President Obama angered many marijuana supporters when he laughed off questions about marijuana legalization in an online town hall saying “the answer is, no, I don’t think that is a good strategy — (laughter) — to grow our economy”. Many took Obama’s answer as a rude side step of an important issue, and are upset that while the President stated that he does not believe legalization is a good economic strategy, he ignored the fact that marijuana legalization is about more than tax revenue for the government.
Polling data shows that the support for marijuana legalization has increased since 1989, however there is no correlation between support of marijuana legalization to the status of the economy. So if generating billions of dollars for the government is not the only motivating factor in marijuana legalization, what else is causing this increase?
1. Failed Drug Policy & Criminal System
An estimated 900,000 people will be arrested for marijuana this year alone. The prison population in the U.S is six to ten times as high as most Western European nations leading to overcrowding in many jails and prisons around the country. Overcrowded prisons then turn into more serious safety and health issues for both staff and inmates. Additional problems arise because marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug along with cocaine and heroin, which means in some places, a person arrested for simple marijuana possession is incarcerated along side dangerous inmates facing more serious violent charges.
Marijuana raids have resulted in an unarmed people being shot, family pets killed in front of their owners, and police busting wrong houses. State agencies frequently declare children of marijuana smokers to be “in danger”, sometimes resulting in the children being placed into foster homes. Examples like these have lead many to believe the United States drug policy is ruining more lives than it is helping. The fact that the U.S leads the world in illegal drug use is evidence that the “war on drugs” has failed and many people are looking for a new approach to what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls Americans “insatiable demand for illegal drugs“.
2. Mexican Drug Cartels
Roughly 7000 people have been killed by drug cartel violence in Mexico since January of 2008. Jorge Ramos, mayor of Tijuana, Mexico, says his city is in a “real war” with the cartels. Marijuana makes up about 70% of the black market drug trade that funds these cartels, leading many to believe legalizing marijuana will put these cartels out of business.
U.S citizens should be alarmed that there is evidence that the violence in Mexico is spilling across the border. A survey of police and FBI offices suggested that Mexican cartels have drug distribution networks in 230 American cities – and that related killings and kidnappings in cities like Phoenix and Atlanta have increased. The thousands of people directly effected by these deadly drug cartels were most likely hoping for a more serious response from Obama on the issue.
3. Medical Marijuana
The low price of medical marijuana compared to prescription medicine is hardly “non-economic”; however, the symptom relief that patients receive from medical marijuana is far from an economic issue. Therapeutic use of marijuana dates back over 4,500 years. There are currently 13 states that allow medical marijuana and many more states with medical marijuana bills in various stages.
U.S Attorney General Eric Holder recently outlined the Obama Administration’s vow to end federal raids on medical marijuana establishments operating legally under state law. The governments classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 means that it currently has “no accepted medical use in treatment”, yet the government has supplied some patients with 10-12 FDA approved marijuana joints a day for over 22 years. The Obama administration has yet to clear up the mixed signals about the future of the federal government involvement in medical marijuana. Many patients and activists fear these mixed signals could be confusing to potential voters in the many states that will voting on the issue in the coming years.
4. Industrial Hemp
A 1938 Popular Mechanics article noted that hemp could be used to make more than 25,000 different products and was hailed as a billion dollar crop at the time. Hemp is a close cousin to the marijuana plant, although it does not contain enough THC to even give someone a buzz, let alone get someone high. It is often said that hemp was the real target of marijuana prohibition fueled by various industries that felt threatened by the easy to grow and hard to patent plant.
The United States is the only industrialized country to not grow hemp domestically. In fact, the DEA has admitted 98% of all domestically eradicated “marijuana” is actually “ditchweed” hemp which grows in the wild and has no recreational or medical use. Every American, no matter their views on marijuana, should expect the President to address why the government goes as far as spending tax payer money to eradicate such an obviously useful plant.
5. Accessible Knowledge
Sure, the Internet has been around a long time, but the way we use the internet changes every year. Right now, the web industry is filled with companies who’s sole purpose is to spread information. While web savvy users are probably tired of the term “web 2.0”, many mainstream users are just now discovering sites like Digg, Facebook and Twitter, which all allow people to share information more easily.
With issues like marijuana, where information has been skewed in society for such a long time, the internet has allowed more people to discover the facts for themselves. Before the internet, most news and information came from biased news media, often influenced by politicians, and spread by faulty word of mouth. The “reefer madness” type of propaganda that worked in the past, has little effect on most people today. This is leading to an increase in marijuana legalization support even among non-users.