Modern Day Prohibition
“Students of American history will someday ponder the question of how today’s elected officials could readily admit to the mistaken policy of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s but continue the policy of drug prohibition.” (Boaz, 1999). Law makers in this country have propagated the lie that drugs, like marijuana, are the enemy and that outlawing them is the only solution to maintain civility in our society. But history and facts tell a different story. Modern day prohibition does not work and makes society less safe; we need to legalize, tax and regulate drugs like marijuana and end this pointless drug war.
The United States government has been fighting a war on drugs like marijuana since 1971 when President Nixon determined that drug abuse was the number one threat to national security (NPR, 2007). Following his declaration, Nixon created specialized agencies to round up drug dealers and smugglers for possession of drugs. Although the initial purpose for these drug laws was to target smuggler’s and “King Pins” (Drug, 2018), the reality of this prohibition is much more unjust; this is a domestic drug war that unequally targets poor and minority communities. According to a study by the ACLU, whites and blacks are equally likely to use marijuana, however, blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested. And in some cities, that likelihood is a staggering 8.5 times. States spend $3.6 million enforcing drug laws, this is money and resources that could be reallocated on better training and equipment for police departments (2013). Considering that an estimated 83.9% of drug arrests in 2015 were for non-violent possession charges (Drug, 2018), a repeal of these laws would allow officers to focus their energy on other, more dangerous and violent crimes such as rape, homicide, kidnapping, etc.
The prohibition of marijuana also increases the power of illegal drug dealers, smugglers and the cartel. During the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s, outlawing the purchase and possession alcohol did nothing to lessen public consumption; people found ways to consume it illegally. The ongoing demand for the product gave power to the smugglers, willing to break the law to make a buck, and the gangsters that owned the Speakeasies where people drank. The same thing happens with the prohibition of marijuana. Because the demand for marijuana has not decreased as a result of restrictive drug laws, there will certainly be a dealer who is willing to meet the needs of the market. It is truly ironic that a law that was created to crack down and eradicate smugglers and drug lords has only empowered them and given them all the control of the market. In a commentary to CNBC, an anonymous retired police officer reveals the sad reality as it pertains to the ineffectiveness of our drug laws. He states, “It is easier for a 14-year-old to score a […] dime bag of illegal pot than a six-pack of Bud.” He explains that drug dealers don’t care if the child is under-age, their only concern is making a sale (CNBC, 2011). Another failure of this prohibition, as addressed by David Boaz in a testimony to the US House of Representatives, is the reality that anti-drug laws have created a subculture of criminal activity where drug dealers are viewed as successful members of society. They have the money, the flashy cars, and the ill-gotten respect of their peers. It is a disgrace to civil society when a criminal is able to prosper and is viewed in high esteem (Boaz, 1999). Furthermore, this modern day prohibition is a safety risk for society. Disputes between parties involved in an illegal drug deal cannot be settled in a court of law, they are instead settled by means of violence and often death. To put it bluntly, prohibition doesn’t work; it hasn’t worked in the past and it is failing in the present.
Lives of otherwise law abiding citizens are being torn apart by draconian drug laws. In David Boaz’s testimony, he cites a story of a man who used marijuana to help control crippling pain from arthritis; he was arrested and sentenced to 93 years for simple possession. His sentence was later reduced to 20 years, but that is still 20 years that his children are without their father as a result of a non-violent possession charge. There are also countless stories of law enforcement teams knocking down the doors of the wrong home, in search of drugs (Boaz, 1999). In addition, more arrests made for non-violent possession means more taxpayer dollars supporting the prison system. And those arrested are likely to experience permanent damage to their lives including the loss of their job and inability to gain another, which has a negative impact on the economy and further burdens social welfare programs. We mustn’t allow this winless war on drugs continue to take away the freedoms of Americans.
