As an individual, I'm all for second chances. He may never hear the end of it from his ex-constituents, but as far as I'm concerned, parting Governor Haley Barbour made a commendable gesture by extending second chances to an unpopular group.
To me, however, there's something distinctly unjust about dozens of convicted murderers, rapists and other violent criminals being let off the hook while thousands of Americans sit in prison for non-violent, relatively harmless drug charges. Yes, Governor Barbour pardoned a fair share for "possession of controlled substances", but in the larger national picture, there's just a touch of irony in the idea of violent criminals receiving better treatment under the law than recreational drug users.
The intent of the so-called "war on drugs" is understandable, but at the end of the day, the only thing marijuana users are really hurting are their own brain cell counts. This isn't necessarily something we want to encourage, but it's hardly worth the 12 million arrests that have occurred since the mid 1960's.
Worse yet, we have almost nothing to show for it. Americans who concede to having tried marijuana account for almost half of the population, and those who continue to smoke it make up about a tenth. Meanwhile, the biggest beneficiary from prohibition is the black market, making the drug war hugely counter-productive. Rather than putting sales into the hands of the safely regulated private market, we've spurred an entire industry that benefits mobs and corrupt dealers.
On the financial side, pouring billions of dollars per year into a failed effort is looking particularly absurd at a time when entitlements, defense spending, social services, and infrastructure projects are all on the chopping block. Is this really how we want to spend taxpayer dollars? Not to mention, the hemp industry that we're restraining has enormous economic potential.
Then comes the more pressing question: would a world where people could legally consume certain narcotics - namely marijuana -- really be a better one? In short: yes. Marijuana use will continue with or without the drug war. By legalizing it, however, we'll be taking away the ammunition that the drug war has given to an illegal industry, tapping into a new source of tax revenue, saving billions of taxpayer dollars each year, and alleviating public law enforcement of a time-consuming burden.
For those still concerned with preventing substance consumption, legalizing it doesn't necessarily mean endorsing it. We can still use educational tools to discourage drug use. More importantly, moving the industry from the streets to the private market would protect the nation's youths, as substance could no longer be obtained by simply approaching a dealer who, of course, doesn't ask for identification.
While Mississippi watches its pardoning spree unfold, I'll have my fingers crossed that the state's newly freed citizens find prosperity in their new lives. Meanwhile, let's hope that the United States is moving closer to ending its imprisoning spree. It's time to take a smarter stance on the war on drugs by admitting that it's not worth fighting.