Drugs, elephants and American prisons

April 30, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate–Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own–

Are the 305 million people living in the United States the most evil in the world? Is this the reason why the U.S., with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and an incarceration rate five times as high as the rest of the world?

Or is it a matter of a criminal justice system that has gone dramatically wrong, swamping the prison system with drug offenders?

That rhetorical question, asked on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Virginia Senator Jim Webb, fits into what looks like an accelerating shift in public sentiment on the way that a long parade of administrations has been dealing with illegal drugs.

Advocates of drug reform sensed a change in the public mood even before Webb, a Democrat who served as secretary of the Navy under Republican Ronald Reagan, introduced a bill last month to set up a blue-ribbon commission of “the greatest minds” in the country to review the criminal justice system and recommend reforms within 18 months.

No aspect of the system, according to Webb, should escape scrutiny, least of all “the elephant in the bedroom in many discussions … the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200 percent.”

The elephant has ambled out of the bedroom and has become the object of a lively debate on the pros and cons of legalising drugs, particularly marijuana, among pundits on both sides of the political spectrum, on television panels and in mainstream publications from the Wall Street Journal to TIME magazine.

True watersheds in public attitudes are rarely spotted at the time they take place but the phrase “tipping point” comes up more and more often in discussions on the “war on drugs”.

“Something has changed in the past few months,” says Bruce Mirken, of the Marijuana Policy Project, one of a network of 30 groups advocating the legalisation of the most widely-used illegal drug in the United States. “In the first three months of this year we’ve been invited to national cable news programs as often as in the entire year before.”


Allen St. Pierre, who leads the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), also feels that the most serious public discussion in more than a generation is getting under way. “In mid-March,” he said in an interview, “there were 36 separate marijuana bills pending in 24 states — on legalization, de-criminalization, medical marijuana. Not all the bills will make it, but they are a sign of change.”

So are public opinion polls. On a national level, they show an increase from about 15 percent in support of marijuana legalization four decades ago to 44 percent now. The numbers differ from state to state. In California, the most populous, a recent survey showed 54 percent in favour.

St. Pierre sees a confluence of reasons for the shift in attitudes — baby boomers, a generation familiar with drug use, are in charge of the country’s institutions; the dismal economy makes people question public expenditures that do not seem essential; and the drug violence in Mexico that has begun spilling across the border.

Contrary to widespread perceptions, marijuana accounts, by many estimates, for considerably more than half the illegal drugs smuggled from Mexico to the United States.

The argument for legalizing marijuana, and eventually other drugs, is straightforward: it would transform a law-and-order problem into a problem of public health. A side effect of particular importance at a time of deep economic crisis: it would save billions of dollars now spent on law enforcement and add billions in revenues if drugs were taxed.

If drug policies were decided by economists, the debate would have begun earlier and might be over by now. Four years ago, 500 economists including three Nobel prize winners urged the administration of George W. Bush to show that marijuana prohibition justified “the cost to taxpayers, foregone tax revenues and numerous ancillary consequences…”

Such as prisons holding, in the words of Senator Webb, tens of thousands of “passive users and minor dealers.”

While they contribute to prison overcrowding in some states, they have little to fear in others. To fully grasp the bizarrely uneven treatment of marijuana use, consider the annual “smoke-out” on April 20 in Boulder, Colorado.

There, on a sunny Monday, a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 converged on the campus of the University of Colorado to light up marijuana joints, whose smoke hung over the scene like a grey blanket. Overhead, an aircraft dragged a banner with the words “Hmmm, smells good up here.” Police watched but made no arrests and issued no fines.

Even the most optimistic of reform advocates do not see an end to prohibition in the near future. President Barack Obama endeared himself to reformers during his election campaign by an honest answer to a question on past drug use: “Yes, I inhaled. Frequently. That was the point.” But his spokesman recently said Obama opposed legalization.

It remains to be seen whether that stand remains the same if Webb’s proposed commission, assuming it will be established, came up with recommendations for deep change. That happened to the last report by a blue-ribbon commission on the subject.

The so-called Shafer report, whose members were appointed by then-president Richard Nixon, found in 1972 that “neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety” and recommended that there should be no criminal penalties for personal use and casual distribution.

Nixon rejected the report. He had already declared “war on drugs”, and American prisons soon began filling up.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I agree, I just wish there was some way to fast track these growing debates right up to congress. Most educated people are ready to debate the war on drugs and it’s benefit (if any) to the taxpayers.

Posted by Nick J | Report as abusive

Very good article. It’s refreshing to hear this topic discussed without fearing a swat team breaking down the door and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down. Using deadly force to stop someone from using cannabis is simply insane. Listening to John Walters (formerly with ONDCP) making the think tank rounds lately and exclaim that we are winning the drug war makes one see the absolute inability of the prohibitionist to reconcile reality with their position. If what we are doing now is ‘winning’ then maybe we need to lose for a while and see how that works because ‘winning’ has brought the drug gangs to our very doorstep and inside our larger cities. Prohibition makes the wrong people rich.

Posted by TYC | Report as abusive

Bernd, thanks for your article, you’ve written pieces similar to this and in the past the comments have told the tale that you’re preaching to the choir. The vast majority of Americans are sick of being taxed to their knees to pay for this ludicrous drug war but with the economic “crisis” and terrorist “threat” and swine flu “epidemic” they’re keeping us very distracted.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Interesting article but one fatal flaw. America has “full prisons” because we are one of the few countries in the world that has a backbone and actually enforces their laws. Somalia, the netherlands, Columbia, panama, mexico and a couple hundred other countries have practical anarchy on the streets and empty prisons because they choose to ignore their real problems. You can always say you have no problems when the 800 pound bear is sleeping in your living room.

Posted by john | Report as abusive

Drugs are bad the drug war is worse.

Let our people go!

Posted by Ray | Report as abusive

Amen brother! I can attest to the (so far) lack of danger. Mind you, I’ve only been researching for some35 years now so it’s too soon to tell for certain but…

Posted by bob marcy | Report as abusive

I’ll go one step farther: ALL drugs should be legal. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and their experience has been positive. Now if you are caught with a 10 day supply of your drug or less you face an administrative court, not a criminal court. We can do that here in the USA. A group of 10,000 very serious policemen, prosecutors, attorneys and citizens have formed a group to legalize ALL drugs, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (http://leap.cc ) They see what happened when we legalized alcohol in 1932 as a good example of how drug legalization would work. We can’t stop drugs. They’re sick of chasing drug users and sending innocent people to prison for decades just because they like to get high. This foolish war on drugs has lasted 37 years and cost us over a TRILLION dollars and we are not an inch closer to stopping drugs. How many millions of Americans are we going to lock up in prison for decades? Legalize ALL drugs now. Mark Montgomery boboberg@nyc.rr.com

Posted by Mark Montgomery | Report as abusive

Distracted is the right word. This is very much a situation that is ignored. Marijuana use is ubiquitous among Americans and we need to address the reasons why we are choosing marijuana over alcohol as our drug of choice. Alcohol causes more deaths and injuries each year.

Posted by Robin Reese | Report as abusive

You know, everyone in the black community (I am black) knows that the war on drugs is just a money making scam that private prisons only profited from. When you have a dude spending half his life in prison for selling dilluted cocaine, and the cat selling the pure gets off with a slap on the wrist, you know the war on drugs is a joke!

I bet if all the money that was invested in putting petty criminals into Crime University USA was spent on education and programs to give better opportunities to people (other than selling or using illegal drugs) we wouldn’t spend nearly as much on those programs, and the benefit to society would be far better.

Legalize the crap and tax it!

Posted by Duane | Report as abusive

Two groups are most opposed to decriminalization of drugs — especially marijuana: The drug cartels and Law Enforcement.
In both cases it’s about the money. The cartels get rich from black market pricing and Law Enforcement gets huge budgets and ever growing bureaucracies to fight the “war”.
Meanwhile, under mandatory sentencing, people who are law abiding in every other way are sent to prison for decades simply for possessing marijuana.
Let’s start asking rational questions:
Why do so many people enjoy drugs and use them frequently?
Are they all insane, depraved, or sick?
Should a democratic government make laws to protect us from ourselves?
Has prohibition ever worked?
What is the cost/benefit analysis of the “War on Drugs”?
Are the Puritans alive and well in America?
If you take the profit out of the drug trade by decriminalization, what ancillary problems might be mitigated or eliminated?
For instance, what if the terrorists in Afpakistan couldn’t make millions selling opium and cocaine base to fund their operations?

