By Dr. Kenneth Hendickson
I don’t use cannabis. I did during college, but it has been over 20 years since my last toke and I have no plans to return. I have familial and contractual obligations that make breaking the law with cannabis out of the question for me.
That being said, I understand that cannabis is a permanent part of our society. I have also come to believe that our current cannabis laws and policies do not achieve reasonable public health goals, are cost inefficient, are corrosive to the Constitution, and have contributed to the destabilization of governments around the world and communities throughout the United States.
In making such assertions, I am far from alone. Fully 75% of the American people consider the Drug War failed, according to a 2008 Zogby poll. Over 500 world economists from the best universities and agencies, including three who are Nobel Laureates, have endorsed the work of Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron. Miron has shown, among other things, that prohibition increases the price of cannabis and other drugs and actually spurs increased production and sales.Image via Wikipedia
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, touting such luminaries as Kofi Annan, Reagan administration officials like George Schulz and Paul Volcker, and leaders from business, the arts, and the law, recently published its review of the Drug War. Like many before them, they concluded that prohibition policies principally championed by the United States are failing and are exacerbating the international drug problem.
In 2009, a combined panel of Latin American presidents and politicians, including Fernando Ernando Henrique Cardoso (former President of Brazil), Cesar Gaviria (former President of Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (former President of Mexico) requested the US to review and revise its Drug War policies. None of these observers are wild people or counter-cultural agitators. They represent the highest levels of leadership and achievement across many countries.
And they all say the same thing: the Drug War does not work.Looking at the costs at home, we see that not only has the United States invested billions of dollars in this failed effort, it has also embraced legal and social practices that threaten our basic civil liberties. Currently, the United States imprisons the most people in the world. With about 5% of the world population, our nation maintains about 25% of the world prison population. We imprison more people per 100,000 of the general population than Russia and China combined.
American police officers and federal agents conduct thousands of home invasions every year, too often with tragic unintended consequences. Investigations, arrests, and sentencing are demonstrably unequal among our different racial groups. For example, while adult African Americans account for about 9% of the population and about 13% of cannabis users, they account for nearly 25% of all cannabis/marijuana arrests. Such heavy handed imprisonment policies and unequal enforcement breed hostility and contempt for the law.
Moreover, US policies are the most aggressive in the industrialized world for ensuring drug offenders do not successfully reform. American rates for funding treatment and rehab are among the lowest.
American laws dictate that drug offenders lose access to educational funding. The 1998 Drug Free Student Loans act withholds student loans (not grants, just loans) from convicted drug offenders, even though research shows education is a major tool in rehabilitation of offenders.
I do not support drug abuse. In reforming drug laws including the legalization of marijuana, I believe we can achieve better public health and public security results than we do now. My goals are the same as most people: reduction in health hazards associated with drug use including marijuana; special focus on keeping young people and children from beginning drug habits; reduction in drug related crimes; stabilization of neighbors like Mexico by reducing and eventually eliminating the power of organized crime.
I also wish to strengthen our Constitutional liberties and work for a more efficient government here at home. These goals can be better achieved not with heavy handed prohibitionist policies, but with a blended mix of law enforcement, public education, treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts, and in some instances like marijuana legalization.
Several countries now have regimes of legal decriminalization of cannabis possession. Places like the Netherlands have practiced legal toleration of marijuana use for many years. Portugal, having created a comprehensive drug policy reform, has enjoyed tremendous success in reducing drug related pathologies since 2001. However, all countries decriminalizing marijuana still wrestle with problems related to production and supply. Legalization will close that loop in the particular case of marijuana.
No country has developed a magic formula and even the most successful, like Portugal, are works in progress. I do not propose any utopian scheme. Reform and repair of Drug War damage will take time, wisdom, and skill. However, the necessary components to begin are nowhere more abundant than the United States. Our country still boasts the best medical science, the best universities, the highest number of top level trained professionals and trained jurists in the world. We have social services professionals, health policy analysts, and an excellent media and information infrastructure.