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article imageOp-Ed: The real issues for U.S. Federal legalization of marijuana

By Paul Wallis     Jul 28, 2014 in Crime
New York - Since The New York Times published an op-ed calling for the Federal legalization of marijuana the stakes have risen. The extraordinary maze of legal issues involved in this process is the real problem.
It’s a truly bizarre picture. The present marijuana laws date from the Nixon era. They’re basically antiques from a lost world which only exists now in the imagination of political fantasies.
From The New York Times opinion piece:
Many states are unwilling to legalize marijuana as long as possessing or growing it remains a federal crime. Colorado, for instance, allows its largest stores to cultivate up to 10,200 cannabis plants at a time. But the federal penalty for growing more than 1,000 plants is a minimum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10 million. That has created a state of confusion in which law-abiding growers in Colorado can face federal penalties.
Last August, the Justice Department issued a memo saying it would not interfere with the legalization plans of Colorado and Washington as long as they met several conditions: keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors or criminal gangs; prohibiting its transport out of the state; and enforcing prohibitions against drugged driving, violence and other illegal drugs. The government has also said banks can do business with marijuana sellers, easing a huge problem for a growing industry. But the Justice Department guidance is loose; aggressive federal prosecutors can ignore it “if state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust,” the memo says.
According to the Times, it wouldn’t even take an act of Congress to deal with the issues.
…it wouldn’t even require an act of Congress — the attorney general or the secretary of Health and Human Services could each do so — although the law should be changed to make sure that future administrations could not reimpose the ban.
Marijuana is currently listed under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which puts it in the same class as heroin, LSD and bufotenine, a toad venom. Crystal meth, in contrast, is listed under Schedule 2, with cocaine and other drugs which have a medical use.
A bit of history- and a lot of spin
Historically, criminalization was an erratic process, largely dependent on the degree of political hysteria in play. In 1906, the first statutory reference to marijuana was a requirement to list it as an ingredient on patent medicines. In 1910, a requirement for prescriptions for drugs classed as narcotics to be prescribed was enacted. Further state and Federal restrictions followed in the next 40 years.
By 1956, the Narcotics Control Act made first time possession of marijuana punishable by a mandatory sentence of 2 to 10 years with a fine of up to $20,000. The mandatory sentence provisions were repealed in 1970.
The laws moved slowly, if realistically, over the last 40 years to decriminalization and the use of medical marijuana. Now the move is to legalization. Currently, Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana use. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized its recreational use and/or medical use. The other 28 states still have total prohibition. The pattern of prohibition is that the Midwest and South retain the prohibition laws.
How the War on Drugs failed
For over 50 years now, many critics have said that the marijuana laws simply enrich organized crime and waste police time. In the past, grass was so cheap that you couldn’t get rich selling it. Now, thanks largely to the incredibly expensive, multiple billions per year, multigenerational Vietnam of the “War on Drugs,” there are even more billions of dollars being spent, daily, on drugs. Organised crime has never had it so good, thanks to these laws.
Illegality is good PR for crime. Criminals are considered heroes, not parasitic, murderous, jerks, simply because they supply things people want, even at obscene prices, and are seen to be breaking a stupid set of laws. Corrupt law enforcement adds another flavor to the scenario, compromising police reliability and integrity.
Many people also believe that politicians have been actively supporting anti-drug laws for political purposes. Direct and indirect associations between politicians around the world and organized crime aren’t exactly unknown, either. Major crime groups persist for years and prosper, as if they were directly protected by legislators.
The lesson of Prohibition has never been learned. Make something illegal, and you raise its value to crime. The more money in circulation around an illegal substance or commodity, the more dangerous criminal involvement becomes. People didn’t get shot for $10 worth of grass. They do get shot for grass which costs 20 times as much, and it’s the same amount of grass.
The drug laws have effectively created an entire global economy outside the law, directly funding organized crime. At no point during the entire period of illegality has the global drug trade even been seriously inconvenienced by the most hysterical political law and order campaigns.
The effect of legalization
The repeal of the original Prohibition laws derailed and de-funded massive organized crime operations almost overnight. Repeal of the marijuana prohibition laws will have the same effect. Repeal is now 50 years overdue. Thousands of people and tens of billions of dollars could have been saved if these laws had never been written. Drug gangs could never have grown so rich.
The amount of much-needed revenue money which states and law enforcement agencies could save by legalization is literally incalculable. It would have to be billions, annually. Legalization could also free up equally much-needed resources for real law enforcement. Licensed distribution could also provide a major revenue source for cash-strapped states.
There is no credible argument against legalization. There never was. If people can drink alcohol on their own responsibility, they can smoke or eat cannabis on the same basis. The mistakes of the War on Drugs were catastrophic for society. The catastrophe must end, sooner or later.
This time, the lesson must be learned — and understood.
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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