Posted by Mimbreno | Report as abusive

I have volunteered with a Prison ministry group for years and been in several prisons including death row in Texas. What I have learned is that prior to the 70s the prisons contained only the most violent and twisted members of society. As more drug related offenders entered following laws from the 60’s and 70’s these young drug offenders looked for a mentor in prison and the leaders in prison are these terribly violent people. So a drug offender enters as a relatively harmless idiot and come out a much more violent criminal.
Prison has become “Crime University” in its modern form.

Posted by Grant McCall | Report as abusive

The “War on…anything” will end up being a failure. They never define how we will know we have won such a “war”, or who the enemy is, etc. The whole term is for the politicians to use to make it sound like they mean business. These types of “wars” go on and on for decades. The so called enemy never surrenders. It is only years later that we realize what a waste it all was.
Watch out for another unending war, the war on terror.

Posted by Rose | Report as abusive

Actually us having backbone is the opposite of the truth, the whole reason marijuana was made illegal was to kill the hemp industry and to arrest Latin Americans decades ago because some corporate elites were having their profits cut into. So we were bending over for special interests in the first place and now the only reason why we keep them illegal is because of the market we’ve built in arresting these people (prisons, more cops, enforcement agencies, etc.). There’s nothing honorable about the drug war, an enormous percentage of non-violent drug users get arrested and go to jail and turn into violent criminals.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

We need to make room for real criminals: corporate executives; gun enthusiasts; obese people; parents of truants.

Posted by Dennis | Report as abusive

WASTE OF MONEY – Yes, and that is an understatement. Not too long ago, I sat at a USCG base in Puerto Rico. I was curious to know how much of our tax dollars each “snow flake” and “marijuana leaf” cost the tax payer to paint onto the side of these “drug busting” cutters (one symbol is painted for one bust) Using the MOST conservative of estimates (cost of ship/maintenance /fuel/personnel/and NOT including miscellaneous costs)I guesstimated taxpayers pay the US Gov. AT LEAST $100,000,000 for each bust that likely nets street values of less than $1,000,000 These 5 ships working for the past 9 years have only netted about 30 busts TOTAL. Not impressive and quite a waste.

Posted by J Litzenberger | Report as abusive

It is interesting that some still believe incarceration of drug users will deter drug use or that tougher laws and longer sentences deter use. The facts speak for themselves in both cases. After all the years of this war on drugs, we have even more drugs than before on our streets and we have them in our prisons. California went to the extreme when it enacted its Three Strikes Law which can earn a life sentence for simple drug possession. 690 people have been caught in this net; none are eligible for any drug program in prison until they serve 23 years of their sentence. Each will cost taxpayers over a million dollars to warehouse. Even through drug treatment cost a fraction of incarceration? So today more Americans are in prison and the cost to operate these prisons come on the backs education, health care and even front line police and fire services! This mentality could not be anymore backwards or counterproductive. It is truly impossible to justify or support what we know after years of this costly and destructive experiment on our own citizens. Nothing could be more un-American!

Posted by Frank Courser | Report as abusive

To anyone opposed to the legalisation of marijuana….Why do you think alcohol and cigarretes should be legal and not marijuana?

Posted by Ax | Report as abusive

John says

“the only reason why we keep them illegal is because of the market we’ve built in arresting these people (prisons, more cops, enforcement agencies, etc.). ”

I am impressed with the comment section so far. The drug war is a scam and an all-out assualt on the principle of freedom. Do we want more prisons, cops, enforcement agencies? Besides use and distribution, how many offenses are related to prohibition? Prohibition is a cottage industry for the police state. Let’s cut crime and gov’t by about 80% and just stop this non sense today? The propoganda machine would never allow this simple truth. This is a big fight against one of the many dirty gov’t machinations.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

Good post! The war on drugs must stop. The cartels will be brought down with legalization. With the war on drugs as a federal excuse for jobs, over-reaching legislation, and to secretly funnel tax money into secret programs, the pluses from legalization tremendously outweigh the minuses to taxpayers. But the feds are in the business and will not give it up easily. A sensible argument for it being illegal doesn’t exist in the free world.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

Talk about criminal justice driven industry, the urine testering labs must blanch at the very mention of legal marijuana, not to mention the prison guards unions.

Posted by Claude Brigante | Report as abusive

[…] Elephants, And American Prisons The Great Debate

Posted by Drugs, Elephants, And American Prisons – Grasscity.com Forums | Report as abusive

“St. Pierre sees a confluence of reasons for the shift in attitudes — baby boomers, a generation familiar with drug use, are in charge of the country’s institutions…”

This is not quite true yet, especially when we’re talking about our federal law making bodies. The oldest baby boomer is only 63. The average age of a Senate committee leader is 67. I’m not sure what the average age of a committee leader is in the House of Representatives, but it is also way up there. The real power brokers in our law making bodies, those that set the agenda, tend to be really old. Look at sites like this one I’m linking you to that rank lawmakers by how powerful they are and you’ll see that average of the most powerful is up there approaching 70. http://www.congress.org/congressorg/powe r_rankings/index.tt

In the coming years baby boomers will really take control of our lawmaking bodies. Most baby boomers have smoked pot. Those born in the 40s are less likely than those born in the 50s to have done it, but males born in the second half of the 40s who have graduate degrees are more likely than not to have smoked it according to government statistics, and most of our lawmakers born in the 40s are males with graduate degrees, so there is a high statistical likelihood they’ve smoked pot themselves. They’re going to be a lot less opposed to legalization than those who came before them who in most cases have never tried marijuana and who tend to be most afraid of it and most opposed to legalization.

Posted by Bill G. | Report as abusive

Criminalizing Marijuana leads youth to recognize the taboo of the plant and actively seek it out. Once they have used it, it becomes painfully obvious to them that all of the demonizing of the plant that they have heard is not actually true. This in turn leads them to support legalization. Every generation that is raised to believe in the drug war will eventually turn against it. In 2012, people who were born in 1994 will be voting for the first time and will be replacing voters who were born in the 10’s, 20’s and 30’s. It will truly not be long before politicians must either jump on the legalization bandwagon or be left behind.

Posted by Luke | Report as abusive

John said:

“Interesting article but one fatal flaw. America has “full prisons” because we are one of the few countries in the world that has a backbone and actually enforces their laws.”

John, did we just grow this backbone since the late 70s or what? If you look at historical numbers you would see that our incarceration rate was relatively low and relatively flat throughout the 20th Century until 1979 when we hit a new record high. It climbed like crazy after that to the point that we now have several times as many people in prison in total and on a per capita basis than we ever did at any time prior to 1979. This has been a radical departure for us.

If you look around the world you will see several countries with lower crime rates than ours that have incarceration rates several times lower than ours. I’m not talking about countries where they are hanging people left and right, chopping off hands and all that. I’m talking about Western democratic “free” countries. Our incarceration rate is several times higher than the average in Europe, and I don’t think these countries are in any more of a state of anarchy than ours. The Netherlands isn’t in a state of anarchy either. Their incarceration rate is actually one of the higher ones in Europe, believe it or not.

I suggest you do some research. Look at crime rates here and around the world. Look at incarceration rates, both today’s numbers and historical numbers, and I think you’d be surprised by what you see. What has happened here in the last 30 years or so is unprecedented. It has actually resulted in some drop in crime, but at an enormous cost, in financial and societal terms. And if you look around you can see other nations have been able to reduce crime without more than quadrupling the number of people they have in prison. We’ve been tough on crime with our shotgun approach, but has this been the best use of our system and our limited resources? I say it’s past time we try to be smart on crime rather than just tough on crime. We need to evaluate what we’ve been doing, look at what has worked well for us, what hasn’t, what has been a complete waste, etc. We have backbone. Do we have brains, good sense, to go along with it?

Posted by Bill G. | Report as abusive

It’s okay to do another study, but back in 1944 an extensive report was done ( http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Libr ary/studies/lag/lagmenu.htm ) under New York’s Mayor La Guardia. The results were very conclusive, and was a real embarassment to the US Government at the time. We must remember that government officials like control, and the “war on Drugs” works as a wonderful tool for them.

Posted by Michael Metti | Report as abusive

It’s a plant! A plant people! A flower, we picked a fight with a flower, and were loosing. No one has the right to outlaw a living thing least of all a flower which has never been known to kill anyone.
Tobacco killed 435,000 people in 2000, NSAIDs “aspirin” killed 7,600, and marijuana zero.(1) Yet tobacco is a multi billion dollar industry and you can get the family pack of aspirin even if your five years old (take twenty and that’ll be your last headache).
This “war on drugs” makes no sense and is immoral. Thousands of people are dying every year in Mexico at the hands of these prohibition era gangs or “drug cartels” and we’re locking up hundreds of thousands of our own citizens every year. Over a plant?

