guest column by Dr. Douglas Young, Prof. of Pol. Sci. & History at Gainesville College, Gainesville, GA
The news of Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps smoking pot should re-energize the marijuana legalization debate because America should be a free marketplace of ideas where ALL perspectives joust. Yet to even consider legalization is often unacceptable in polite company. But, because all public policy should be rationally debated, let's at least look at some legalization arguments.
I wish no one used any
recreational drug (and I avoid them all). But if we must outlaw everything potentially dangerous, then we need a federal 30 mph speed limit and a ban on fatty foods greasing the obesity epidemic killing over 300,000 Americans annually (CBS News).
Somehow we survived legal marijuana until 1937. It actually helped finance our revolution, clothe the Continental Army, and provide the paper for our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Washington and Jefferson grew it, and the latter even risked smuggling it out of Europe. In fact, before 1870, hemp oil ranked second only to whale oil in creating light around the world. During World War II, the feds pushed hemp production to make rope for the war effort.
Dope got banned because federal cops wanted to keep their jobs (alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933), cotton farmers wanted to end hemp competition, and whites linked pot to Mexican immigrants and black jazz musicians. Louis Armstrong never performed without it, and a later user, Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, still calls joints "herbal jazz cigarettes." But Caucasians feared white girls would "go crazy" on dope and become intimate with minority males. So, to avert "Reefer Madness," the weed got outlawed instead of the cancer sticks, liver poison, and "Mother's Little Helper" pills preferred by the ruling class.
Today over 12 percent of federal and state inmates are doing time for pot, costing taxpayers over $1 billion annually (In These Times
). A record 872,000 Americans were arrested for it in 2007 alone -- 89 percent just for possession (the FBI). In fact, an attorney on "The O'Reilly Factor" revealed a few years back that there were more lifers
in California prisons for pot than for murder, rape, and kidnapping combined
. So pot-smokers get locked up with and brutalized by our most violent felons. How's that for "rehabilitation"? Then their criminal records deny them student loans, good jobs, and even voting rights.
Does our abuse of drug-users resemble how we used to mistreat the mentally ill? The medical evidence shows drug addicts are unwisely self-medicating a dopamine deficiency in the brain. They need treatment, not an 8 x 10 cell. How do you think future generations will judge us?
William F. Buckley, Jr. noted that 400,000 police can't go after violent crimes and theft due to the endless "War on Drugs." There's also epidemic vice squad corruption with drugs since their price is so inflated precisely because they're illegal. Psst: The folks most against legalization -- are drug dealers! Why not tax our biggest cash crop and let cops chase violent felons?
Doesn't prohibition fuel the forbidden fruit syndrome? The 1920s' alcohol ban criminalized a huge percentage of decent Americans, created organized crime in the US, and corrupted thousands of police and officials (even President Warren Harding and Chief Justice William Taft secretly drank).
Though none is healthy, is pot remotely as bad as alcohol or cigarettes? CBS News reported that half
of US hospital beds are filled by folks with alcohol-related problems, and we have 110,000 alcohol-lubricated deaths every year. Also, the Justice Department admits that alcohol was the only drug found in 36 percent of all convicted criminals and is a factor in over 40 percent of murders.
Cigarettes are as addictive as heroin
(former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop), do far more bodily harm than any opiate (addiction medicine specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky), and kill 430,000 Americans a year (CDC). My hygienist says they can even cause teeth to fall out in your thirties.
Though pot is psychologically addictive for some, no one ever overdosed, got cancer, or died from marijuana. Nor do people get violent on it (as Bill Maher says, "Forgetting
to kill your wife on pot, okay"). Also, studies show most pot-smokers do not
graduate to harder illegal drugs.
Legalization doesn't mean more pot smoking. In Holland, where marijuana is tolerated, just 12 percent of Dutch aged 15-24 said they used pot in 2005. But, in nearby France, where it's illegal, 24 percent of French youths admitted smoking it that year. And, in the U.S., almost 28 percent of Americans 18-25 said they used marijuana in 2004-5. Yet, with effective health classes and ad campaigns, U.S. tobacco and alcohol consumption have gone way down
in recent years. Better education can lower pot use as well.
Though 12 states have passed referenda liberalizing marijuana laws, the feds keep vetoing our constitutional democratic states' rights. Ultimately, either we're for less government or we're not. Is it really state business what consenting adults do in their own home? Must we have a national nanny state with Big Brother jailing citizens for a weed? And wouldn't our libertarian Founding Fathers be appalled at this gross encroachment on our privacy rights? Let's at least debate returning to our roots and finally standing up for freedom for a change. Exactly why not?