How America Learned To Stop Worrying & Love MJ

May 28, 2013

For nearly a cen­tury, the United States has been one of the fiercest advo­cates and prac­ti­tion­ers of mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion in the world. At the height of the America’s anti-pot fer­vor in the 1950s and ’60s, one could even receive life impris­on­ment for sim­ple pos­ses­sion of the drug. But the puri­tan­i­cal fer­vor that once dom­i­nated the national dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing cannabis has been con­spic­u­ously absent of late. Ear­lier this month, the Col­orado State leg­is­la­ture, by order of a Novem­ber ref­er­en­dum, passed bills to imple­ment the legal­iza­tion and reg­u­la­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana use. Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers also approved legal­iza­tion by ref­er­en­dum on elec­tion day. And these events have recently been fol­lowed by more good news for sup­port­ers of cannabis law reform. The Orga­ni­za­tion for Amer­i­can States recently sug­gested that mar­i­juana legal­iza­tion could be a way to cut down on drug-violence in the west­ern hemi­sphere. Per­haps most impor­tant, the move­ment has finally found a voice on Capi­tol Hill, as rep­re­sen­ta­tives Earl Blu­me­nauer and Jared Polis sub­mit­ted leg­is­la­tion ear­lier this year that would end fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion of the drug, and allow states to tax and reg­u­late it as they see fit. As Bill Keller put it recently in the New York Times, “Today the most inter­est­ing and impor­tant ques­tion is no longer whether mar­i­juana will be legal­ized — even­tu­ally, bit by bit, it will be — but how.” Indeed, the feel­ing that the fur­ther lib­er­al­iza­tion of mar­i­juana laws is inevitable is backed up by the polling trends. Accord­ing to Gallup, as recently as 2005, two-thirds of Amer­i­cans opposed legal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana. Now 48% per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion sup­ports it. And a sim­i­lar poll from Pew puts the num­ber even higher – at 52%. But what exactly explains this sud­den change in Amer­i­can atti­tudes towards pot? Undoubt­edly, part of the rea­son for the increased accep­tance is demo­graphic. It might make you feel old to read this, but on Fri­day, both Bob Dylan and Tommy Chong cel­e­brated birth­days, turn­ing 72 and 74 respec­tively. The aging of these coun­ter­cul­ture icons hasn’t directly changed Amer­i­can atti­tudes towards mar­i­juana, of course, but it does under­score the fact that the vast major­ity of Amer­i­cans liv­ing today came of age dur­ing a time when mar­i­juana was widely in use. The data bear out the preva­lence of mar­i­juana use in today’s soci­ety, with 48% of Amer­i­cans claim­ing they have tried the drug at least once. But famil­iar­ity with mar­i­juana isn’t by itself going to drive changes in the legal code. Polit­i­cal con­sen­sus is nec­es­sary too. And while national polit­i­cal lead­ers aren’t nec­es­sar­ily falling over them­selves to endorse mar­i­juana legal­iza­tion, there isn’t a lot of room in the cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate to defend it, either. The polit­i­cal right has done an excel­lent job over the past thirty years con­vinc­ing the Amer­i­can pub­lic of the lim­i­ta­tions of gov­ern­ment. They have argued that even when the gov­ern­ment has the best of inten­tions it can be astound­ingly inef­fec­tive at achiev­ing its stated goals, and often cre­ates unin­tended and per­ni­cious con­se­quences to boot. This is the same argu­ment that has led to dereg­u­la­tion of indus­try, his­tor­i­cally low tax rates, and leg­isla­tive efforts like wel­fare reform. It’s only log­i­cal to extend it beyond social wel­fare pro­grams to some­thing like drug pol­icy. And sup­port­ers of end­ing mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion do indeed point to the unin­tended con­se­quences of the pol­icy as rea­son to legal­ize. Accord­ing to the FBI, in 2011, 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple were arrested on drug charges, and roughly half of those were for mar­i­juana, cost­ing bil­lions per year in law enforce­ment and court costs. And that doesn’t count the human toll on those arrested, like poten­tial loss of work, gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits, the right to vote, and stu­dent aid. Mean­while, the gov­ern­ment sim­ply hasn’t come any­where close to achiev­ing the stated goal of mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion, which is to pre­vent drug addic­tion. Accord­ing to the National Sur­vey on Drug Use and Health, since the begin­ning of the so-called war on drugs, the addic­tion rate in Amer­ica has remained steady at 1.3%, despite the fact that each year state and local gov­ern­ments spend more and more money – over $1 tril­lion in total – fight­ing the drug war. What’s more, the unin­tended con­se­quences of mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion do not stop at our bor­ders. In fact, the brunt of the side effects may be being felt in places like Mex­ico. And as my col­lege Tim Pad­gett wrote this week, it would appear that America’s allies in the West­ern hemi­sphere are look­ing seri­ously at end­ing mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion as a strat­egy for reduc­ing the drug vio­lence that is rav­aging much of Latin Amer­ica. A study issued this month by the Orga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States declared that it’s now time to seri­ously con­sider legal­iz­ing pot in order to cut down on this vio­lence. It’s esti­mated, for instance, that legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana in Amer­ica could elim­i­nate one-third of Mex­i­can cartel’s $30 bil­lion annual haul. We are in a polit­i­cal moment where social con­ser­vatism has been some­what side­lined as a polit­i­cal force by the grow­ing influ­ence of lib­er­tar­i­an­ism in the Repub­li­can party. This dynamic empha­sizes the ten­sion between lib­erty and moral­ity that has been with us since the found­ing of our coun­try, and at this moment lib­erty appears to be ascen­dant. But make no mis­take, the puri­tan­i­cal impulses that once made Amer­ica the lead­ing voice in mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion haven’t gone any­where — and advo­cates of reform should know that pen­du­lums, once set it motion, swing back again. Source: Time Mag­a­zine (US) Author: Christo­pher Matthews Pub­lished: May 28, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 Time Inc. Con­tact: letters@​time.​com Web­site: http://​www​.time​.com/​t​i​me/

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How Amer­ica Learned To Stop Wor­ry­ing & Love MJ

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