(1)”Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000,” Journal of the American Medical Association, March 10, 2004, Vol. 291, No. 10

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

drug cartels are the pharmaceutical companies and vice versa…

As long as we tag “issues” with money… there will always be lobbyists… lobbyists really run our government!!

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2 009/04/30/ownership/index.html

Posted by Drew | Report as abusive

The prison system is designed to take criminals out of the system.

It is good to try and rehabilitate them. But remember that crime harms society, and innocent people.

If people refuse to rehabilitate, then this is not the nations problem. It should simply lock these people away, where they can no longer harm or inconvenience society.

Posted by Anon. | Report as abusive

Hello I created The Bureau of Inmate Advocates this year. I think our Justice System does not fit the crime with the punishment. Having an independent organization like the one I created made up of citizens who will be able to lobby for and fight for release of and inmate rights.

We need to change our sentencing guidelines with moral judgment and not personal belief fueled by power crazed politicians and judges.

I talked with drug dealers sentence to 30 years or more and another inmate sentence to 10 years for vehicle manslaughter.
A third did 3 years for having pot seeds in his basement and he happen to live in a school zone which was 1000 feet as the crow flies. But not visible form his house and if walked or drove it was more than 1000 feet.

We do support do the crime do your time but some just seems unfair. Some are punished while in jail but that’s another topic.

And as for water boarding when u see it on on video looks scary but they are not actually drowning and killing them so we are split even on that belief half of us say yes he other half of us says no.

Posted by The Bureau Of Inmate Advocates | Report as abusive

Making real prison reforms, and not just for drug offenders, would save salvageable lives and save us lots of tax payer dollars.

The Pew Reseach Center for the States, says we incarcerate more of our population than any other democracy in the world; more than Mexico, more than India. We do not have the most evil people in the world. Our justice system has gone dramatically wrong.

Posted by Pray4Peace | Report as abusive

Auto mechanics sell struts and tuneups you don’t need. Stock brokers sell investments that don’t make money. Law enforcement officials would be out of a job if crime rates dropped. Politicians can always run a “Tough on Crime” campaign. If we run out of criminals our leaders will find or make some. It beats telling your constituents how you’re going to solve global warming or the financial crisis.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Something is terribly wrong with America’s criminal justice system when we mete out life sentences for our own citizens for simple drug possession, yet give 15 year sentences to terrorist whose plan is to kill hundreds if not thousands of our Americans? Marri Admits Conspiring With Al-Qaeda Operatives; Faces Up to 15 Years!!!!!

Posted by Frank Courser | Report as abusive

5% of the population and 25% of the WORLDS prisoners is shocking and robably seen by a lot of the world as a VERY sick society……… and buried inside that statistic, doesn’t Texas have the highest execution rate on the planet??

Time to figure out what really is “criminal”, and repeal the stupid stuff.

Posted by Gonzo | Report as abusive

The era of slavery isn’t over yet. We’re all slaves after a fashion. We live in a place where our only value comes from our ability to follow orders and do work we’d rather not do. Or at least not do that particular way. But because we “need the money” we let our own dreams go by the way side.

Most working folks are decent enough. We just want to live a good life and not interfere negatively in the lives of others if we can help it. But how sad to live in this world your whole life and not know yourself and your potential in all its dimensions. That should be the reason for living. To discover your humanity to the fullest. Instead we chase money. We chase money as if the breath of life from the mouth God itself were in the dollar amount we’re after. Interesting that it says “In God We Trust” on our money.

How obscene is it that we want to “fix” a system that pays the lowest wage it can get away with paying for the hardest jobs, and pays not by the job but by the hour? In effect asking you spend the majority of the most productive and creative hours of your time doing what you “have to do” instead of what you want to do. And paying whole sale for your time.

And how wonderful that as the consumer you get to be the back bone of this economy by going to the retail outlets so that you can pay two to three times more than you were paid to help produce all of that stuff by your employers.

Sounds like a great deal when you really think about it doesn’t it? And some will ask, “well what else would you do? Just sit around?”

And that would be my point. How sad, that when we attempt to think about having a life that doesn’t involve some mindless job, most people don’t know what to do. How tragic that the idea of discovering your inner gifts and talents doesn’t even occur to many working folks. They don’t have time to think about anything else but making ends meet. Should any human being live that way?

Is it any wonder people turn to drugs? Drug use is just a symptom of a much larger problem. And a war on people who are suffering is the last thing this nation needs. Our health care and financial systems are money centered. The human being is just a chunk of money being accounted for as it traverses the system. How obscene. How insane. How can it be that the mother of our president had to argue with an insurance bean counter on her own death bed? And the only reason we know about her is because her son is so successful. How many more suffer like this?

But when the human argument is made. It is most often met with ridicule. To think that you might jeer me for valuing you. Does that make sense at all? All of our social systems must be human centered. And the human must be of highest ultimate value in ANY system we design. We have an opportunity as citizens, to let our government know that the business sector needs to be put in its place. And that no matter what happens in this so called crisis, that we will not allow our families to be uprooted or evicted.

It is a reasonable demand. If the govt can spend our money to keep businesses afloat then surely they can spend our money to keep us in our homes. And if all else fails. Money be damned. Families come first.

Posted by Benny Acosta | Report as abusive

I don’t smoke pot or snort cocaine, but my sister had cancer for 8 years until it took her life. Marijuana was the best drug among all the cancer pills and pain meds she took the last couple of years. If you can’t eat you starve to death. She got 8 years out of a 6 month initial prognosis – all because she smoked pot when she needed an appetite.

Drug abuse should be dealt with in treatment centers. People do heavy drugs because of not only physical addiction, but underlying issues that lead to neverending failed cycles of attempted sobriety. Treatment centers know what they’re doing with alcohol and drugs. Prisons only harden people and leave them unable to live among society with felonies as roadblocks to ever leading a normal life.

Hopefully, we’ll do the right thing and eventually legalize everything and begin (as many municipalities do now with ‘Drug Courts’) to deal with offenders as sick people needing help, not bad people. Drug use shouldn’t be a crime. The “War on Drugs” has been a catastrophe.

Posted by Billy | Report as abusive

As another poster already mentioned even law enforcers are sick and tired of this useless waste on drugs. Do as you do with cigarettes and alcohol: legalize all drugs and then tax them high enough so that the additional tax revenues combined with the savings garnered in law enforcement outweigh the costs of dealing with drug use. A nice side effect would be that Afghanistan would suddenly be able to import opium legally, thereby decriminalizing the entire country and drying out the terrorist morass (as you would not be keen on destroying your most lucrative market).

Posted by Assam | Report as abusive

while drug offenders, especially users, are somewhat victimless in their “crimes” relaxed punishments have to be coupled with legalization and an attitude of tolerance.
a well informed public, who is’nt told to just not do something, who are educated on the true nature of mind altering substances and who are cultivated in a society that intelligently approaches the issue of addiction and of treatment, is far less likely to be over run by a “drug epidemic” than one that lives in the current state of fear mongering and misinformation that is our current course. we have made drugs the huge problem that they are, people were doing not so bad for 100,000 years before that.

Posted by jeremy | Report as abusive

Citizen’s in Florida are proposing that medical marijuana be legalized, People United for Medical Marijuana (www.pufmm.org)developed a ballot initiative for the 2010 election cycle. Kim Russell, the chairperson of PUFMM is hoping to get state legislators to initiate a bill for the second half of the legislative session this year. Alas, our legislature is
dominated by Republicans and will have a hard time finding one with guts to sponsor a bill, but we will.
Join us at Lake Eola Park this Saturday!

Posted by scott d. | Report as abusive

First: I don’t support outright legalization. Instead, I support separating drug policy from the legal system. That is, finding ways outside the legal system, through health care, social policy, etc, to curtail use as much as possible, and effectively monitor and measure it where we can’t prevent it!
Obviously, the legal system, and the black and white moralistic mindset around which it is built is entirely the wrong approach to the problem.
There are no easy answers here, but just simply locking up anyone who has anything to do with drugs, and limiting the use of narcotics in medicine to levels that doctors know is not always clinically valid, is clearly counterproductive!

Posted by Glen | Report as abusive

Another elephant in the bedroom: who funds and promotes drug prohibition propaganda?

We know who wants it maintained: Big Pharma, prison guard unions, certain factions of law enforcement, district attorneys, large drug cartels, large grow ops, breweries, infrared equipment manufacturers, the drug testing industry, and those in their pay (read heavily lobbied elected representatives).

Why? Only the naive believe it is because they are interested in public welfare. The simple answer is money, and job security.

And never forget that forfeiture laws provide a steady stream of income to the DEA and local LEOS. Only in drug cases can the government confiscate property that was gainfully acquired through legitimate means, and do so with little or no oversight. That, in my book, is stealing from the public, pure and simple.

