Barack Obama is trying my patience. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe he inherited a mess from George Bush and is doing the best he can to turn the ship of state around. However allowing his Attorney General Eric Holder to come out against California’s Prop 19 is not only “not change”, it is an endorsement of the racist enforcement of our nation’s drug laws.
RACIAL INJUSTICE IN THE DRUG WAR
While roughly 12% Anglos and 11% of Blacks and Hispanics are consumers of illicit drugs, criminal justice statistics dramatically demonstrate an over-representation of Blacks and Hispanics arrested for the use of illicit drugs and in those who go to trial and who are ultimately sentenced to jail. It is no accident that Prop 19 is endorsed by the NAACP and California’s LULAC. They are joined by LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), SEIU ( Service Employees International Union), DPA (Drug Policy Alliance), NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) who all say YES on Proposition 19.
CURRENT DRUG POLICY AN ABYSMAL FAILURE
In the almost 40 years since President Nixon declared a war on drugs, tens of millions of Americans have been arrested and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent. Yet drugs are just as available now as they were then. And the impact has been felt most strongly amongst Hispanics, Blacks, and the poor.
There are many good reasons to support proposition 19. The most obvious is because we have a failed drug policy. Cannabis has been illegal since 1911. Not only is cannabis still widely used and available, but our present failed drug policy is racist. It’s costly. It is undermining the Constitution. It decreases respect for the police. It fuels gangs and gang violence and U.S. drug policy is responsible for 8,000-20,000 deaths per year in Mexico.
MARIJUANA LAWS DEMONIZE AND TARGET MINORITIES
The NAACP and the LULAC of California both recognize how U.S. drug laws are used to marginalize discriminated against minorities. The adverse affects are detailed in Michelle Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow. In it, she points out that a drug conviction automatically makes a person a second-class citizen who can be legally discriminated against in housing and employment, denied school loans, and barred for life from serving on juries, accessing public benefits and even voting.
While African Americans make up only about 13 percent of the U.S. population and about 15 percent of drug users, they make up about 38 percent of those arrested for drug law violations and a mind-boggling 59 percent of those convicted for drug law violations. With Hispanics, the numbers are not quite as dramatic but are still appalling. We now have 7,000,000 Americans, one out of every thirty two American adults, incarcerated, on probation or on parole, and they are disproportionately young Hispanic and Black males.
The League of United Latin American Citizens of California (LULAC) endorsed Prop. 19. State director Argentina Dávila-Luévano said, “The current prohibition laws are not working for Latinos, nor for society as a whole. Far too many of our brothers and sisters are getting caught in the cross-fire of gang wars here in California and the cartel wars south of our border,” she says. “It’s time to end prohibition, put violent, organized criminals out of business and bring marijuana under the control of the law.”
Historically, Mexican-Americans have been demonized by associating the Hispanic population with marijuana use. This effort becomes more intense in economic hard times. This trend started shortly after the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century when large numbers of Mexican workers came across the border.
As the economy deteriorated, local prosecutors and editors publicly decried the “loco weed.” One critic associated marijuana (called “marihuana” at the time) — not only with Mexicans but “Negroes, prostitutes, pimps, and a criminal class of whites.” States began outlawing the drug, one Texas senator asserting “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff is what makes them crazy.”
Mexican-Americans were used as a whipping boy to generate anti-marijuana hysteria. In the 1930s Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led the propaganda campaign to make marijuana possession a federal crime. He was an avowed racist as evidenced by this quote about marijuana (which at the time was commonly known as cannabis), “its effect on the degenerate races.” He was referring to “Mexicans, Negroes, Puerto Ricans, jazz musicians and other social undesirables,” as he described those he said used marijuana.
Anslinger quoted Floyd Baskett, the publisher of the Alamosa, Colorado newspaper (Alamosa is 18 miles from my wife’s hometown by the way), who wrote “I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who are low mentality, because of social and racial conditions.”
A decade earlier earlier in 1927, a Montana state legislator was quoted in the Butte Montana Standard, “When some beet field peon takes a few traces of this stuff…he thinks he’ has just been elected President of Mexico, so he starts to execute all his political enemies.”
The anti-Mexican, anti-Hispanic rhetoric continues to this day. Voting YES on Proposition 19 will be another big step to defeating this kind of racism. Right now among California’s likely voters, 63% of Latinos are likely supporters of Prop 19. The recent support of the California LULAC and a brief refresher on the odious history of marijuana prohibition should be enough to continue that momentum toward cannabis decriminalization.
CURRENT DRUG LAWS ARE GOOD FOR CRIMINALS AND BAD FOR LAW ABIDING PEOPLE
Just as alcohol prohibition did, marijuana prohibition is enriching organized crime. Instead of regulating marijuana to control who can access it, policymakers have ceded control of the $400-billion-a-year global drug market to crime syndicates and thugs.
