these so-called professionals are continually spouting. Again, great, and very informative post. Thanks for sharing
IceWizard great post I really enjoyed reading it.Ioplist has become my new library lol.
Very informative post IceWizard. You would think we would have learned something from Prohibition but apparently not. The War on Drugs has been a total failure with many unforeseen consequences. It is still around although I haven't heard anyone talk about it in general terms for a while. A national debate about uniform policies is long overdue.
It is all about money. Why is the reason Alcohol is legal ? weed and other drugs are safer, or as bad as alcohol .
The article is really good, specially the "map" .
Original post was from 2015...…….

Bet a lot has changed as far as legal usage since then...………..

Only a matter of when it is legal not if...……...JMHO is all

The ridiculous amount of tax dollars spent on criminalizing drugs must be redirected to treatment and other non-criminal solutions. People who need help with drugs don't get it (unless they are arrested and then, it's not typical) and treatment is a crap shoot. An incredible waste that only makes the problem worse.

Changing this will not be easy. The money made off of this "war" has many tentacles and lots of people feed at the trough. It has destroyed lives and communities and yet, it continues.

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