Marijuana prohibition laws were put in place in the early 1900s. For much of country’s history marijuana and hemp were an accepted part of our culture. Kentuckian Henry Clay, who made four unsuccessful bids for the White House, ran a hemp plantation. The famous Betsy Ross flag was sewn from hemp fiber. (I understand that marijuana and hemp aren’t precisely the same.)
But, like so many laws, marijuana prohibition and the War on Drugs more broadly has had some wicked unintended consequences, such as enriching international drug cartels and inner city gangs, and filling our prisons with people who have committed what many of us feel is a relatively innocuous offense.
But has marijuana prohibition worked? Anecdotally, I have heard high school and underage college students say that it is easier to obtain marijuana than beer. Indeed, marijuana use has not declined since the pot bans went into effect. It has increased, just as alcohol use increased during alcohol prohibition.
Let’s face it, the ban has not worked. So I support Gary Johnson’s plan to treat marijuana like alcohol.
My position has a personal component to it. My little boy just turned 5, and he will grow up in a country with legalized marijuana if Johnson is successful. I take this issue very seriously.
First, I agree with the following statement from Governor Johnson:
Don’t do drugs.
You can rest assure that I will educate my son about the dangers of marijuana and other drugs. But, if he decides at some point that he wants to try it, I would prefer that he get it through a legal channel or grow it instead of reaching out to the seedy underworld that may lace the pot, and will certainly try to induce him to try other drugs. The last part happened to a friend of mine, and it ruined his life for several years.
And, if my son’s use became a problem, I want him to go to rehab, not prison. I personally don’t see how smoking a joint merits incarceration. Those convicted of marijuana offenses end up in contact with true criminals, and often come out worse than when they went in because of the influence of prison culture. Then add in the fact that a criminal record makes it harder to get a job, a marijuana conviction is something that follows offenders for life. This seems excessive for the nature of the act.
As you can see from the graphic below, America has a shockingly high incarceration rate. Marijuana offenders make up a sizeable chunk, and the amount of money we spend on prosecuting, trying, and incarcerating these offenders is in the billions annually.
When something isn’t working at great cost (and by “cost” I mean that in a multitude of ways), you know it is time to try something different. Like so many other simplistic attempts to solve complex problems, marijuana prohibition laws have failed. They have not stopped marijuana use, but have filled our prisons, enriched drug cartels and inner city gangs, and generally made America less safe.
Will legalization come with costs? Of course. Every policy has costs and benefits. But it’s clear that the costs of the unintended consequences of marijuana prohibition have exceeded the benefits.
It’s time to put on our thinking caps and try something different. I don’t want to smoke marijuana, and I don’t want my son too, either. But I don’t think the threat of imprisonment is the best way to stop him from doing so. It might be the worst.
This article is also published at The Country Thinker.