Last week, the high court of the land took on a case to see how high those of us in the land will be allowed to be. What I speak of is the dispute between a state's right to enact its own medical marijuana laws and the federal government's desire to block such enactments.
This showdown in the Supreme Court could have long-lasting and far-reaching implications that impact not only medical patients but also the economic and judicial systems.
The drug laws in our country are both asinine and hypocritical. Like most of our criminal justice system the laws also discriminate against minorities and those in the lower socioeconomic classes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or naive.
Take, for instance, the current laws prohibiting marijuana. For more than a century, the hemp plant was considered an intricate part of our nation's agricultural production. It is well documented that many of our founding fathers, including George Washington, grew it and facilitated its use in the production of a range of goods including paper and clothing. While the psychoactive use of hemp was not often experimented with, the overall value of the hemp plant in the early United States cannot be argued. The first law concerning marijuana, passed in Virginia in 1619, required every household to grow the plant. Having lived in Boulder for some time, I know that some cities still take this patriotic duty to heart.
Then, along came the righteousness and anti-immigration movements of the early 20th century. The American Southwest received a flood of immigration following Mexico's revolution in 1910. These immigrants faced the timeless American tradition of nativism and racism directed at everyone whom happens to immigrate after your family arrived. What the Anglo-American men in charge at the time discovered was that these immigrants from the south preferred to light up the flower of the "dirt-weed" found growing all over the country. Controversial? Claims were made alluding to the plant's side effects such as madness and an uncontrollable urge for men to rape and pillage, not to mention the loss of female inhibition to men of differing colors. The "murder weed" preferred by Mexicans, black musicians and eccentric Caucasian would soon be illegal. Thus preserving the virtue of America, which was so prevalent during the Red Scare of the 1950s.
Alcohol would survive the dark period of prohibition and resurface for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately marijuana would enjoy no such renaissance. Laws regarding the drug would steadily become more prevalent, and conversely put more strain on our nation's justice system. Today, approximately 20,000 people are incarcerated in our federal prisons for violating marijuana laws, with another 25,000 to 30,000 in state and local jails. Being that the United States is the land of the moral and self-righteous, to some it may seem a bit dupliquitous to have more people incarcerated than any other nation on earth.
So why on earth in our modern, enlightened society where the punishments obviously do not fit the crime, do we continue down this destructive path? Would it surprise you at all if I told you the answer was money? Who would suffer the most if a readily available, cheap-to-produce, pain-killing, appetite-inducing drug were available to the public? Would it be radical of me to suggest that the massive drug companies and their lobbyists would be against such a product? Please spare me the argument that marijuana is to dangerous or that its distribution would become out of control if it was government endorsed. Anyone who understands the widespread, illegal distribution of pharmaceutical drugs such as Oxycotin, Ritalin, Vicatin, and Valium to name a few can see the transparency of this argument.
But the drug companies aren't the only ones to get in on the cash crop of this illegal cash crop. Think about the trial lawyers, the corrections system and even the federal government. Did you know approximately three-quarters of all $100 bills produced are in circulation outside of our country? Upon issue and distribution of these bills, the U.S. Treasury purchases an equal amount of interest-bearing securities. These securities are later cashed in upon return of the bills to banks. The United States earned an estimated $32.7 billion in interest through this method in the year 2000. That buys you a whole lot of bombs to drop on other countries. All these and more discrepancies are brilliantly laid out by Eric Schlosser in his book "Reefer Madness."
Drugs, not unlike alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine, can be extremely dangerous when used in excess. This is why, like said items, drugs should be made legal and put under the government's control. This includes not only marijuana, but also cocaine, heroin, speed, acid, mushrooms and anything else someone might have a wild hair to try to ingest. This would of course empty out the jails and restore inner-city ghettos to livable places, but those who are profiting off such situations would just have to live with it. If you think legalizing drugs would increase their use, go ask a high school kid whether it is easier to get his or her hands on a bag of weed or a six-pack of beer.
J.P. Eichmiller is a junior technical journalism student. His columns run on Tuesdays.