In Mexico, parts of the country are like Chicago on steroids under Al Capone. 28,000 people have died from drug war violence since President Calderon launched a war three years ago against well-armed, well-funded drug trafficking organizations. The U.S. government doesn’t report its prohibition-related deaths, but law enforcement officers, drug offenders and civilians die every day in our country’s war on drugs too.
OUR LEADERS USE MARIJUANA WITHOUT LEGAL CONSEQUENCES
Use of marijuana or other illegal drugs is rampant amongst our elected officials, yet few suffer any adverse legal or social consequences. President Obama used drugs. Former President George W. Bush was an admitted alcoholic and credible rumors say he regularly used cocaine. Then there’s Bill Clinton, who famously said he smoked pot but didn’t inhale. Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, former and current governors Jesse Ventura (I-MN),Gary Johnson (R-NM), Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), and Sarah Palin (R-AK) all admit that they consumed cannabis.
CURRENT DRUG LAW CAUSES LOTS OF PROBLEMS
The war on drugs hasn’t just failed; it’s created problems of its own. The drug war is a good way to waste money. It has cost billions. In the last 30 years in California, we’ve built 22 new prisons and 4 new colleges. 20-30% of third strikes are for minor drug violations and taxpayers spend $40,000/year to incarcerate these folks. Laws restricting the availability of sterile syringes have increased the spread of AIDS and hepatitis C. The war on drugs, or more accurately the people who use drugs we’ve demonized, has weakened the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th and 10th Amendments of the Constitution.
WATCH OUT FOR THE BOOGEYMAN
The opposition is grasping at straws. A recent article in L.A. Times was about a presumed marijuana addict, whatever that is. She spent $5,000/year on cannabis. At current rate of roughly $400/ounce, that is slightly more than an ounce/month, or one .9 gm joint per day. This is just 10% of the amount of marijuana that the federal government provides to a person on the federal IND program. Most likely this person was self-medicating for her anxiety.
Another boogeyman of the Prohibitionists is that legalizing marijuana will increase use amongst teens. Most likely, the passage of Prop 19 will decrease the number of teens using it. Compare Holland 13% to the U.S. 19%. The Dutch Minister of Health stated “We have succeeded in making pot boring.” When Prop 215 was on the ballot, the prohibitionists said pot use would go up. It hasn’t. It has gone down.
BENEFITS OF YES ON 19
Legalization would be beneficial in key aspects of the war on terror. Afghanistan is the world leader in opium production, and this trade is highly lucrative because U.S.-led prohibition drives the market underground. The Taliban then earns substantial income by protecting opium farmers and traffickers from law enforcement in exchange for a share of the profits. U.S. eradication of opium fields also drives the hearts and minds of Afghan farmers away from the U.S. and toward the Taliban.
Legalization could also aid the war on terror by freeing immigration and other border control resources to target terrorists and WMDs rather than the illegal drug trade. Under prohibition, moreover, terrorists piggyback on the smuggling networks established by drug lords and more easily hide in a sea of underground, cross-border trafficking.
We’ve heard cannabis is dangerous. Yet experts say it’s less harmful than coffee. Henningfield & Benowitz compared 6 commonly used recreational drugs – alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, coffee and cannabis. Which one was the least harmful? Cannabis. Even so there are some who do develop a dependency on marijuana. Legalizing cannabis would aid in treatment. Jail is not treatment. Prop 19 encourages those also might need help to get it legally.
We have heard that passage of Prop 19 will increase the number of users. This seems unlikely because of the current ease in acquiring marijuana. Illicit sales are encouraged because of the money to be made on the black market. The alcohol model of tax regulate would make cannabis harder to obtain. The late conservative pundit William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review and for 33 years moderator of public television’s Firing Line, said it was easier for an eighth grader to get marijuana than alcohol. Why? Because alcohol is taxed and regulated and marijuana is not. The liquor store owner has an investment to protect, the illicit seller of marijuana does not.
We have examples in Portugal and Holland of what happens when you legalize drugs. Not much except there is less crime, less fear of the police, less money wasted and a reordering of police priorities. As the attorney who fought the case that legalized marijuana in Alaska in 1982 said after a 5-2 vote of the Alaskan Supreme Court ruling that the Alaska Constitution protected the private use of marijuana: “Do you know what happened the next morning? The sun came up and life went on.”
It is time for life to go on in California. Vote YES on PROPOSITION 19!
David Bearman, M.D. is the Vice President of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine and author of Demons, Discrimination and Dollars: A Brief History Of The Origins of American Drug Policy.
Webmaster’s note: There seems to be a rift between the Washington, D.C. LULAC and the California LULAC mentioned in this blog post. Please read this for more clarification.