Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Alternatives to Prohibition

This past November I had the opportunity to meet with Ethan Nadelmann and hear him speak at the annual conference for Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Washington, D.C. - and I have to say some of his ideas are pretty clear and sensible.

I would agree with Ethan and say that Marijuana should be legalized, or at least decriminalized - as it has been in 13 of the 50 US States. I would say this is one of the biggest issues of the drug war. Too much money has been focused on police efforts to crack down on the personal use of marijuana by private citizens and non-violent drug offenders. 

The use of marijuana for a variety of purposes, including therapeutic, religious, and recreational,  have been recorded since 5000 BC and it wasn't until 1937 that it actually became illegal in the United States. Alcohol prohibition ended in 1933, only 13 years after it had been enacted. There were a slew of reasons for repealing the prohibition but a lot of it had to do with the Great Depression. When people are down they often turn to substances, just as some turn to jogging or knitting, to relieve the stress of their everyday lives. Also, the government realized that if they regulated and taxed alcohol they could guarantee quality control and make money off it. Why is it that we have yet to take this approach towards marijuana - or all drugs for that manner. 

I don't know if ALL drugs should be legal. However, I do believe that if drugs were made legal they could be more closely regulated so that quality could be controlled. Drugs would be taken out of the hands of gangs and drug cartels and into the grip of the government who could tax and regulate some substances just a tobacco and alcohol is. As someone who has tried many legal and illegal drugs I would argue that all drugs can be used responsibly by a person who has the will and personal strength and intelligence to understand addiction. However, I understand we do not live in a Utopian society where all people can do things responsibly and sometimes people get carried away or lost in a world of destruction.

Perhaps we should take a look at the Dutch - the Netherlands have coffee shops all over their country where you can purchase up to 5 grams of marijuana. The leaders of this country understand that this is one of the safest drugs and can be used by responsible adults. 

Just in case you haven't been to Amsterdam, or anywhere else in the Netherlands, this is what it's like...

First you find a coffee shop. This particular one is called Grey Area. Then, you go up to a counter and ask the guy what he has. 

He might then give you a menu that looks something like this....

(They even offer to let you use their bong or vaporizer)

And now once you have made your decision, you exchange your money for the product, sit down and enjoy. 

These are my personal pictures and come from my personal experiences in Holland which are not unlike many others. But how is it that when I return to my homeland and tried to light up in Starbucks - I would be thrown in jail. 

We need a drug policy that reduces harm; provides treatment to those who really need help - those battling with addiction. Instead of labeling them as criminals and wasting our resources by sending them to prison with child rapists and murderers we should be sending them to facilities where they will receive treatment and therapy. I think of it as almost a life in counseling center that is much like life in the real world. There should groups of addicts working and living together with a sober mentor who can help them battle withdrawals but also provide them with assistance and education on ways to better their lives and reintroduce them back into the world once they have been rehabilitated.  

Obama laughed when he brought up the idea that legal marijuana might actually help or even save the economy. But really when you think about it - how much money is there to be made on legal marijuana? How much money could we save if we stopped throwing people in jail for the personally and private use of a substance? Or what about the environment? Many people grow marijuana only to have it wiped out and destroyed by federal agents, thus contributing to our environmental decline. 

It's about time we shift our focus from punishing citizens towards making sure everyone is safe and that people get help when they need it. Does it not seem logical that we should have the right to put any substance into our bodies, absent harm to others?

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