Volume 35, Issue 1
COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
| 800,000 Americans Busted Annually For Pot |
By Sherwood Ross
million Americans have been arrested since 1995 on marijuana charges
and 41,000 of them are rotting in federal and State prisons---but the
public is starting to rebel against "the preposterous war on pot," two
political scientists say. Thousands of other pot users and sellers are
confined in local jails as well.
convicted of possessing even one ounce of marijuana can face a
mandatory minimum sentence of a year in jail, and having even one plant
in your yard is a federal felony," progressive organizer Jim Hightower
and co-author Phillip Frazer point out in the November issue of "The
Police arrest someone in
America every 36 seconds on marijuana charges, with a record 872,000
arrests made in 2007, "more than for all violent crimes combined,"
Hightower and Frazer point out. They note that 89 per cent of all
marijuana arrests "are for simple possession of the weed, not for
producing or selling it."
They argue the
drug war "is doing far more harm than marijuana itself ever will,"
because (1) it diverts hundreds of thousands of police agents
from serious crimes "to the pursuit of harmless tokers"; (2) it costs
taxpayers at minimum $10 billion a year to catch, prosecute, and
incarcerate marijuana users and sellers; (3) it enables government to
snatch the cars, money, computers and other properties of people caught
up in drug raids even if they have had no charges filed against them;
and (4) it allows "police agents at all levels to trample our Bill of
Rights in their eagerness to nab pot consumers."
The drug war has also unleashed a torrent of racism in the form of
unjust sentencing, which confines crack-cocaine users who are mostly
black to prison for longer terms than powder snorters, who are mostly
Hightower and Frazer say authorities have
perverted the infamous "Patriot Act" of 2001 for use in non-terrorism
cases, allowing "sneak-and-peak" search warrants to be used in drug war
probes, including pursuit of marijuana users. The Act's provisions were
supposed to be applied only for suspected terrorist acts. Only
three of the Justice Department's 763 requests for "sneak-and-peak"
last year were used for terrorism searches, they report in Lowdown.
By outlawing drugs, Hightower and Frazer contend, Congress has created
"a vast, murderous narco-state within Mexico" to satisfy U.S. consumer
demand for the drugs. And Plan Colombia, the multi-billion
operation started by Bill ("I didn't inhale") Clinton in 2000 to
eradicate cocoa production there, has failed, judging by the 15 per
cent increase in coca production.
the legislation against it, pot is more plentiful than ever and 10 per
cent of Americans told surveyors they have enjoyed using it in the
previous year while four in ten say they used it at some point in their
lives. Plus, a 2005 survey found 85 per cent of high school seniors
claimed pot was "easy to get", easier than alcohol, which is a
regulated drug, Hightower Lowdown points out.
The publication quotes a University of Michigan student who told them,
"If the government trusts society to use alcohol responsibly, it is
idiotic to assume citizens are somehow incapable of responsible use of
A Gallup opinion poll in 2005
found that 51 per cent of Americans stating alcohol is more dangerous
than marijuana and 52 per cent saying it should be legalized, taxed,
State and local governments,
Hightower and Frazer report, "have begun walking step by step away from
the weed war." Since 1996, 13 states from Rhode Island to Alaska have
passed laws to allow growing and distribution of doctor-prescribed
marijuana for medical purposes. What's more, pot possession is no
longer criminalized in a dozen states: Alaska, California, Colorado,
Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North
Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon.
The drive now
is for outright legalization of pot, the authors say. This would enable
officials to take the exorbitant profit and violence out of illicit
black-market weed by legalizing it and turning it into a
revenue-producer that would rake in tax dollars.
Instead, the Office of National Drug Control Policy says, Americans
spend $9 billion a year buying pot from Mexico; $10 billion on pot from
Canada, and $39 billion on home-grown pot, now America's Numero Uno
cash crop---"topping the value of corn and wheat combined." By one
estimate, legalization would produce annual tax revenues of $6.2
billion. In Portugal, which legalized all drugs in 2001, hard drug use
has showed a stunning decline while the numbers of people getting detox
aid has soared, Time magazine reported last April 26th. By contrast,
USA has the highest rates of drug use in the world.
As Rep. Barney Frank has said, "I now think it's time for the
politicians to catch up to the public. The notion that you lock people
up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly."
There is, however, a downside to the legalization of pot: some of the
individuals in the legal system who depend on the arrests of pot
smokers might have to find worthwhile jobs instead. Look at all the
paychecks that get cut: The cops make their collars. The bail bondsmen
get their rake off. The prosecutors make their cases. The social
workers write up their interviews. The clerks push their papers. The
lawyers collect their fees. The judges render their verdicts. The
prison guards make their rounds. The vendors sell their baloney
sandwiches. The construction firms build their additions. And the
shrinks nod their heads.
One last thought:
cigarettes kill 440,000 Americans every year and sicken millions---but
no one reportedly ever has been killed by smoking a joint. If the
growers and peddlers of pot belong in jail, where do the manufacturers
of brand name cigarettes and cigars belong? In two years' time they
kill more Americans than all the Blue and Grays who died (620,000) in
the Civil War. Indeed, in the next two years, 440 times as many
Americans will be killed by smoking cigarettes than all U.S. troops
killed in six years of fighting in Iraq. While this writer opposes the
use of all drugs, and does not indulge himself, it's easy to see the
prosecution of pot smokers and growers for victimless crimes is, as
Hightower Lowdown ([email protected]) reports, "preposterous."
(Reach the author, a former reporter for the Chicago Daily News, at [email protected])
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