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Obama's Pot Politics

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Message John Pagoda

Get the picture. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent since the war began, millions incarcerated, millions of innocent lives ruined many forever, millions of families destroyed beyond repair, constitutional liberties eroded, more police hired, more easy arrests, more opportunities to earn an extra buck through corruption, lawyers with more clients, new prisons built, more corrections officers hired to keep their fellow man in a cage, a climate of fear created, more guns on the streets, more death and destruction from gang related violence and nearly 40 years later what to we have to show for this multi-billion dollar war on drugs?

One of the things I learned as a Political Science major was that “change is incremental,” but forty years and our country and our government still can’t accept the uncomfortable truth that our policy with respect to illegal drugs has been an abysmal failure? If it is true that insanity is defined as repeating the same action and expecting a different result then I must accept that which I find unacceptable yet can no longer ignore that I live in an insane society and Obama’s recent remarks seems to confirm my suspicions.

The fact is that no one asked President Obama if legalizing marijuana was a good strategy to grow our economy. How dismissive and deceitful of the change candidate. The two part question President Obama never answered was why not legalize, control and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy and do we need that many victimless criminals?

The reality that Obama chooses to ignore is that much like the prohibition of alcohol in which gangs and violence were a natural byproduct of making an illegal substance available to satisfy a need and a demand. Once the XVIII Amendment was repealed the gangs and the violence disappeared at least until some other drugs became illegal in the late 1930s providing other gangs an opportunity to satisfy a need.

Seventy years later perhaps it is time to realize that by decriminalizing drugs cartels will have nothing to supply to the gangs, the gangs won’t have anything to distribute, the violence associated with drug crimes will decrease and we can use the over 40 billion dollars a year it costs to wage this failed war to address the crisis facing our economy.

Why we wouldn’t consider decriminalization as a possible solution to the existing drug problem south of the border and here at home was the first part of the question President Obama chose to ignore. The land of the free and the home of the brave constitutes 5 percent of the world’s population while constituting 25 percent of the world’s prison population and that was the second part of the question that the leader of the free world ignored.

Here’s a suggestion - decriminalize it – distinguish between use and abuse and treat the later as a health problem rather than a crime – since it costs more to incarcerate someone in New York State for one year than it does to send him/her to a state college for four years save the money wasted on a failed policy or use it to hire more teachers or provide health insurance to those that need it.

Regulate it like alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical drugs are or should be. Tax it – with a stamp to use, a stamp to grow and a stamp to sell, based on the previous years taxable income with a minimum tax established. Use the revenue saved for education, health insurance, housing and building a strong middle class. Now that’s change I can believe in.

President Obama recently announced that in the coming weeks he was going to be announcing the elimination of dozens of government programs “shown to be wasteful or ineffective.” In addition he said there would be “no sacred cows or pet projects.” He claimed that he was doing this because “All across America, families are making hard choices, and it’s time their government did the same.”

In the face of a failed drug policy instead of mocking proposed solutions and dismissing those who ask “why not decriminalize” it’s time for President Obama to make some hard choices about our drug war. The question which must be put to President Obama is will he eliminate this government’s war on drugs because is has been “shown to be wasteful or ineffective?” How Obama responds will be a measure of his administration’s credibility and more importantly a reflection of the content of this President’s character.

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