Marijuana legalization long overdue | Opinion
In a country that prides itself on individual freedom and just laws, it’s absurd that we’re still debating whether cannabis should be legalized.
Of course it should — and for recreational, not just medical use. It’s less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. Instead of spending money on the disastrous war on drugs, we’d raise much-needed tax revenue.
While California, Nevada, Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts are voting on Nov. 8 for recreational cannabis, Florida voters will decide whether our state should join the half of the country that’s already legalized medical pot.
It’s a no-brainer. The New York Times reported in April that in states with medical cannabis, the annual rate of opioid overdose deaths decreased by 25 percent. In Broward County last year, 359 people died last year from opioid overdoses and that number is expected to rise this year.
Cannabis, like any substance you put in your body including caffeine, reacts differently with different people. But it doesn’t kill and potentially could have saved 90 lives just in our county last year with the reduction in opioid deaths.
The only reason we’re still having this debate is a federal prohibition on cannabis that was rooted in racism. States are forced to implement laws in direct conflict with federal statute and, in many cases, agree to this middle ground of medical cannabis.
It wasn’t always demonized. The Western Journal of Medicine and Surgery in 1843 said cannabis “inebriation is of the most cheerful kind, causing the person to sing and dance, to eat food with great relish, and to seek aphrodisiac enjoyment. The intoxication lasts about three hours, when sleep supervenes; it is not followed by nausea or sickness, nor by any symptoms, except slight giddiness.”
Public opinion began to change in the early 20th century when Mexicans immigrated to the United States, bringing cannabis with them. The term “marihuana,” Mexican slang for cannabis, became the common term used in news articles and government reports that claimed it incited violent crimes and gave users superhuman strength.
There was a poisonous weed that caused psychosis. But the government blurred the lines between cannabis and the rare “locoweed.” They targeted and villified the Hispanic and black-dominated jazz communities that smoked harmless marijuana.
In 1937, U.S. Narcotics Commissioner Henry Anslinger blamed cannabis on “our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents” in Congressional testimony. Cannabis was banned federally that same year.
Fast forward to 1970 when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act and agreed to temporarily make cannabis a “Schedule I” drug. That meant it had no medical use and was lumped together with heroin and cocaine.
President Richard Nixon assembled the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse to study cannabis. He loaded it with conservatives, including chairman Raymond Shaffer, the “law-and-order” governor of Pennsylvania. Declassified tapes reveal that Nixon wanted a rubber-stamped commission that would keep cannabis illegal.
Nixon blamed cannabis’ popularity on “Jewish psychiatrists” and Communists.
“Homosexuality, dope, immorality in general — these are the enemies of strong societies,” Nixon said. “That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff. They’re trying to destroy us.”
Earlier this year, Harper’s Magazine writer Dan Baum published a previously unreleased 22-year-old interview with John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s White House Domestic Affairs Adviser.
Ehrlichman said the War on Drugs was a guise to keep public opinion against the antiwar effort and the black community.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black(s), but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
But Nixon’s hand-picked anti-drug commission made a surprising public revelation. It found that cannabis was not a danger to society and had no links to harder drugs. It recommended decriminalizing the drug.
Nixon and Congress ignored the recommendation and it remains federally illegal today. Between 2001 and 2010 there were eight million cannabis arrests, according to the ACLU. It costs taxpayers $3.6 billion a year.
Cannabis use is roughly equal between the black and white population, but African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested.
Scare tactics remain in place, like the Florida Sheriff’s Association warning on Monday that trick-or-treaters could find pot-laced candy in their Halloween bags. It’s eerily similar to the transgender bathroom warnings. There’s no evidence of people targeting children with marijuana candy just like there’s no evidence of transgender people targeting kids in bathrooms.
Cannabis prohibition was always rooted in racism, not science. It’s time to finally right an 80-year wrong.