Saturday, April 4, 2009

Taking Back the Right to Be Free

In 1996 the state of California passed Proposition 215 - allowing patients to obtain medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries around the state. By allowing the sale of medical marijuana, the government set up the need for private businesses who could provide the goods. This created the need for numerous new jobs and educational opportunities. Schools like Oaksterdam University in San Francisco (and now Michigan) were established for those interested in jobs associated with the legal sale of marijuana. Students study topics such as horticulture, cooking with Cannabis and the legal issues associated with owning and operating a dispensary. Once people have the proper credentials and requirements fulfilled, dispensaries started popping up all over the state. Today there are over 300 dispensaries across the state of California. 

Now California has a new proposition ( CA AB390) that would legalize marijuana. This bill would tax and regulate marijuana for recreational use much the way alcohol currently operates. People over 21 would be allowed to purchase marijuana legally but cannot use it in public places. Those wishing to sell would be required to pay a $5,000 fee for the first year in business and $2,500 for every year after. NORML estimates that, if enacted, the bill would bring in over $1 billion a year in revenue for the state and would create even more jobs and opportunities than Prop 215 has in the past. AB 390 would not interfere with Prop 215 and the current medical marijuana laws in California would remain in place. 

If we want to see policies like AB390 enacted we need to write our lawmakers to raise the issue. There are various organizations and advocacy groups that make it easy to get involved. You can help support CA AB390 by visiting to fill out a pre-written letter that they will send to your state representatives.

Based on this model its clear to see how the legalization of marijuana would not only bring billions of dollars into the federal budget, but would also create jobs - sending  billions more into the currently crumbling economy. 

But these policies cannot stand on their own. We must also rework drug education so that our youth understands the horrible consequences of abuse. Current arguments that marijuana is a gateway drug that has crippling effects is just false propaganda and insults the intelligence of all people presented with it. Children and teens should be taught in their health classes about different drugs that are around and what their effects on the body are - mentally, physically, and emotionally.  The current practice of "just say no" clearly has not been effective. People are going to try drugs and when it comes to our kids, they ought to be educated so that they can make the best choices. 

Current enforcement of marijuana laws alone adds anywhere from $10-15 Billion to the annual federal budget. About 700,000 people are arrested for marijuana each year - the figure is about the same for all other drug related arrests combined, and 600,000 of those 700,000 are arrested for simple possession.

Prisons are over crowed with non-violent, recreational drug users who drain the system of important resources. 

It is about time that we take responsibility for the Americans we claim to care so much about. When people get caught with drugs they should not be going to jail - they should be going to places where they will get real help. Drug traffickers and people who commit crimes should be put in prison. Private individuals should not be persecuted for responsible recreational use.  

The only way we will ever see effective law enforcement is if we take the initiative and raise the issues. We need to first create a discussion by writing our local, state, and federal policy makers. Here on campus at Syracuse University - I run a group called Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a group that seeks to spread important information about the war in America against America - the Drug War. I urge all those interested to join our facebook group.

The point here is that people should not be put in jail for the things for they put into their bodies. Obama's appointment for the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, aka Drug Czar, is Gil Kerlikowske - a police chief from Seattle who put marijuana arrests as the lowest priority for arrests, realizes the harmful effects the Drug War has on America's citizens and economy. He stresses drug treatment opposed to incarceration, a much more cost effective approach. 

Marijuana was once required to be grown by farmers and Virginia, George Washington has been recorded to not only have grown it but smoked it in his pipe rather frequently. Yet today, when people are caught with marijuana they are thrown in jail, or because of the Higher Education Act teens may loose all state funding and grants that help pay for college. It seems to me that somewhere along the way things may have gotten blurry. 

It is a time we take a stand and take back the right be free individuals who can make smart, intelligent decisions for themselves. 

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