Matt Duchesne answers why we need to start rethinking our views on marijuana.
Mary Jane and The Man
Four bleary-eyed, college-age males sit in a dimly lit room. They are all sprawled out on couches and one of them is puffing on a joint. Puff, puff, pass; his buddy takes a hit, and the joint is passed around the room until it is nothing more than a nub. Thoroughly stoned, the men leave the safety of their parent’s basement and go on to commit several violent crimes throughout the night.
Have you heard this story before?
No? Me neither. There’s virtually no link between smoking pot and violent crime. But as of 2010, approximately 853,838 people were arrested because of marijuana-related offenses, according to data from the FBI.
Approximately 20 percent of inmates nationwide are imprisoned for drug-related offenses. According to the infrequently-updated U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics website, America’s prison population numbered around 1,613,740 in 2009. Assuming that each person incarcerated over a drug-related offense costs taxpayers a national average of $25,000 a year to imprison, the total yearly bill for keeping drug offenders in jail sums up to a little more than $8 billion.
Damn. That’s a little over the net worth of Rupert Murdoch. While I have been unable to calculate just how many of these drug offenders were put into jail over marijuana-related charges, I can tell you that over half of drug-related arrests in the country happen over marijuana according to www.drugwarfacts.org.
I understand the concern over the use of certain drugs in this country. Crack cocaine — bad. Meth — not to be used casually at an office party. But weed? Last time I checked, eating an entire bag of Cheetos while watching eight consecutive hours of “Futurama” did no harm to society. Maybe we should concentrate on people who are committing worse offenses than taking 10 minutes to order at the drive-thru window at Jack in the Box.
Let’s just do the thing and legalize weed already. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 50 percent of Americans are in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, while a 2010 poll found that 70 percent are in favor of legal marijuana use for medical purposes. The U.S. has been undergoing a very awkward transition period, with 16 states and the District of Columbia having legalized the possession of marijuana for medical purposes. But much like the topic of gay marriage, the country as a whole can’t seem to decide on the issue — to legalize or not to legalize? And further, to legalize for everyone or just those with medical need?
What’s the difference between making it legal for those with medical reasons and for those who just like getting stoned? In any of those 16 states and D.C., you bet there’s probably an influx of people waiting in line at their doctor’s office, with any number of feigned illnesses that miraculously only a prescription for marijuana can relieve.
Even in those places, federal law enforcement like the Drug Enforcement Administration can enforce prohibition. Legalization on a state-by-state basis can hardly be effective when the federal government has the final say. Just earlier this month, federal prosecutors launched an attack on medical marijuana dispensaries in California — where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996 — and threatened to close their doors.
It’s not like legalizing marijuana is going to make the number of pot smokers in the U.S. skyrocket. I can tell you that anyone in the U.S. that is inclined towards smoking weed is already doing it because frankly it just isn’t hard to come by. The U.S. government is actually insuring that the price of an ounce of medical marijuana is priced competitively with the price of an ounce off the street, to make sure that pot-smoking savvy shoppers make their purchases at the licensed Marijuana Mart dispensary instead of doing business with “Peyote Joe,” the self-described “inventor of the pogo stick” living on their street corner.
Legalizing marijuana would benefit the environment, too. Many marijuana growers are using national forests to grow their product. Because of the seclusion provided by these forests, growers are able to cultivate their product in secrecy. Unfortunately, this has an incredibly negative effect on our national forests. These growers clear large swaths of land, and use very inefficient and difficult to remove irrigation systems. Many thousands of taxpayer’s dollars are spent restoring these lands to their original states, if they’re even worth saving at all. Legalizing weed would allow growers to grow their crop in more public places and save our national forests from more damage. Growing weed could be another source of income for our financially struggling farmers.
But, hey, there’s something in it for the government too. Legalization of weed will allow for the taxation of weed. Not only would the government save money by not having to throw quite so many people in jail, but it would also earn money through taxation of the product itself. Right here in the state of Missouri, taxation of casinos and tobacco provides millions of dollars each year to our public education system. If we’re OK with casinos and tobacco funding education, why not throw marijuana in the mix?
You don’t have to smoke weed to be on the side of legalization. I’m not asking anybody to light up in solidarity with the cause, but think about it — who would it actually hurt if we legalized marijuana? I mean really, all we have to lose is the entire contents of the chip aisle at WalMart. Do the math — we would be saving the equivalent of one Rupert Murdoch a year. A whole Rupert Murdoch!