While west coast states seem to finally recognize that the so-called "war on drugs" has been a farce and an utter failure, states like Virginia lag behind. The result is a swelling prison population and the disproportionate criminalization of black males in particular and often strips them of their voting rights. This later effect likely delights the Virginia Republican Party which, candidly, would disenfranchise all blacks and minorities if it could devise a way to do so. In the city of Norfolk a movement has sprung up to decriminalize the personal use of marijuana, motivated by (i) a recognition of the havoc the current draconian laws are having on minority populations, and (ii) the hypocrisy of demonizing marijuana when the death toll and societal damage from alcohol is much worse. A column in the New York Times looks at the long over due move to change marijuana laws which should never have been enacted in the first place. Here are highlights:
The budtenders of the Rose City are relentlessly helpful with tips pairing a marijuana strain that is “equal parts fruity and musky” with a stimulating Sichuan dish. As Oregon, the place where empires once clashed over the global trade of beaver furs, glides into a second year of legalized recreational pot, the state is determined to show the world that a certain kind of drug prohibition belongs in history’s Dumpster.Soon, with the likely passage of legal pot in California next month, all of the West Coast — from the tundra of Alaska to the sun-washed suburbs of San Diego — will be a confederacy of state-regulated marijuana use.
Across the Pacific, a completely a different view of drug use is playing out in the horror of the Philippines. That country is ruled by Rodrigo Duterte, a crude and brutal strongman known as the Donald Trump of the Philippines. Under his watch, more than 3,500 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed. Many of those murders are “extrajudicial,” as the State Department calls them.
Heroin is the drug of choice in small towns in New England and wide-open rural areas across the country. Blacks and Latinos use and sell drugs at roughly the same rate as whites, but 57 percent of the people locked up for a drug offense in 2014 were nonwhite.
Perhaps because so many addicts are white and suburban, or white and rural, there is now a rare bipartisan consensus emerging for wholesale reform of the drug laws.
We can start, nationwide, with marijuana. Though legalization is not without its problems — a spike in emergency room visits attributed to edible pot, persistent black market dealers — it’s mostly been no big deal. Across the legalized West, consumers frequent their corner pot shop to talk varietals and buzz strength. Homegrown gardeners pass on suggestions to avoid bud rot as harvest nears. Tax revenue from sales — though not a panacea — flows to schools and roads and treatment programs.
It all works, for the most part. And when California, now the world’s sixth largest economy, passes its legal pot measure in November as expected, it will truly be game over for this absurd form of prohibition.
So why are nearly 600,000 people arrested in the United States for simple possession of marijuana every year? And why is pot still illegal on the federal level? People in the loop of this policing circle know it is an absurd and Sisyphean use of law enforcement.
A clear majority of Americans now favor pot legalization. The problem is the federal government, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin and L.S.D. If pot was legalized nationwide, with a tax on every sale designated for treatment, it would free up the police to get at serious crimes, while ensuring that no addict would be denied treatment for lack of funds. As with most social reforms, it only seems impossible until it’s obvious.