It’s been one year after the legalization of marijuana in Oregon, and two years since Colorado and Washington legalized it.
The sky hasn’t fallen. The world hasn’t dissolved. The moral fabric of America isn’t unraveling. (Or maybe it is, but it’s certainly not due to marijuana legalization.) The kids aren’t smoking more pot and no one is overdosing on weed. In fact, studies have shown that marijuana use in teens has been falling, and there have been no recorded deaths due to an overdose of marijuana.
Legalization of pot seems like a foregone conclusion as more and more states legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. The benefits of medical marijuana have been well documented for years; pot use is receiving more widespread acceptance and for good reason. States that have legalized marijuana have seen a decrease in the use of prescription drugs, and PBS recently aired a segment about NFL players petitioning the league to sanction marijuana as a healthy pain treating substitute for opioids.
Current NFL player and marijuana advocate, Eugene Monroe, made news after he donated $80,000 to research the effects of marijuana on pain and concussions, a topic dominating sports news these days.
The fact remains that it’s still a federal crime. The federal government has expressed that if a state passes a law to decriminalize cannabis for recreational or medical use, they can do so, under the condition that a regulation system for cannabis is in place.
California is one of the most progressive states in the country, but it’s not always on the right side of history (e.g. Prop 8). This November voters will decide whether to make the recreational use of marijuana legal. This could turn the tide for marijuana legalization in the United States.
But there is a problem. The law enforcement lobby is trying to prevent this from happening and have been pouring big money into anti-legalization efforts.
The War on Dugs has proven to be a failure -- almost universally acknowledged -- but drug war money has become an important source of funding for law enforcement interests. Huge government grants and asset-seizure benefit police departments, while the constant supply of prisoners keeps the prison business booming.
Almost half of the money raised to oppose the ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, worried that they might lose significant revenue streams. If marijuana is legalized, cops stand to lose a big chunk of their crime fighting business.
Oregon has collected $14.9 million in tax revenues from the sales of recreational marijuana since this January, and counties in eastern Oregon that have decided to keep it outlawed have been missing out on this tax windfall. According to Portland DUI Attorney, Andy Green, after legalization in the state, the police have been scrambling to find other ways to bust people now that it’s no longer a crime.
We have a lucrative incarceration machine in this country. The police and correctional institutions are in cahoots to keep the whole system sustained as a big business. As long as there’s a pot prohibition in this country, the police will have increased job insurance.
There’s something sinister about that. We need an intervention for the real threat in our country: law enforcement’s addiction to drug money.
Perhaps in November, we will begin to see some real reform in the way our country addresses its misguided war on drugs.