Never forget that prisons are now for profit and their stocks are traded on Wall Street. More prisoners = more profit.

I invite anyone to challenge what I have stated above.

Posted by Brinna | Report as abusive

According to the Field Poll released yesterday, 56 percent of California voters support legalizing marijuana for recreational use and taxing its sale. This is exactly what California Assembly Bill 390 would do.

Californians understand the economic benefits of ending a policy that has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and imprisoned millions of otherwise law-abiding, contributing Americans.

AB 390 would create jobs, generate $1.2 billion in new direct tax revenue, reduce crime, reduce prison overcrowding, cut funding to drug cartels, reduce police corruption, and protect our public lands.

If you live in California and favor legalizing marijuana for adults, YOU can make it happen. Tell your state representatives to support California Assembly Bill 390. It’s easy. Visit yes390.org

Posted by AB390 | Report as abusive

To Robin Reese:

The question really is:

There seems to be an excuse for everybody that wants to get stoned to get stoned but why is being sober and with a clear mind such a bad thing?

Regarding the legalization of marijuana, it’s just another alcohol type of culture in that whole societies get hooked on smoking it just like whole societies are hooked on drinking wine, vodka or schnnapps; producing it and harvesting it while allowing other more savvy sections to pass them by. You see an impoverished section of society that is exclusively growing wine, with severe cases of alcoholism that run for generations and it will happen the same with marijuana.

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

[…] Check it:http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate  /2009/04/30/drugs-elephants-and-america n-prisons/ […]

Posted by CompareOnlineTrading.net – Blog » Blog Archive » Drugs, elephants and American prisons | Report as abusive

I didn’t realize that the US had 25% of the world’s prisoners. Just like universal health care this is another problem for President Obama to tackle.

Posted by david wayne osedach | Report as abusive

Anubus, you are so cynical. I guess it was late and you were tired.

Actually I tend to agree. When Alaska decriminalized MJ it took State Troopers and the State Courts to stop the local municipalities from fining people for possession. Their only defense at trial was “how will we replace the revenues generated from the fines?” The judge had no sympathy with the mayors or their attorneys.

I hope the current economic crisis coupled with the carnage south of the boarder and the fact that Oakland, Ca. has just established a tax on Medical MJ will spur on our legislators local as well as national to legalize Marijuana within 2 years.

As for the other drugs, people have a perception that they are some how more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco or even over the counter drugs. In reality they are not. Alcohol is addictive and you can OD on it so how does it differ from heroin? It really does not but people perceive it differently. Like, you can use alcohol without addiction but not heroin. This is false. Many people use heroin without ever becoming addicted to it. Psychology and physiology have both shown through tests and studies that addiction has more to do with the person than the substance. For example Alcohol is not addictive unless the individual body chemistry produces certain enzymes that break it down differently than most others. The other drugs are no different. If we could end the prohibition on alcohol without societal collapse, I doubt it would happen with for heroin and cocaine.

At the very least MJ should be removed from the controlled substance list and legalized. The War on Drugs causes so much pain and suffering that only an authoritarian sadist would want to see this policy continued. There is no cost effectiveness. There is no reduction in drug use. It maintains black markets that fund gangs and terrorists. It is responsible for creating the fastest growing subculture in the US, the disenfranchised ex-con whose voice cannot be heard since he is not allowed to vote. Let’s see if this administration does something or turns its back on the American people.

Glenn, tries to draw a line between decriminalization and commercialization. I have to disagree based upon on of my major points and that is to dismantle the black markets funding gangs and terrorists. This cannot be done without commercialization like alcohol and tobacco at least for MJ. You might be able to get away with clinicalization of heroin and cocaine. I do not think it is really necessary though and the costs must still be minimized.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

“When Alaska decriminalized MJ it took State Troopers and the State Courts to stop the local municipalities from fining people for possession. Their only defense at trial was “how will we replace the revenues generated from the fines?” ” – posted by B.Free

If it’s sold legally, it can be taxed – so the revenues can be replaced.

Bernd, I see only one problem with your post – you preach to the converted. Most, if not all, of your readership agrees with you. Too bad the ones who can make the decisions either didn’t read it or ignored it. IMHO your post must be mailed to all members of all branches of power, Obama being the 1st on that mailing list.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

[…] http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate […]

Posted by Drugs, Elephants and American Prisons | West Coast Cannabis | Report as abusive

[…] From:http://blogs.reuters.com/great-deba te/2009/04/30/drugs-elephants-and-americ an-prisons/ […]

Posted by Drugs, elephants and American prisons « Trader Aaron’s Weblog | Report as abusive

Thank you for a very thoughtful article. It would be nice if law enforcement became keepers of social peace rather than a money making exercise and a witch hunt for minorities such as marijuana uses.

Posted by michael uk | Report as abusive

Did we not learn anything from alcohol prohibition?
Marijuana prohibition has been an indisputable failure. Legalize it and take the money out of the black market. Marijuana is less dangerous than either alcohol or tobacco yet both of those substances are legal (and should be). Every year our prison system releases violent offenders to make room for non-violent pot smokers. That is just plain insanity. Think of how better society would be served if our law enforcement efforts were directed more towards dealing with violent individuals. We would also save BILLIONS of dollars on prosecution costs and jail expenses every year.
There is also substantial evidence indicating marijuana has numerous medical uses as well.
This is a plant, legalize it and regulate it. We need to look at this issue using nothing more than basic common sense. Isn’t it time to drop the “Reefer Madness” stupidity?

Posted by Common Sense | Report as abusive

Here’s the thing on legalization: Being a Californian, and knowing that marijuana is our largest cash crop (to the tune of billions of dollars more than any other), I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea of full legalization.
The marijuana economy in my state is, by and large, NOT fueled by Mexican cartels as legalization proponents seem to think it is. Most of California’s ganja is grown by local farmers. This creates a unique chain of supply and demand separate from any corporate or governmental regulatory authority.
The problem I see with legalization is that the sweet sticky icky that Californians love so much will become a commodity similar to tobacco, chemically modified by Philip Morris and sold in packs of pre-rolled doobies at 7-11.
And for those that say we’ll see our state budget deficit disappear, you may be right- but when marijuana becomes legal the price will drop (independent of subsidy etc.) and the revenue from farming and sales will shift from the hands of local producers in local communities to giant factory farms in the hands of RJ Reynolds.
I love my organic bud just the way it is.
I love the fact that buying it on a regular basis requires a certain measure of decency and community spirit.
This may not be the case everywhere, but in Northern California we’ve got things under control. Decriminalization works. Bust the high-level traffickers, the thieves, the violent- but keep government hands out of the last true microfinanced commodity.

Posted by Will | Report as abusive

Addiction, defined as when a habit becomes a problem, oddly has been strictly defined as a health problem rather than also a societal problem. If smoking pot is illegal, then smoking it at all is a problem. Therefore anyone who habitually smokes it can be labeled “addicted.”

So as the argument goes, because the barrier to try pot would be lowered, to legalize pot would be to create many more addicts. Would it? Or would we finally be able to differientiate the “addicts” by seeing how many actually require treatment, and how many were “addicts” created by the state?

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

Marijuana should be legal. And it should be allowed to reside in the hands of ordinary citizens. The only regulation allowed should be safety regulations. Aside from that. There’s no need to tax or control the means of production of this harmless plant. Make it legal for personal, recreation, industrial, and medical use without the government trying to figure out how to get money out of you in exchange for something you should already have had unfettered access to.

Since recorded history humanity’s relationship with marijuana has been a positive one. If more than 40% of Americans are in favor of legalizing it then why are we politely asking government to do so?
Speak up. Let your reps and president know that you won’t vote for them again unless they handle this issue and clear it up. And then DON’T VOTE FOR THEM if the fail to take your side. Write in a candidate if there are none to your liking. But if the desire to make it legally available is so strong, then stop asking and tell your reps what you want. This is hopefully still our (the people’s) government right? So put it to the test and see what that tells you about America.