Rather than continuing to waste money and resources in this fruitless prohibition of marijuana that restricts freedoms of American citizens and empowers the criminal enterprise, we ought to legalize, tax, and regulate. Colorado has set the pace for the rest of the country with their legalization of recreational marijuana. According to a report from Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research, Pueblo County Colorado experienced a $58 million boom in the local economy last year thanks to the legal marijuana market (Zhang, 2018). Because of this financial boost, Pueblo County was able to allocate $420,000 for scholarship programs in 2017 and expects that number to be $750,000 in 2018. It is predicted that legalization on a federal level would result in $105.6 billion added to the country’s economy over the next eight years (Zhang, 2018). The boom that a policy like this would create extends to the job market as well. With marijuana already among the top agriculture cash crops in the country, the market demand is undeniable. In order to meet the demands of this market requires the creation of jobs ranging from agriculture to retail and distribution. The Washington Post reports that Colorado created more than 18,000 new jobs in 2015 as a direct result of the legalization of marijuana (Ingraham, 2016). It is estimated that roughly 1.1 million jobs would be created by 2025 if marijuana is legalized on a federal level, according to a recent analysis by New Frontier Data (Meza, 2018). With the increase in tax revenue to boost schools, rebuild and maintain our infrastructure and massive job growth, where is the downside to legalization?
The fact is, support for marijuana legalization has been rising steadily since the early 1990’s, Pew Research shows. This is a policy position that is reinforced by the democratic will of the people; 57% of adults in the US support the legalization of marijuana (Geiger, 2016). However, in spite of the growing support for legal marijuana, there are still those that staunchly oppose this movement. Opponents claim that legalizing marijuana will cause its use to skyrocket especially among the youth population. But a report by the Drug Policy Alliance, or DPA disproves this claim as it explains that since legalization, teen use of marijuana has remained unchanged. They explain that a statewide survey found that Colorado teens are “middle-of-the-pack” in comparison to marijuana usage of teens in the rest of the country (Ingraham, 2016). The statistics and popularity in favor of this proposal does not mean we should be ignorant to the risks of abuse. Once legalized, marijuana needs to be regulated in the same respect that tobacco and alcohol are; purchase and public use should be restricted to adults over the age of 21. There should also be restrictions on the use of marijuana while on the job or operating a vehicle. We have common sense regulation of substances like tobacco and alcohol, so it is not unrealistic that similar regulations could be successfully implemented for marijuana use.
In perhaps one of the great blunders of federal law in our country, prohibition has failed the safety and sanctity of American citizens while simultaneously giving money and power to those whom the laws were designed to target. Minority communities are needlessly profiled and arrested for non-violent possession charges. Criminals have a monopoly on the market and are more than willing to sell it to children. Their disputes are settled with violence in the streets, putting lives at risk. We only need to look as far as the nine states that have legalized marijuana recreationally and the 30 others that have medical marijuana to see that this policy works; economies are booming and crime is down. Power and money have been stripped from the grasps of the criminal element while police can focus their resources on violent crimes. The vast majority of citizens recognize the potential and benefits of ending this modern day prohibition; it’s time that lawmakers wake up and make the only logical decision to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.
Boaz, David. “Drug Legalization, Criminalization, and Harm Reduction.” Cato Institute, 16 June 1999, www.cato.org/publications/congressional-testimony/drug-legalization-criminalization-harm-reduction.
CNBC. “Legalization Will Reduce Crime, Free Up Police Resources.” CNBC, CNBC, 20 Apr. 2011, www.cnbc.com/id/36201668.
“Drug War Facts.” Edited by Douglas A. McVay, Drug War Facts, 2018, drugwarfacts.org/chapter/marijuana.
Geiger, Abigail. “Support for Marijuana Legalization Continues to Rise.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 12 Oct. 2016, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/12/support-for-marijuana-legalization-continues-to-rise/.
Ingraham, Christopher. “Here’s How Legal Pot Changed Colorado and Washington.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/13/heres-how-legal-pot-changed-colorado-and-washington/?utm_term=.763596d33cd2&noredirect=on.
Ingraham, Christopher. “The Marijuana Industry Created More than 18,000 New Jobs in Colorado Last Year.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/27/the-marijuana-industry-created-over-18000-new-jobs-in-colorado-last-year/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.22fb65079a85.
Meza. “Legalizing Marijuana Nationwide Would Create One Million Jobs, Study Says.” Newsweek, 20 Apr. 2018, www.newsweek.com/legal-marijuana-create-one-million-jobs-decade-778960.
“Report: The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU Foundation, 2013, www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white?redirect=criminal-law-reform/war-marijuana-black-and-white.
Zhang, Mona. “Legal Marijuana Is A Boon To The Economy, Finds Study.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Mar. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/monazhang/2018/03/13/legal-marijuana-is-a-boon-to-the-economy-finds-study/#4077f5bee9d9.