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Op-Ed: Moral advantages of legalizing marijuana

By Nancy Houser     Mar 23, 2012 in Politics
America's war on drugs has put millions of people in jail, estimated at 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens - predominantly blacks and minorities. With over 25% of the world's prisoners in the United States, it is one of the nation's greatest failures.
The moral advantages of legalizing marijuana are in sharp contrast to drug regulations being passed for the public good, with most debates involving the question, "What exactly is the public good?" Morality, personal choices, facts, health issues, and social order have become seriously intertwined, with marijuana meaning different things to different people.
According to New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, "Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then."
Gopnik added a bit of humor to the above statement, "A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one." But truthfully, he also feels that the scale and brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life.
Cannabis plant
Cannabis plant
Huffington Post has recently put out a post by Joshua Shulman, questioning, "Is our Criminal Justice system really just a way to keep large numbers of African-Americans out of mainstream society, like we did under Jim Crow?" His article has many interesting facts:
* Blacks make up 80 percent or even more of the prison population of drug offenders.
* White kids are being hospitalized for drugs at three times the rate of black kids.
* Prison rates are five times higher than they were 30 years ago.
* One quarter of black people are below the poverty rate today, which is about the same as it was in 1968.
* 1998 amendments to the Higher Education Act disallow financial aid, loans, and even work-study to drug convicts.
* Black students, who made up 18 percent of students in the study, accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once, and 39 percent of expulsions.
* Teachers in high-minority schools are paid $2,251 less on average. In New York high schools, the difference is over $8,000. It's over $14,000 in Philadelphia.
* Nixon "emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this without appearing to."
The year 1972 had become a turning point for decriminalizing marijuana, with the American Medical Association coming out in favor of dropping all penalties against those who possessed insignificant amounts of marijuana, stating that "there is no evidence supporting the idea that marijuana leads to violence, aggressive behavior or crime."
However, under the Reagan administration a get tough stance against all illegal drugs began, with over 600,000 arrests made in 1996 for violating marijuana laws. Longer sentences were given for selling marijuana than for murder, with blacks more likely to be incarcerated than any other race.
According to Get the Facts 2011, "Compared to Non-blacks, California’s African-American population are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, 12 times more likely to be imprisoned for a marijuana felony arrest, and 3 times more likely to be imprisoned per marijuana possession arrest. Overall ... these disparities accumulate to 10 times’ greater odds of an African-American being imprisoned for marijuana than other racial/ethnic groups."
After he left office, President Jimmy Carter wrote in the International Business Times that he agreed with a Global Commission on Drug Policy that showed the current global War on Drugs to be a “total failure," especially in the US.
When Carter left office in 1980, about 500,000 people were in prison. By the end of 2009, over 7.2 million people were incarcerated --- more than 3 percent of the United States --- and in 2011, 50.8 percent of Federal inmates were incarcerated for drug offenses.
He currently recommends the following steps be taken:
1. Decriminalized the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and add a full program to treat addicts.
2. Remove mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws.
3. Don’t rely on controlling drug imports from foreign countries. It doesn’t work and is responsible for “a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.”
4. Experiment with legal regulation of drugs and thus takeaway the power of organized crime.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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