Posted by Benny Acosta | Report as abusive

Benny Acosta is correct. However, to overcome the prohibition industries we need to tell our congressmen and Senators often. At least once a month I email my Senators, Representatives and the White House regarding the removal if Marijuana from the controlled substance list and legalize it. I send research and commentaries like these with select responses and suggest they read all the responses. I ask them to look into the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, Drug Policy Alliance Network, and any article that has retired police saying no more drug war. Obama knows:

“(SEATTLE) – In early December, Barack Obama invited Americans to participate in an unprecedented, bottom-up approach to government. Visitors to the President-elect’s official website, Change.gov, were able to submit questions and vote on which questions should take priority for the new administration.
More than a dozen of the top 50 questions called for amending America’s drug policies, with inquiries ranging from availability of doctor-recommended medical marijuana to the economic impact of continuing to arrest and incarcerate millions of people for drug offenses.
The number one vote getter was:
“Q: Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”
Americans got their answer, sort of. A one-sentence response from the President-elect’s transition team:
“A: President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.”
He doesn’t have to be in favor, he just has to understand who he works for and make the right decision. The only way he will know what that decision should be is by people telling him what they want. Marijuana should be legal. I promise the opposition is blasting him daily.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

Really, it is not about drugs at all. It is about money. The fact is that illegal drugs make a lot more money than legal drugs. It is far to easy for an overpriced physician to prescribe something like prozak when cannabis, a weed that grows almost anywhere, is just as good and can be inexpensively produced. The weed is also a stronger source of natural fiber than cotton which could disrupt the textiles. It could be used to produce paper thereby eliminating countless jobs in the timber/deforestation industry. Finally, the seeds are used as livestock feed and as a source of fuel and vegetable oil. So weed should be illegal to protect jobs in places like the pharmaceutical and alcohol industries. Really, it’s only drugs if YOU don’t do it. Next time you sip on your wine or coffee, take a puff off your favorite cigarette, or go to the doctor for nerve pills (“the doctor” is the designated title of a licensed member belonging to a highly developed medical cartel(the AMA) controlling health care prices, pharmaceutical rackets, and government health care policy in the US) ask yourself who the drug user really is!”The doctor” is the designated title of a licensed member belonging to a highly developed medical cartel(the AMA) controlling health care prices, pharmaceutical rackets, and government health care policy in the US. The big drug dealers rarely get caught. It will be tony in the ghetto doing 5 years for a few dime bags.

Posted by jay | Report as abusive


You can find and email your Congressmen at the above address.


You can email the President at the above address.

Here is what I recently sent:

Please end Marijuana prohibition. Remove Marijuana from the Controlled Substances Schedules. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) recommends Marijuana be regulated like Alcohol and Tobacco. This would eliminate the economic and social costs associated with the prohibition and allow better control of distribution and taxation while expanding our GNP by bringing a multi billion dollar a year industry out of the black markets where it funds criminal activity. This will also generate dozens of off shoot industries like paper, cloth, canvas, oil, bio-diesel, flour, and ethanol. This is no different than alcohol prohibition. We are at a similar economic position with at least 40% of the populace who wants this prohibition to end.

Please stand behind Virginia Senator Jim Webb who is trying to right these wrongs and end the destruction of lives under the current policy known as the War on Drugs. Marijuana should never have been included in that effort and now is the time to end its prohibition.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

I believe Marijuana should be legalized. There has never been real scientific data to support making it illegal in the first place.
My concern is that the push to legalize it by politicians is so they can control and tax it, thus putting another segment of society out of work.
There needs to be a plan to include all those who wish to participate. If the government wants to distribute it, then they need to make a provision that allows growers to sell their product to the distrobution centers.
The idea I heard about tacking on a $60 per ounce tax is way out of line. Why should it be taxed more than cigarettes or alcohol? You will see people growing their own if it costs that much to buy it from the government.
We say we live in a free country. How come were are not free to grow the same plants as our founding fathers without harrassment, imprisonment, or taxation?

Posted by Vern | Report as abusive

Marijuana should not be taxed at all. I suppose that the case can be made that tobacco and alcohol both require minimum standards of preparation for safety reasons, and so a tax is needed to help enforce this.

But marijuana is a weed. It’s a plant that will grow just about anywhere. And if you have one in your home, why should you be taxed for it? Let the people have it. Put safety regulations in place and minimum age requirements if you like. But really, we need to stop offering the government our money in exchange for what should be hours by right already. We’re already taxed enough. Besides, what would the government do with the tax money anyway? Give it to some rich folks that are trying to keep another sick fraudulent “business” alive? Please.

The government needs to stop trying to regulate what is and is not acceptable behavior. Especially if that behavior is harming no one and is being conducted in the sanctity of your home. Just tell your reps to give you what you want. And don’t elect them again if they don’t. We should not be offering to “buy” our rights in exchange for permission to do what they don’t have the right to deny you in the first place. Tell them that enough is enough and that they need to let this whole drug war go so that we can actually work on solving addiction problems rather than putting responsible users in jail.

Posted by Benny Acosta | Report as abusive

Benny, The tax should only be on sales. And, Vern, anyone who attempts to put a large tax on MJ is only trying to maintain the black market which would undercut the sale price.

Like tobacco when you put to high a tax you just set up the market to fail to a black market. When Ohio doubled the cost of lose rolling tobacco black market sales went up while farmers and non-farmer land owners purchased tobacco seed and are planting their own. The State and supporter of the tax convinced people that this would reduce the amount people smoked but, in reality it just created a criminal enterprise and new growers. Marijuana would be no different. It should be legal and regulated like alcohol and tobacco but sales should not be over taxed. With just the standard sales tax alone, given all the side industries that would be created, would greatly increase the tax revenues to local and state entities.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

We must help Mexico win its war with the drug cartel or we will have a Leftist government running Mexico after the next presidential elections in 2012. If we lose Mexico to LatAm left, we will have regular Chinese and Russian nuclear naval visits next door. Moreover, Colombia will be surrounded by commies (e.g., Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Mexico). If we lose Colombia, it would be a geo-political disaster for the US. At that point, it would only be a matter of time before rogue nuclear weapons enter the US through the porous border and a few American cities are destroyed.

We have got to stop US high power weapons being sold to the Mexican drug cartels. The NRA is either with us or with the Cartels. We should decriminalized marijuana to kill the Cartels’ main sources of income. Time is of the essence.

Posted by Flores de la Hoz | Report as abusive

I love you people!! Very intelligent! The problems are many, but you give me faith.

First of all, it’s a question of freedom. What right does any government have to tell me what I can or can not eat, drink, smoke, etc? They can sure make suggestions and educate me on the pros/cons, but the decision is mine. Drugs should all be legal and never require a prescription.

People will say: what about the lost jobs and industries (prisons, police, etc). I say it’s a shift of resources. prison guards become MJ, cocoa, poppy growers. Police become

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

I love you people!! Very intelligent! The problems are many, but you give me faith.

First of all, it’s a question of freedom. What right does any government have to tell me what I can or can not eat, drink, smoke, etc? They can sure make suggestions and educate me on the pros/cons, but the decision is mine. Drugs should all be legal and never require a prescription.

People will say: what about the lost jobs and industries (prisons, police, etc)? I say it’s a shift of resources. prison guards become MJ, cocoa, poppy growers. Police become wholesalers and shop owners. Look at the ‘legal’ industry around caffeine, coffee is everywhere, do you know what caffeine does to us?

People will say: what about the public health concern? I say what? Why is society on the hook for prolonging individual lives? If I want to smoke butts and MJ, I do not expect Medicare to cure my lung cancer. What a sense of entitlement people have.

People will say: the young do not know the dangers of drug use! I say make it part of education. Mandate a class on the benefits and dangers of all drugs, make available the current scientific research on said drugs. While you are at it mandate a class on personal finance (i.e. don’t spend what you don’t have).

These are just a few examples, but the short story is that people should be free to experiment with whatever they want if it does not infringe on the liberty of others. Society has no right to say otherwise, and in the same vein they have no responsibility to correct the decisions people make. If I OD, destroy my mind, develop lung cancer, it may be sad, but we all die and society should not waste resources on prolonging the inevitable. If in chasing my high I rob a store, that is in fact a crime and it infringes on the liberty of others and should be punished.

This country was founded by lawyers and all branches of government are heavily peppered with lawyers… so why would we not expect a ridiculous amount of ridiculous laws for them to develop, judge and enforce. It is in their self-interest.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Keith, I am weighing the pros and cons and right now I veer towards the cons, especially because children are ultimately involved: kids are not to blame if their parents/guardian reckless attitude towards smoking pot will endanger their well being.
If a kid swallows a plastic bit of toy in the room next to where you are cheerfully yapping away sharing a dooby with your friends and unaware, what then?

De-criminalizing the substance gives out a erroneous message to the current users that the dangers suddenly dissappear. The greatest and only danger they care about is going to jail (suffering the consequences of a reckless act) but it does little to minimize the risk of the use itself – I really don’t care if pot causes cancer to smokers or if some college brat doesn’t make the grade, but I care if some pothead is driving recklessly with the munchies and involves me in an accident, for example.

