The War on Drugs and The Legalization of Marijuana
Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the world. The word “marijuana”, referred to as “herbal cannabis” by the rest of the world, is the American term for dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis sativa plant (Caulkins 2012). The drug can be dated back to as far as 6000 B.C. when the plant’s seeds were used in China as food. It was used as a pain reliever and sedative in Napoleonic France (Spaulding and Fernandez). The flowers on the cannabis sativa plant contain concentrated amounts of a mind-altering chemical known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).1 THC varies in potency depending on the plant. The leaves of the plant, which have become the social symbol of marijuana, contain lesser quantities of THC. As John Caulkins writes in “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know,” marijuana “creates illicit markets with a total value in the tens of billions of dollars per year.”
The legalization of marijuana has generated a large debate throughout the United States. While 18 states have legalized medicinal marijuana, recreational use remains illegal (until the implementation in Colorado and Washington in 2014). Those in support of legalization emphasize how the prohibition of the drug has been ineffective and that there are many benefits of legalizing it. These include the decrease in trafficking and price of the drug leading to the elimination of illegal drug dealers. More importantly, legalization and regulation of marijuana can lead to a hefty increase in tax revenue on both a state and federal governmental level. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults over 21. The goal is now to regulate the market and the use of the drug similar to the regulatory laws of alcohol. “In Colorado, individuals over 21 can grow up to six plants for personal use and purchase one ounce of marijuana from dispensaries” (Spaulding and Fernandez 2013). Only licensed sellers are allowed to sell. Certain American state governments have come a very long way in order to be able to implement this law within their state legislation.
The War on Drugs is a prohibition campaign developed by the US government with the intention of reducing illegal drug trade by “curbing supply and diminishing demand for specific psychoactive substances determine immoral, harmful, dangerous, or undesirable” (Miron 2010). This campaign consists of strictly enforced laws and policies intended to hinder the production, distribution and consumption of illegal drugs. It started during the protests against the Vietnam War when Nixon declared to America that youth were turning to drugs, mainly marijuana, as a symbol of defiance. The War on Drugs was a response to social problems created by the recreational use of these substances. However, despite the efforts of this on going struggle, drug use and abuse are at their worst today.
Anti-war activists wanted to end the war and Nixon wanted to end their anti-war demonstrations and therefore created a connection between marijuana and anti-war activism. So, even though Nixon privately wrote, “They aren’t as radical as most assume,” he had formed a strong enough connection to raid protests with DEA agents. Nixon said, “‘those who use drugs are the protestors…the ones who get caught up in dissent and violence’” (Baum 1996). However, a poll of the college student protestors showed that only 25% of them had even tried marijuana. (Baum 1996).
Proven through history, prohibition is an unsustainable and ineffective approach. Ted Galen Carpenter is a senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at Cato Institute. Carpenter has written 10 books on foreign affairs, 3 relating to the War on Drugs, and has published over 400 articles and studies that have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and more (cato.org). In his CNN Article, "Drug Prohibition As a Global Folly,”...
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The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition
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