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Legalizing marijuana may be for the best

Dr. Kenneth Hendrickson advocates for the cause

Guest Columnist

Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Updated: Thursday, September 15, 2011 01:09

Legalization may be for the best/9-15-11

Kenski1970 I Flickr

Marijuana plant

I don't use cannabis. I did during college, but it has been over 20 years since my last toke and I have no plans to return. I have familial and contractual obligations that make breaking the law with cannabis out of the question for me. 

That being said, I understand that cannabis is a permanent part of our society.  I have also come to believe that our current cannabis laws and policies do not achieve reasonable public health goals, are cost inefficient, are corrosive to the Constitution, and have contributed to the destabilization of governments around the world and communities throughout the United States.

In making such assertions, I am far from alone.  Fully 75% of the American people consider the Drug War failed, according to a 2008 Zogby poll.  Over 500 world economists from the best universities and agencies, including three who are Nobel Laureates, have endorsed the work of Harvard economist Jeffrey A. MironMiron has shown, among other things, that prohibition increases the price of cannabis and other drugs and actually spurs increased production and sales. 

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, touting such luminaries as Kofi Annan, Reagan administration officials like George Schulz and Paul Volcker, and leaders from business, the arts, and the law, recently published its review of the Drug War.  Like many before them, they concluded that prohibition policies principally championed by the United States are failing and are exacerbating the international drug problem. 

In 2009, a combined panel of Latin American presidents and politicians, including Fernando Ernando Henrique Cardoso (former President of Brazil), Cesar Gaviria (former President of Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (former President of Mexico) requested the US to review and revise its Drug War policies.  None of these observers are wild people or counter-cultural agitators. They represent the highest levels of leadership and achievement across many countries. 

And they all say the same thing:  the Drug War does not work.

Looking at the costs at home, we see that not only has the United States invested billions of dollars in this failed effort, it has also embraced legal and social practices that threaten our basic civil liberties.  Currently, the United States imprisons the most people in the world.  With about 5% of the world population, our nation maintains about 25% of the world prison population.  We imprison more people per 100,000 of the general population than Russia and China combined.

American police officers and federal agents conduct thousands of home invasions every year, too often with tragic unintended consequences.  Investigations, arrests, and sentencing are demonstrably unequal among our different racial groups.  For example, while adult African Americans account for about 9% of the population and about 13% of cannabis users, they account for nearly 25% of all cannabis/marijuana arrests.  Such heavy handed imprisonment policies and unequal enforcement breed hostility and contempt for the law.

Moreover, US policies are the most aggressive in the industrialized world for ensuring drug offenders do not successfully reform.  American rates for funding treatment and rehab are among the lowest. 

American laws dictate that drug offenders lose access to educational funding.  The 1998 Drug Free Student Loans act withholds student loans (not grants, just loans) from convicted drug offenders, even though research shows education is a major tool in rehabilitation of offenders.

I do not support drug abuse.  In reforming drug laws including the legalization of marijuana, I believe we can achieve better public health and public security results than we do now.  My goals are the same as most people:  reduction in health hazards associated with drug use including marijuana; special focus on keeping young people and children from beginning drug habits; reduction in drug related crimes; stabilization of neighbors like Mexico by reducing and eventually eliminating the power of organized crime.  

I also wish to strengthen our Constitutional liberties and work for a more efficient government here at home. These goals can be better achieved not with heavy handed prohibitionist policies, but with a blended mix of law enforcement, public education, treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts, and in some instances like marijuana legalization. 

Several countries now have regimes of legal decriminalization of cannabis possession.  Places like the Netherlands have practiced legal toleration of marijuana use for many years.  Portugal, having created a comprehensive drug policy reform, has enjoyed tremendous success in reducing drug related pathologies since 2001.  However, all countries decriminalizing marijuana still wrestle with problems related to production and supply.  Legalization will close that loop in the particular case of marijuana. 

No country has developed a magic formula and even the most successful, like Portugal, are works in progress.  I do not propose any utopian scheme.  Reform and repair of Drug War damage will take time, wisdom, and skill. However, the necessary components to begin are nowhere more abundant than the United States.  Our country still boasts the best medical science, the best universities, the highest number of top level trained professionals and trained jurists in the world.   We have social services professionals, health policy analysts, and an excellent media and information infrastructure. 