As for the economic end of the deal, it is true some degree of negotiation must occur for police work to be more social and less monetized, and the prison system completely re-worked, but states like California suffer not from a lack of money from revenue but from unrealistic lawmakers, corrupt officials and decades-old mismanagement. There is actually too much money in California and all the sharks are feeding.

I continue to say that the social realities of today regarding crime as a whole will not change if pot is legalized. It will not make crime-riddled areas any more safer, it will not lower use of harder drugs, it will not help create mixed neighborhoods where all classes are represented and none is isolated in the inner cities, it will not curb violent behavioral patterns in prison populations and it won’t end the social housing mentality from culling their youngest. It won’t make the richest section of the population any more willing to mix with lower classes, it won’t help small/medium size companies to establish themselves in a good section of town without some fancy credit line they’ll never be able to repay. It will not help curb the over-spending attitude of governments – local and national.

You’re high on dreams if you think legalizing pot will accomplish anything of real substance.

Posted by SG | Report as abusive

SG, while for a big part I agree with you, there are a couple of flaws in your reasoning. First of all parents carry the responsibility over their kids, as well as their own health.

The example of parents not noticing their children because they are using marijuana seems a bit off. The same risk exists when they are drinking alcohol (I’d say, when they are drunk and beating each other up, parents will notice the choking boy even less). The same risk exists when they are sleeping, or when they work two jobs, or have three children which they can’t watch 24/7. The same can be said for driving: distraction by mobile phone, for example, or again drinking (or drinking in particular; to me this is a big problem in the US) cause more driving accidents than marijuana smoking..

The dangers you speak of exist, to some extent. Cannabis smoking, however, doesn’t come close to the health risks accompanying tobacco smoking, just to give an example.

On the economic end, to me it’s not about having “enough”. Economics don’t work that way… The more money you have, the more you can do. Perhaps you have enough to sustain the way you live now, but scientists have made it clear that our current way of living isn’t sustainable (for instance from an ecological point of view). Less useless spending, because that’s what we’re talking about, is better. You give a very good argument yourself: the kids don’t know about the risks and all they fear is the law. Isn’t this ridiculous? Why not use the money that’s being spent on a measure that doesn’t work on educating the people and give them the tools to decide for themselves. Just like most women won’t drink during their pregnancy.

While decriminalizing or legalizing won’t solve all the worlds problems, it would make a lot more sense and actually make it easier to control drug related issues. Sure you can portrait everyone supporting this a pothead and say they’re high on dreams, but to me this is a more sensible solution to an issue that never will disappear. Don’t make the right choice for people, but give them the opportunity to make the right choice themselves.

Posted by Henry | Report as abusive

Reading the history of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 is alone reason enough to repeal it. An unjust law based upon a fictional science, twisted facts and outright lies.

Posted by amasiam | Report as abusive

Good article. Has everyone noticed the preponderance of drug prohibition articles? Seems like 90% are against the war on some drugs. It’s long, long overdue that we dispose of this bad policy.

Posted by Red Green | Report as abusive

Oscar wrote: We have got to stop US high power weapons being sold to the Mexican drug cartels.

This is a piece of political anti-gun propaganda that has little to do with facts. The Mexican drug cartels have ready access to fully-automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, and other ACTUAL military weapons that are illegal for sale in the U.S. What interest could they possibly have in a “military style” semiautomatic rifle?

Yes, some American rifles do end up south of the border, but they are by far in the minority. You have heard that 90% of traced guns in Mexico come from the U.S. That is because Mexico does not submit guns for a trace when the guns are obviously not from America. In actuality, only 17% of seized guns are from America. The remaining 83% are from somewhere else. The 90% number only means that the Mexicans are very good at identifying which guns do and do not come from America, which is not hard, because every gun made in the U.S. is stamped as such on its barrel and receiver.

Where do the Mexican drug cartels actually get their military-grade weapons? It’s not from civilian gun shops in the united states. It’s not through “straw man” or gun-show purchases.

Posted by Joshua | Report as abusive

SG Said:
“Keith, I am weighing the pros and cons and right now I veer towards the cons, especially because children are ultimately involved: kids are not to blame if their parents/guardian reckless attitude towards smoking pot will endanger their well being.
If a kid swallows a plastic bit of toy in the room next to where you are cheerfully yapping away sharing a dooby with your friends and unaware, what then?”
I think Henry answered this statement with tact and grace. I think I would have been more brutal given SG used an old ploy of invoking the children’s safety. Today Marijuana is bought and sold in a black market where no regulations exist on who they can sell to. Any junior high school kid can get it any time they want as long as they got the cash. In a white market it would be regulated similar to alcohol with store owners enforcing those regulations in fear of losing their license. In other words it would be harder to get.
SG Said:
“De-criminalizing the substance gives out a erroneous message to the current users that the dangers suddenly dissappear.”
This is more false propaganda from the prohibitionists. With standards and quality control fewer deaths will occur from OD but, if we are strictly speaking Marijuana there is no chance of OD and very few dangers at all.
SG Said:
The greatest and only danger they care about is going to jail (suffering the consequences of a reckless act) but it does little to minimize the risk of the use itself – I really don’t care if pot causes cancer to smokers or if some college brat doesn’t make the grade, but I care if some pothead is driving recklessly with the munchies and involves me in an accident, for example.
Unless you also consider the partaking of an evening Scotch on the rocks as reckless, I can’t see how using Marijuana is reckless. The only thing reckless about the act of using Marijuana is the Law that will persecute you and possible through you in jail. And, DUI is against the law and no one here is talking about changing that law so this was a superfluous argument.
SG Said:
“You’re high on dreams if you think legalizing pot will accomplish anything of real substance.”
Some facts: Marijuana makes up over 80% of all illegal drug use in the US. Over 50% of the current prison population is in for drug offenses.
What would happen in Marijuana was legalized?
Close to 80% of the money currently funding gang activity in this country and south of the boarder would vanish.
Significantly fewer would be imprisoned on drug charges easing the demand on prisons.
Significant amounts of funding for drug interdictions would be saved
A multi billion dollar a year industry would be created in the white market that would not only include the smokable flower but new cooking oils and flour, new paper, cloth, canvas, construction materials, alternative fuels and pharmaceuticals.
Law enforcement could spend more time catching real criminals who harm others
The issues of using Corn corps for bio diesel and ethanol would be solved since the science community has already endorsed Hemp as one of the best sources of both these alternative fuels.
Properly taxed these new industries could greatly help in funding our local, state and national debt.
SG it won’t bring the rich and the poor closer together. That is called socialism and we are not talking about changing economic systems. We are taking about righting a wrong that has ruined thousands upon thousands of lives, that has turned the US into a prison state, that has stripped the people of their Constitutional Rights, that has created the largest disenfranchised subculture in the history of the US (the ex-Con). That wrong is called the War on Drugs. Addiction should never have been criminalized. It is a health problem. If not for a bunch of bigoted lawmakers trying to control the Chinese, blacks and Hispanics and William Hurst trying to save his empire we would never have gone down this road. Do not be fooled by the prohibitionist rhetoric. Read the history for yourself.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

Just one quick point, I’m 23 so I’m not too far removed from high school and I could’ve smoked weed every single day for free from 6th-12th grade. That’s how available weed is to children, so if it’s all about the children then weed should be legalized. It was much harder for me to get cigarettes and alcohol than it was for me to get marijuana. Maybe once every few months there were parties with booze and it was even difficult to get cigs.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

If everyone who posts support for ending the war on drugs and legalizing Marijuana would email their senators, and congressional representatives, and tell THEM that you want this done, then they would have no choice.

And for those that oppose your requested change, simply withhold your vote next election cycle and write in a candidate if you like. It seems from all of the responses that we should be getting to work speaking with a single voice on this issue. It would be nice to read posts from folks who have done just that, so that they can encourage others to do so. I send Tod T Hart a link to this discussion. I don’t know if he’ll visit it but if he doesn’t I will simply vote for his opposition or write myself in :-).

Posted by Benny Acosta | Report as abusive

Late for the sky, such are the inside-the-beltway types. Washington has a hard time getting it, but the states are doing it. The Feds will be the last to help out, but 14 states have already legalized medical marijuana.

And you underestimate the “ancillary” effects of prohibition, BD. The foundations of government are corrupted by prohibition. The top expense of drug cartels is buying off law enforcement, judges and politicians. Drug cartels have enough influence to sway national policy, and you can bet they don’t want legalization. That would put them out of business. If we want a lawful society again, we need to stop prohibitionist policies.

Another poster frets, with considerable justification, about the violence spilling over from Mexico. But pointing to the guns misses the point. We didn’t put Al Capone out of business by taking his guns. We took away his BUSINESS.

