Up in smoke

Although most US voters support the legalisation of marijuana, billions are spent each year on drug-related arrests.

Marijuana protest
The majority of Americans support the legalisation of marijuana; yet drug-related arrests cost the US over 13 billion every year – or an estimated one trillion over the last 40 years [EPA]

Washington, DC – Towards the beginning of the cult classic Dazed & Confused, a high school senior named Slater, inquires of baby-faced freshman Mitch: “Are you cool?” What Slater is really asking – in this ode to 1970s youth and the counterculture – is: “Do you smoke pot?”

Ahhh, the 1970s. Back before Grover Norquist’s Bedtime for Bonzo hero (some guy named Ronald Reagan) kicked the kooky, corrupt and thoroughly counterproductive War On Drugs into high gear. That’s when – poof! – this country suddenly lost its collective mind, suffering a lapse in judgment that vaunted well past ill-advised and just beyond “they have weapons of mass destruction” to what might best be labelled “the mind of Ted Nugent”.

As we pass the mythic, cultural marker of 4/20, it might be worth examining what we’ve wrought.

By any measure; economically, morally, democratically, we are far worse for allowing special interests – from the private prison lobby (“send us ten prisoners and we’ll house one for free!”) to the national security industry – take us down this road to perdition. It has spiritually hollowed us out, while erecting a prominent prison culture that makes The People’s Republic of China seem like Woodstock.

This was made all the more evident recently when a Harvard economist, Jeffrey Miron, released a study [PDF] showing this exercise in dunderheadedness is costing us $13.7 billion a year. Writer Ernest A Canning points to to some statistics reported by Democracy Now! which make clear that “over the last 40 years, more than 45 million drug-related arrests have cost an estimated $1 trillion”.

Hmm, I can’t think of any better ways we could have spent this money, can you?

Although Obama claimed to support the use of medical marijuana when he was running for president, he has circumvented state laws using the Justice Department in order to raid more than 100 marijuana dispensaries [EPA]

In fact, I know some neo-conservative types who seemingly kneel down in prayer a few times a day to make supple offerings to the graven idol of The Balanced Budget. You’d think they might notice numbers such as these and perhaps do something to save money being wasted on US citizens who take their mind-altering substances via the beer bong, as opposed to a funnel, filter or by simply reaching into a medically approved prescription pill bottle. Although, as Congressman Paul Ryan has discovered when weighing raising taxes on ascots vs slashing social programs, it’s just so much easier and more fun to cut preventative care for kids than to honestly tackle real problems.

Legalise it?

Sadly, things have gotten no better under President Obama than they were under his predecessors. Back when he was running for president in 2008, Obama claimed to support the “basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs”. He even went further, claiming he would “not be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws”.

Yet, that is exactly what he has done, using the very same Justice Department to raid more than 100 marijuana dispensaries during his term. It is shameful, really.

[Politicians] should pay attention to the people of this country, 47 per cent of whom favour marijuana legalisation, while only 42 per cent oppose it.

The wasted potential of those who will go to our jails instead of our colleges (although at least Rick Santorum won’t shake his head in not-so-subtle disapproval at their obvious snobbery) will not only cost these individuals and their families dearly, but our society as a whole. Much like with our health care system, when we ignore or compound problems in the short term, they always come back to haunt us later as the Ghost of Christmas past – and not the cool one played by Buster Poindexter in Scrooged either.

Listen, if you don’t want to believe the facts, just take a gander at what Pat Robertson recently had to say on this issue (yes, I too am stunned I just wrote that). He took a moment off from blaming hurricanes on abortion rights or The Way We Were to come out for marijuana legalisation. Hey, I’m not saying I think his every neuron is firing in what one might call a fecund direction, but on this one, politicians should listen. And more importantly, they should pay attention to the people of this country, 47 per cent of whom favour marijuana legalisation, while only 42 per cent oppose it.

Because if we continue with the half-baked idea of expanding this war, we will also continue to watch our financial future, moral fibre and civil liberties go up in smoke.

Cliff Schecter is an author, pundit and public relations strategist whose firm Libertas, LLC handles media relations for political, corporate and non-profit clients.

Follow him on Twitter: @CliffSchecter