As Will mentioned below, Hempfest is this weekend. I’m sure most of you have noticed how much importance I place on the issue of drug policy, and as you’d expect, I’ll be spending much of the weekend down in Myrtle Edwards Park in the hemposium tent listening to speakers. I’m often told that by trying very openly and aggressively to bring about an end to drug prohibition, I’m fighting what will always be a losing battle. I very strongly disagree with that. At some point, it will simply become fiscally impossible for this country to sustain its massive prison system and its constantly growing international anti-drug expenditures and we will be forced to move in the other direction. I think it’s vital that we start to envision what the correct regulatory mechanisms should look like when that time comes.
It’s somewhat disheartening to remember that we could only end alcohol prohibition after the Great Depression actually hit and pragmatic public policy was the only way forward. Hopefully, the battle can be won before we hit some kind of financial armageddon. What makes me optimistic is that the numbers of those speaking up about the damage being done by the drug war is growing – and coming from more and more unexpected places. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is an organization, founded in 2002, of current and former law enforcement officials that now has over 5000 members, including former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper. The King County Bar Association commissioned a Drug Policy Project, led by now-State Representative Roger Goodman, that produced a well-researched report calling for an end to drug prohibition and a transition to having government regulate and control currently illegal drugs, instead of simply handing their distribution to criminal gangs who bring violence to our cities to protect their profits. Countries like Switzerland, Portugal, Australia, Canada, Holland, and even Russia, have taken steps to decriminalize drug use.
Recently, the UK drug law reform organization Transform released an impressive document for drug law reformers called Tools for the Debate. It’s like a play book for anyone who wants to be successful in breaking down the rhetoric and the propaganda that has kept this massively unsuccessful public policy afloat for so long. One of the major stumbling blocks to getting the message out is described here in the report:
In this political arena a virulent disease known as ‘Green Room Syndrome’ is epidemic, where strongly held beliefs on reform disappear as soon as the record button is pressed for broadcast. This is something we have experienced again and again: fellow-debaters who privately admit to agreeing with us in the Green Room before a media interview, only to feign shock and outrage at our position once the cameras and microphones are on. There are many in politics and public life who understand intellectually that the prohibition of drugs is unsustainable, but who default in public to moral grandstanding and emotive appeals to the safety of their children.
(You can see a video of Bill O’Reilly getting caught in this hypocrisy by a 16-year-old high school student who starts reading from O’Reilly’s own book)
There’s more optimism today in this area than there’s been for as long as I’ve followed this issue. All of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls (and Ron Paul) support stopping the federal crackdown on medical marijuana in the states that have made it legal. California has been the epicenter of this battle for years. Having the federal government back off is likely to be the first step towards letting states come up with a more sensible policy dealing with both marijuana and more dangerous illegal drugs. And hell, it might even happen sooner:
August 6 — A coalition of California marijuana growers and dealers has offered Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger one billion dollars to solve the current state budget crisis. The group, calling itself Let Us Pay Taxes, makes the offer through its web site LetUsPayTaxes.com. The offer comes at a time when the California legislature is deadlocked on a new budget and California has stopped issuing checks for vitally needed social services. Legislators are currently arguing over which programs will be cut in order to balance the budget.
“It is ridiculous that California can’t pay its bills,” said spokesman Clifford Schaffer. “It is a tragedy that they will cut badly needed services and programs such as medical care for the elderly and prison drug treatment when the money to fund all these programs and more is there and available. Everyone who is currently waiting for a check from the state should be enraged at this foolishness.”
Regulation and taxation of marijuana could produce six billion dollars in additional tax revenue, according to economic studies linked from LetUsPayTaxes.com. In addition, it could save up to ten billion dollars in enforcement costs. “That is a conservative estimate,” said Schaffer. “By other estimates, the revenues could be five times that. The economists are with us all the way on this one. Marijuana prohibition is an economic disaster.”
There’s no shortage of negative stereotypes when it comes to those who flock to Myrtle Edwards Park every year. A generation of Americans has grown up dismissing the movement to reform our drug laws as a fringe cause led by a bunch of idealistic hippies. But when you get past the stoner stereotypes, the larger cause we’ve been fighting for isn’t just right, it’s becoming necessary to start addressing a number of glaring problems in our society today.