The world may not actually be coming to an end, but the era of drug prohibition is, even as our politicians remain in denial.
Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana (not just medical marijuana) via ballot initiatives that came into effect this month. A perfect opportunity for Obama to liberalize drug laws without sticking his neck out, right? Nope, according to the New York Times the administration is weighing it’s legal options which vary from having federal prosecutors making examples of low-level marijuana users to filing lawsuits and cutting off the states’ federal grants. I suppose Obama is really determined not to be the first black president who legalized marijuana (especially after his stoner past was splashed across the papers). Don’t worry Mr. President, no hurry, there are only nearly a million Americans arrested for pot every year (and as a black man you very easily could have been one of them). It’s not like it’s a basic human rights violation or anything.
Andrew Sullivan makes it even more personal. “Mr. President, don’t even think about it” he writes. “The president wasn’t just once a pot-smoker, he was a very serious pothead. His own life and career prove that this substance is no more potentially damaging to a human being than alcohol, which is not only legal but marketed to us with abandon….the federal War on Marijuana is racist in its enforcement, ridiculous as a matter of science, outrageous in terms of personal liberty, and inimical to federalism.”
It shouldn’t be that hard a stand for the President to take, considering the majority of Americans want Feds out of state marijuana laws (64% opposed to the federal government taking steps to enforce federal marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington).
So what gives? It seems we have to break the taboo – the numbers are there, the support is there, but politicians don’t seem to have gotten the message. Which is exactly why “queen of consciousness” Lady Amanda Feilding’s Beckley Foundation has spearheaded a new global grassroots campaign in association with the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Virgin Unite, Avaaz and Sundog Pictures. Senseless or not, it’s still rare for politicians to speak openly on the failed war on drugs, and even more so to speak of liberalizing drug laws. (Well that is, until they’re out of office – and become supporters of campaigns like this one.)
As Lady Feilding writes for the Huffington Post:
“The Global Commission on Drug Policy, and initiatives like the Beckley Foundation’s Public Letter — signed by around 70 of the world’s most respected and influential figures, including 9 presidents, 12 Nobel Prizewinners, and celebrities like Yoko Ono, Noam Chomsky, Sting, Sean Parker and Sir Richard Branson — are rapidly making drug policy a subject that politicians can raise without the stigma that has traditionally accompanied any mention of the “d-word.”…
…The wave of reform is swelling, as President Pérez of Guatemala and President Santos of Colombia — both signatories of the Beckley Public Letter — have been joined by leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Argentina in calling for a new approach to the problem….
…And it is looking increasingly likely that drug policy will be the platform from which a united Latin America will once and for all establish its independence from its domineering northern neighbor on the world stage.”
Exciting times indeed. The new documentary film “Breaking the Taboo” is narrated by Morgan Freeman and features President Clinton and President Cater.
Virgin billionaire Richard Branson has joined the cause, even writing this op-ed for CNN calling the war on drugs a “trillion dollar failure”:
“In 1925, H. L. Mencken wrote an impassioned plea: “Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”…
…Here we are, four decades after Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 and $1 trillion spent since then. What do we have to show for it? The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with about 2.3 million behind bars. More than half a million of those people are incarcerated for a drug law violation. What a waste of young lives….
…In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don’t do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem. Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn’t in terms of real evidence and data.”
For further evidence that the drug war is a joke, one only needs to look at last weeks headlines. HSBC signed off on a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion after admitting to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels as well as violating other important banking laws. No criminal prosecutions were pursued by the Justice Department.
As Matt Taibi put it, “If you’ve ever been arrested on a drug charge, if you’ve ever spent even a day in jail for having a stem of marijuana in your pocket or “drug paraphernalia” in your gym bag, Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you: Bite me.”
“By eschewing criminal prosecutions of major drug launderers on the grounds (the patently absurd grounds, incidentally) that their prosecution might imperil the world financial system, the government has now formalized the double standard.
They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don’t have a systemically important job, in other words, the government’s position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.
On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.”
Glenn Greenwald reinforces this idea in his column in the Guardian, “HSBC, too big to jail, is the poster child for US two tiered justice system.”:
“By coincidence, on the very same day that the DOJ announced that HSBC would not be indicted for its multiple money-laundering felonies, the New York Times published a story featuring the harrowing story of an African-American single mother of three who was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 27 for a minor drug offense…
…As the NYT notes – and read her whole story to get the full flavor of it – this is commonplace for the poor and for minorities in the US justice system. Contrast that deeply oppressive, merciless punishment system with the full-scale immunity bestowed on HSBC – along with virtually every powerful and rich lawbreaking faction in America over the last decade – and that is the living, breathing two-tiered US justice system. How this glaringly disparate, and explicitly status-based, treatment under the criminal law does not produce serious social unrest is mystifying.”
So the “War on Drugs” doesn’t work. Now what?
How about understanding why people (especially young people) take drugs to begin with? “Drugs are taken for pleasure” says David Nutt in the Guardian. “Realize this and we can start to reduce harm”. Most people who take drugs are not addicts. To help us understand more about drug use, MixMag and the Guardian are asking volunteers to fill out the Global Drug Survey, the biggest independent survey of drug use patterns in the world.
But the reason we take drugs may be even more interesting. Ronald K. Siegel in his book “Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances”, argues that the instinct to pursue intoxication with plants, alcohol and other mind-altering substances is a fourth drive, after food, sleep and sex. This natural part of our biology creates an irrepressible demand for intoxicating substances. If this is true, the war on drugs is actually a war on biology – and even evolution. Drug-taking causes changes in thoughts and behavior that may create variations or mutations that drive evolution. Fancy that!
Whatever the reason, apparently “Everything We Thought We Knew About Drug Users Was Wrong”: “Would you believe that people who use drugs are, on average, more educated than the average citizen? Or that less than 10 percent are unemployed? Around the world, the mythology of the drug user – as a desperate, ill or uncontrollable person – has often influenced policies that were poorly informed about actual drug use.”
So the War on Drugs isn’t working, drug users are not the scourge of society, drug-taking is usually for pleasure, and may even be a basic evolutionary drive. Any other recent drug news? “Marijuana and Cancer: Scientists Find Cannabis Compound Stops Metastasis in Aggressive Cancers” says the Huffington Post.
Now illegal drugs cure cancer. Whatever next?