Posted by Freebooter | Report as abusive

Long replies, but I hope they are of interest to anyone who cares to read them:

In reply to May 7th, 2009 2:21 pm GMT – Posted by Freebooter
Al Capone may have been propped up by the Prohibition but he had extensive ties in other illegal activities such as racketeering, murder, prostitution, money laundering and other black market products – this at the height of the Great Depression, when most people were desperate. These businesses are, to this day, very profitable to the mafias he had close dealings with. Now, legalizing alcohol was a good thing after a disastrous attempt at tackling its Abuse but it didn’t curb the power of gangs. It brought them to the limelight in the news and the movies. Unfortunately, legalizing alcohol didn’t help with the personal irresponsibility of drunk driving, child endangerment or as cause of workplace accidents – only the strengthening of legal consequences for those who were caught drunk. How many deaths and crippled do you think it took for the law prohibiting driving while under the influence of alcohol come to fruition? And do you think there wasn’t education regarding the dangers of alcohol use in those situations too? There was – and people were not more stupid then than they are now.

In reply to May 7th, 2009 12:29 pm GMT – Posted by Michael Ham
Would legalizing make it less available to kids? I doubt it very much. Would legalizing it remove the “Cool Status” this drug enjoys nationwide? I doubt it. So the use would persist regardless and the teens would be further empowered to say – “…But it’s not illegal and I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder and this is my medication.” (As if current medication practices are anything to brag about, but that is for another discussion.) The discussion of having legalized but available only to adults over 21 under conditions similar to alcohol would still make it to the wish list of forbidden things for teens to do. Especially if they can get their hands on their parents home grown stash. If parents allow consumption at home, they’re liable to go to prison over marijuana just as if, or worse than, they smoke it illegally today. Again, the availability of a highly mind-altering substance is not the issue, but since we don’t live in a perfect world, many adults and teens have to be reminded of the consequences – because Education will not shine a light through unless there is a receptive mind to acknowledge it. When you were a teen, you were lucky. Continued use of any kind is nothing but Escapism from Reality. If Reality is so bad that millions of people just have to have their fix, then isn’t it sad that the energy it takes to change particular aspects of Reality is spent on getting high?

In reply to May 7th, 2009 10:09 am GMT – Posted by B.Free
No, it wouldn’t be harder to get. Just as it isn’t harder to get now. What would happen is that it would be harder to prove that the dooby the kid got caught smoking was from a legal source so legal action could be taken against the legal business that sold it to him or to an enabler. At this point we’re talking about teens in junior high. What needs to be tackled is the overwhelming desire of a large number of teens to get high – especially when they’re already street savvy and with a brain developed enough to know what is right and what is wrong. Teens already know the legal consequences of seeking an illegal substance, they know the charges against them should they get caught stoned out of their minds. Whether it’s legalized or not, the consumption of the drug will not be affected. It will merely shift the current market here and there a bit but it will not change the overall situation. Also you’re minimizing parental responsibility towards toddlers. In a perfect world, all parents would be dotting parents, responsible, level headed, and all of them would only have begun their sexual life when they reached 18 or 21 years old and not a day before. In a perfect world, by the day of the 18th birthday, all individuals would behave like responsible adults, with good character, and would have left their teenager tendencies behind. Just as making it legal for the sexual life of a person to begin at a legal age doesn’t help curb the teen pregnancies and transmission of STD’s, so does legalizing pot under circumstances equal to alcohol will not curb current numbers of abuse and risks. By the time people reach your age, for example, they should be able to leave behind fallacies in arguments and use pertinent facts and genuine sources to make their point across, for example. What needs to be genuinely CHANGED is not simply Education regarding drugs and their use but the current social and physical infrastructure conditions that make kids and adults SO eager to take them at all costs to begin with.
The standards and control issue are mute when there won’t be a serious capability to control marijuana production and sales in the black market, which will always be cheaper and much more readily available. Unless you also consider the partaking of an evening Scotch on the rocks as reckless, I can’t see how using Marijuana is reckless. The only thing reckless about the act of using Marijuana is the Law that will persecute you and possible through you in jail. And, DUI is against the law and no one here is talking about changing that law so this was a superfluous argument.
Continuously comparing marijuana to alcohol is skirting the issue. The issue here is not alcohol, though there are parallels that can be made, but it still isn’t the same. That substance is a legal product for consumption while marijuana IS NOT – Simple. For a responsible adult, moderate consumption of a scotch on the rocks is not a problem. Marijuana gets you high with a very small amount consumed and will land you in trouble with the law if you are caught. I do feel that 1 joint is not enough reason to stick someone in the slammer, though if that person has prior drug convictions and on probation, most likely the consumption ISN’T moderate and there are other underlying problems with the individual. Which takes me to your poorly made up percentages that are not backed up with a credible reference. I can pull statistics out of my De Laplace but it’s getting to be a long reply so here it is: If your “stats” are anything to go by, 50% of the current prison population is in for drug offenses. But out of those 50%, which drug offenses and repeat offenders are we talking about? You say nothing of it. MaryJane isn’t the only one around. Unfortunately cocaine and derivatives, heroin and derivatives, abuse of prescription medicine, *alcohol abuse*, methamphetamines, glue inhaling and God knows what else, should be mentioned in those statistics of yours so only a smaller percentage is actually in for marijuana use only. Of those, which ones are in not just as consumers but as producers and dealers and which ones have other convictions they’re serving time for too, like breaking the terms of their probation or in for being part of organized crime? There is absolutely no reason to believe organized crime will cease or lower significantly as soon as marijuana is legalized. Funds can’t be saved from the slaughter that governments subject them to. More would go to fund wars overseas or needless mammoth construction enterprises instead. What I’m finding amusing is how you are saying marijuana will save the Earth. I’ve heard that line before. But it won’t, I’m afraid. It will use land resources to cultivate a cash crop specifically for recreational use instead of food. The industry may be properly taxed but the taxes will make it prohibitively expensive to industrially cultivate it, research it, package it, secure it, distribute it and sell it and at the same time pay for legal insurance due to the unavoidable court cases that will ensue. So being an anti-socialist is actually supporting legalization of pot? Good God, man, do you understand what you are saying?!? On a personal level: I don’t care about the disenfranchised culture of pot smokers as pot smokers have personally demonstrated me they’re just as bigoted as anybody else. And since you are saying you know your history then you should be able to also know that 1937 is not the same as 2009. If it was that simple, then alcohol regulation should go immediately back to pre-Prohibition terms, as you like to compare alcohol and marijuana so much; but it won’t, because to do so is to allow alcoholism to flourish to a degree nobody alive today in the USA can imagine, except for the Native American Indians in reservations. Those with a liver left.

Posted by SG | Report as abusive

In reply to May 7th, 2009 2:56 am GMT – Posted by Henry
I think you are confused: First you agree with me saying that parents carry the responsibility over their kids as well as their own health. and then when I say that parental reckless behavior endangers the child you say it’s “a bit off”? Where is the contradiction? Are there parents that don’t engage in stupid behavior? Not the majority, but apparently there are, as you stated that the same risks are involved when the parents drink alcohol and beat each other up. Making another mind altering substance legal doesn’t make kids any safer. Now parents will be drunk AND smoking pot while they beat each other up. Driving and talking on your cell phone is illegal in some states because it has been proven that it endangers everybody on the road. Unfortunately you exaggerate when you state parents working 2 or 3 jobs or having 3 kids as risks. What a lame bunch of crap you write and clearly so out of touch with reality. And if I keep getting offered lame evidence by marijuana supporters, why should I change my mind? Anybody smoking a cigarette doesn’t automatically see funny things or has their reasoning and reflexes impaired and I want to see you smoking a joint without tobacco paper and tobacco, unless you make a joint the same way you do a Havana cigar. Both the rolling paper and the tobacco still have their chemical substances. Further to demonstrate how you’re so stoned you can’t make heads or tails of what I say is that even at the economic level you are agreeing with me. Even at the educational level, you agree with me. I never stated kids who smoke pot don’t know the risks. I may have implied they’re too stupid to care. And I never said that lack of Education about the consequences is a good thing. I think the fact that it’s forbidden is what gets you because you have the choice in your hand, regardless of the current law but you hate having to deal with that pesky prohibition. You can smoke it and get away with it, like so many do or you can choose not to smoke it at all and use your money for something worthwhile. It has always been your call.

Posted by SG | Report as abusive


I respect your opinions, I just far from share them. It would take too much space to respond on every point, but I found one point amusing and since you like statistics and references, regarding Al Capone:
“It is estimated that by 1929, Capone’s income from the various aspects of his business was $60,000,000 (illegal alcohol), $25,000,000 (gambling establishments), $10,000,000 (vice) and $10,000,000 from various other rackets.”
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USA capone.htm

“Capone was notorious during the Prohibition Era for his control of large portions of the Chicago underworld, which provided the Outfit with an estimated US $100 million per year[17] in revenue. This wealth was generated through all manner of illegal enterprises, such as gambling and prostitution,[8] although the largest moneymaker was the sale of liquor.”