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Richard Farell
Mon Sep 26 2011 18:15
Dear Anonymous @Thu Sep 15 2011 02:25 Just a note of thanks for posting information about the 1972 Shafer Commission's reports on Marijuana. As noted by Wikipedia:
After the Commission's widespread study and analysis, it concluded that "Looking only at the effects on the individual, there, is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of the natural preparations of cannabis."
Specifically, the Commission recommended "a social control policy seeking to discourage marijuana use, while concentrating primarily on the prevention of heavy and very heavy use." The report noted that society can provide incentives for certain behavior without prosecuting the unwilling, citing the example that "the family unit and the institution of marriage are preferred means of group-living and child-rearing in our society. As a society, we are not neutral. We officially encourage matrimony by giving married couples favorable tax treatment; but we do not compel people to get married."
The Commission recommended decriminalization of simple possession, finding:
[T]he criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only 'with the greatest reluctance.
The Commission found that the constitutionality of marijuana prohibition was suspect, and that the executive and legislative branches had a responsibility to obey the Constitution, even in the absence of a court ruling to do so
David Raynes
Fri Sep 16 2011 04:02
This artiicle is very flawed and perpetuates some myths. Firstly Portugal is emphatically not "the best" model, that accolade in Europe undoubtedly goes to Sweden which tried liberal policies and pulled back.

Praying in aid the socalled "Global Commission" is rather ridiculous, even cursory examination of that shows that it was commissioned by no one. The advisors to it (listed on the wbesite) are the veteran legalisation campaigners, Mike Trace (UK), Alec Wodak (Australia) , Martin Jelsma (Netherlands) plus others. This is just the same well rehearsed team who have been pushing worldwide drug legalisation for years.

Mike Trace particularly is utterly disgraced in his home country and was forced to resign from his post at the UN when found to be working covertly for the George Soros financed world wide legalisation campaign. He was exposed in the UK paper the Daily Mail. In his own words he was working as a "fifth columnist" for the Soros campaign. His outlined plans exposed in e-mails that were printed in that paper, included using Ricahrd Branson and othrs in the sort of campaign the "Global Commission" represents. Tace's fingerprints are all over the Global Commision.

The publicity vehicle for the Global Commission was AVAAZ, another organisation financed by Soros through MoveOn.

Soros and few others have spent millions of dollars to undermine society and the west by pushing drug legalisation arguments. The Drug Policy Alliance (US) which Soros also supports has pushed for legalisation of "absolutely everything, but I do not know what to do about crack" one of their spokesmen said.

.A proposed policy change which will damage the US, for ever, is being bought by Soros dollars.

Jillian Galloway
Thu Sep 15 2011 10:31
We don't need to look to Portugal for an effective model for marijuana, we only need to look to our own very successful laws for alcohol - legal supermarket sales to adults (with id), legal homebrew for personal use and sharing (but no sales), licensed producers and sellers, prices set low enough to prevent illegal competition, government-regulated quality standards.

Parents have to decide if they want drug dealers selling marijuana to kids or supermarkets selling marijuana to adults. Forty years of failed prohibition has taught us that "nobody selling marijuana to nobody" is NEVER going to happen.

Thu Sep 15 2011 02:25
Why can't we all just agree that if you think cannabis is not for you; don't do it. If you do fancy the flower; by all means knock yourself out. Just don't violate anyone else's rights while doing so (drugged driving etc).

I just don't understand why anyone thinks they can tell me what I can or cannot put in my body. Forget the "it's medicine" vs "it's poison" nonsense... If I want to put clorox in a needle and stick it in my eye that's MY choice.

Why do you think the constitution says otherwise? I read it and it seems to say, to me, that if a specific power is not granted to the government (federal and state) then control of that power was retained by the individual. That's me and you! We own our bodies and nobody can tell us otherwise.

Just because there is a law doesn't make it right. Cannabis prohibition is tragic. Nobody wins (except everyone who make a bunch of money, like law enforcement, alcohol, big pharma, prisons, gangs, organized crime, cartels... probly others, but I'm tired).

If you've never read the Shafer Commission's report in 1972 you really should. THEY told the truth and it's backed up with science and footnotes. Not talking points in a 60 second back forth between NORML and a former drug czar (current drug czar's are forbidden to be on live TV with NORML and probly others... wonder why?). WHY does the media think having both sides is "balanced"? If one side is not telling the truth POINT IT OUT!

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