Weed is winning

Why I and most Californians think pot should be legalized

In the war on drugs, weed is winning.

I like that line. I stole it fair and square from Jim Hightower, the tough-talking Texan whose commentaries can be heard on KZFR. He used it in a piece he wrote recently for the online journal Alternet about the failure of the drug war. I think he’s right about marijuana, the subject of our special issue this week.

For one thing, polls indicate that more and more people—nearly a majority nationwide, more than a majority in California—believe going after marijuana tokers is a waste of time and money and that pot should be legalized.

I’m one of them. It’s not that I’m a fan of marijuana, mind you. Like President Obama, I used to smoke it, but I quit the stuff years ago and now don’t recommend it to anyone. Every drug, however mellow, produces a hangover of some kind and, at worst, addiction or dependence, so why get started?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, despite my pigheadedness, it’s that chasing after pleasure and fleeing unpleasantness does not create a peaceful life. Better to take things as they come and make the most of them.

Still, as Hightower writes, the war on weed is far worse than weed itself—in the number of police agents it diverts from solving serious crimes, in the $10 billion we spend annually on catching, prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana users and sellers, and in the fact that some 41,000 Americans are in federal or state prisons on marijuana charges.

Think, too, of the illegal car searches, phone taps and door-busting night raids that trample on the Bill of Rights, and the fact that people who are merely suspected of marijuana violations have had their money, cars and other property confiscated by police.

Then remember that 89 percent of all marijuana arrests are for simple possession.

The irony is that by criminalizing marijuana the government has made it more expensive and thus more profitable to grow and distribute, giving rise to the black market and such phenomena as Mexican cartels farming pot in the Sierra and the deadly cartel battles along the Mexican border.

After 40 years of the war on drugs, you’d think that illicit-drug use would be down, but of course it’s not. In a 2005 survey, 85 percent of high-school seniors said pot was “easy to get”—even easier than alcohol, since no ID is needed.

So, if the drug war has been such a failure, why not change course? It’s simple: money and jobs. For every person in a state prison, seven people—cops, judges, parole officers, etc.—are employed to put him there, keep him there, or monitor him when he gets out. Drug users and dealers are the raw material of the prison-industrial complex. Without them it would diminish in size, power and wealth.

Of course, if it did diminish we’d have a whole lot more money to spend on health care, social services and education, including education about drugs and their effects. In the long run that would do more to keep kids off pot than all the police in the world.