Funny how both sources estimate around $100M with the majority from alcohol. Consistent at least, right?

While we’re at it, gambling and prostitution should be legal as well. Anything between two consenting adults should be legal when not infringing on the liberties of others.

If something is legal there is NO reason to kill to protect your freedom and MUCH LESS reason to kill to protect market share.

And yes, I am high on dreams. I believe MLK was also high on dreams. If it cannot be dreamt it cannot be accomplished.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

What my point was, is that it’s not humanly possible for kids to have it even easier to get weed than it already is. Like I said, I went to a school with middle of the road income families and I could’ve literally smoked weed every single day from 6th to 12th grade if not even earlier for free. It’s completely available on a daily basis for every kid.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)


The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
These new slave plantations are not the answer!

For more information please visit: http://www.npsctapp.blogsppot.com or email: williamthomas@exconciliation.com
To sign the petition please visit: http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/pe tition.html


William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115

Posted by William | Report as abusive

In reply to May 8th, 2009 5:32 pm GMT – Posted by William

I agree absolutely that the prison system today is a for-profit operation and it must be changed.
If the due process of law is constitutionally guaranteed and is upheld by police and courts – which are public – then why are the prisons private or run by private institutions?
Should we now make the courts private, and the police private too?
How can the Constitution be then safeguarded when it comes to defending “(18) Not to have a cruel or unusual punishment inflicted upon oneself.http://www.constitution.org/powr ight.htm” when that punishment is left in private hands, though the sentence was given by public hands?
It’s a matter of sovereignty, in my personal opinion.
Does the US also leave the management of military prisons in the hands of private companies?

That is one of the things that has to change prior to thinking about legalizing a drug: the for-profit aspect of upholding the law, and in no way is it defending the very dangerous criminals that are in the prisons right now, nor that it should be an excuse to keep them out of prison.

Posted by SG | Report as abusive

In reply to May 8th, 2009 4:26 pm GMT – Posted by Michael Ham

I am not sorry for the dumb choices made by kids (or you at that phase); the fact that weed is readily available makes no difference. It is easy to find ways to get high: if it isn’t weed, it’s glue, and if it isn’t glue it’s choking games.

Unfortunately, there have been a couple of generations or more educated like they’re not supposed to have Responsibility – primarily for themselves and ultimately toward Others.

Posted by SG | Report as abusive

In Reply to May 7th, 2009 10:28 pm GMT – Posted by Keith

Once you mentioned MLK I realized you are high on drugs and taking the mickey out of this discussion.

Posted by SG | Report as abusive

I admit that I have a strong urge to climb on board this “legalize drugs” bandwagon. In many ways, it would make things so much easier. Having said that, how many times has the easy way out been the RIGHT way out? Do we really think society will benefit by having drugs readily available to the population? How far do we lower the bar, how low do our expectations go? Will we next say petty theft really isn’t that bad and it’s filling up the prisons so it would just be easier to make it a $25 fine?

People achieve good and great things when they aim high, when expectations drive individuals to accomplish things not thought possible. It’s the same thing with a society – if you aim low, that’s probably the target you’ll hit.

And now this middle age dinosaur will quietly slip away…

Posted by Figgy | Report as abusive

I’ve never smoked weed in my life and never will.

What you big gov’t drug war spenders need to realize is that it’s not just potheads who are sick of having their freedoms taken.

My point is pot is available to every kid, if you want it less available then you should be for legalization where you actually have people regulating the market.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Hi all, I would just like to address SG’s hate-mongering rhetoric. First you claim anyone who endorses legalization is high. My entire family has endorsed legalization for 30 years and most of us aren’t high. Second you imply kids who smoke pot are too “stupid” to care about the risks. If that were true why do so many people I know with graduate degrees and doctorates, people whose intellects I suspect vast exceed your limited cranial capacity, smoke so much pot. Smoking pot doesn’t make people stupid and people who choose to smoke pot don’t tend to be stupid people; it attracts a thriving community of intellectuals and academics, two things which from just a casual glance it is plain to see you’re not. Attacking peoples character as part of a reasoned discussion is known as a logical fallacy, bear that in mind next time.

Posted by James E. King | Report as abusive

Certainly , people might be made aware of the costs involved in habitual use if any , to the taxpayers to bring medical care to the users , i’m thinking like cigy lung probs. Also why do i have to put up with all the cool people blowin’ smoke in my direction? Very unwelcome, thank you not.
Respect my space choices and i’ll reciprocate.
Did any one notice that the republicans might be the shareholders in the private prison system, or am barking up the wrong tree?

Posted by albe | Report as abusive

as a fully re-habilitated ex-offender, university graduate and casual drug user i find it fascinating that the penal system in the united states is vastly weighted in favour of punishment for crimes commited rather than the rehabilitation of offenders who could potentially be productive to your society as opposed to a drain on resources. The swelling numbers within your system is surely down to institutionalised repeat offenders who quite frankly have not been given the opportunity and help required to make something of themselves when eventually released. Legalisation of marijuana is not the answer as apart from all the dangers of cigarette smoking it can also trigger mental health issues such as schitzophrenia and surely we can all agree, despite the high, that it is bad for you. I smoke and i inhale but if i could buy it any time from anywhere i’d do it a lot more which can only be a bad thing….

Posted by oli | Report as abusive

I have several reasons why Marijuana should be legalized, and I will list them along with nay sayers, you decide who’s logic is better.

First and foremost, I want you all to know why Marijuana was criminalized, and how it became public enemy number 1. In 1937 there was a tax act that was introduced and passed which taxed the growers of Marijuana to pay an outlandish tax per gram to grow the crop. This in turn developed into the tax stamp known today. Those whom couldn’t provide a stamp for their marijuana, they were encarcerated. Now think about this for a second. This was the thirties, who smoked pot back then? Minorities, and the U.S. government knew that, and they knew no one could pay a tax on a crop they didn’t grow, thus made them a criminal. Now fast forward, 1972 Richard Nixon declared WAR on DRUGS in America. Is it me, or didn’t he resign from office from accusations of abuse of power? And, we as Americans still placed ourselves behind him in support for it, which leads me to believe we didn’t know what we were supporting at the time.

Now lets take some nay sayers comments toward legalization.

“Marijuana legalization will lead to an increase in pot-smoking among teens and young adults.”

This in fact is a scare tactic, and I almost want to punch whomever says this because it is a backwards point. See what no one wants to see is that it is already prevalent amonge teens, and young adults. They can’t get alcohol without ID, but a drug dealer doesn’t care, he just wants his money. Remove the dealer from the picture, and place the drug in the hands of liquor stores, then you will at least reduce the amount of teens whom have ready access to it at anytime.

“Legalization will send the wrong signal to our children.”
Well this leaves no room for error doesn’t it? What signal does it send to our children? Well first off if parents were more involved with their childrens lives, then whether the drug is illegal or legal wouldn’t make a difference. In fact, if it was legal they would know that the have to be a grown-up to do those things, and if you taught your children right they wouldn’t mess around with it in the first place, even if they did it isn’t going to kill them.

“Pot smoking leads to mental illness”
This has been proven to be false. Pot doesn’t in anyway cause any form of mental illness. If you smoked pot and later found out you were mentally unstable, that is because you were already unstable or had some a preexisting condition you were unaware of. Anyone whom says different either made it up, an idiot splurring lies, or both.

“pot is a risk to public safety.”

Well that is a legitament concern, but one that is clouded in lies. Liquor is dangerous, but the choice to consume it is one that we hold proud in America, but the choice isn’t ours if we want to consume something that wont kill us eventually? Making a drug illegal makes it dangerous. Moreover, it takes the authority away from the police, and places it into the hands of outlaws. Legalizing Marijuana will project some other health concerns, but they are far from the same risks as alcolhol. To me, it’s completely illogical, and unAmerican to keep the prohibition for pot.

So in closing, we are a nation that was founded under priciples of basic freedoms. The choice to smoke pot is a basic priciple of freedom, and one that doesn’t need to be trampled on by people who can’t stay out of other people’s business. If someone wants to responsibly consume it in the privacy of their own home, then we as their neighbors shouldn’t care as long as their right to do so doesn’t infringe on your right to breath clean air.

Lets keep this debate a logical, and reasonable one. I can’t stand it when someone’s only arguement is “drugs are bad mkay.”

Legalize it, tax it, and free it.

Posted by Chris_A | Report as abusive