Although most US voters support the legalization of marijuana, billions are spent each year on drug-related arrests.
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]
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.
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".
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.
Cliff Schecter is an author, pundit and public relations strategist whose firm Libertas, LLC handles media relations for political, corporate and non-profit clients. In 2008, his first book, The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust (more...)
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