Cannabis Prohibition — American Criminal Justice’s Feeder

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PHOTO: Diane Fornbacher/Ladybud Magazine

There is no greater symptom of America’s failed war on some drugs than the continued prohibition of cannabis. With approximately 1:7 Americans illegally using the sacred herb (1:4 young people between the age of 15-25), no other greater impetus for law enforcement to invade citizens’ private spaces than in pursuit of cannabis ‘criminals’. Since 2000, on average, over 650,000 citizens were arrested annually in America on cannabis-related charges—almost 90% for possession-only. Since the late 1990s there has been a shift by law enforcement away from arresting citizens on ‘hard’ drug charges (i.e., heroin, cocaine, meth, crack, etc…) and more emphasis placed on harassing and arresting cannabis consumers.

What are the effects of the government doubling down on trying to enforce what are unenforceable cannabis laws?

Less use?
Less access by youth?
Less social acceptance of cannabis use by youth?
Lower potency of the herbal drug?
Increased prices under cannabis prohibition?
Reduction in synthetic marijuana availability?
More stable border security?

The answer to all of the above is ‘no’.

Realistically speaking, it does not appear that the former leader of the pot-loving Choom Gang in Hawaii is going to conclude his presidency by issuing an executive order declaring cannabis prohibition officially over, or that he is going to exhaust any real political capital in Congress (or the federal courts) reforming America’s cannabis laws. However, unlike previous US presidents, Barack Obama (working in concert with his friend and Attorney General Eric Holder) has issued a series of truly forward-looking memos that have likely and forever changed the political landscape in favor of progressive drug policy reforms, notably regarding cannabis:

The executive branch under Obama has proposed substantive changes to how criminal defendants are charged so as not to trigger mandatory minimum sentencing; this administration championed and signed into law reductions in crack cocaine sentencing; the administration has issued numerous memos on allowing states greater political and legal autonomy in crafting cannabis legalization and medical access programs and lastly, the administration is working with—not against—cannabis law reformers and cannabusiness leaders to allow banking regulations to exempt cannabis-related commerce from long standing anti-money laundering statutes.

All of this in sum is positive and reflects that this administration is being responsive to the change of public opinion about the need for cannabis legalization.

But, it’s not all good. Without genuine executive leadership on ending cannabis prohibition at the federal level, the 700,000 annual arrests—and all the human harm and social costs wrought from treating otherwise productive, tax-paying citizens as ‘criminals’—will continue.

Sans being actively supportive of legalization initiatives and legislation, what can this president do in his remaining three years that will bode well for the future of cannabis law reforms?

NORML‘s recommendations: 1) promote and sign a bill already pending in Congress that will establish a presidential level commission to review cannabis laws and make recommendations for reforms, 2) defund federal law enforcement grant programs that fuel local arrests, 3) sign executive order re-scheduling cannabis (which would make it a legal medicine/allow for research), 4) sign commutations freeing thousands of non violent, cannabis-related federal prisoners and 5) promote industrial hemp and stop the DEA’s mindless restrictions on allowing domestic production.

Obama is not likely the president who is going to ultimately end cannabis prohibition. However, in a similar manner that President Ronald Reagan previously did thirty years ago, who correctly detected (and later championed) a change in public opinion against cannabis use, President Barack Obama has correctly gauged a swing in public opinion against cannabis prohibition—and has taken mild, but important steps to decouple the federal government’s long-standing opposition to cannabis law reforms from a clear surge at the state level in favor of tax-n-regulate cannabis public policies.