Here's a crazy idea that may sound a bit absurd, but follow me through on this:
Cannabis will be legalized in the United States of America by 2010.
"Totally absurd," you say, as you shuffle the pages and mutter something about illogical and idealistic hippies with no grounding in reality. Even those who would support such a concept would have an idealism tempered by decades of disappointment and be--rightly--cynical about any sort of far-reaching change like that. And geez, wouldn't legalization come after decriminalization?
Why on Earth would he think something so goddamn silly?
The prohibition of cannabis (and indeed, the entire orchestration of the U.S.-led "War On Drugs") is likely the single most-neglected social justice issue of the last two decades in North America. When people think of the term "drug abuser," they think of homeless crack cocaine-addicts spoiling the beauty of downtown or causing harm upon innocent citizens, not non-violent cannabis users, many of whom use cannabis in a legitimate medicinal fashion. Flipping through the pages of Treating Yourself, the closest the cannabis community has to a full-fledged academic journal, one quickly realizes that pot offenders aren't the problem.
So why have cannabis arrests in the United States skyrocketed in the last ten years?
Cannabis is actively being pursued as the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) drug of choice, a development that's only taken place recently. In 2002, deputy director for state and local affairs Scott Burns was quoted in a letter to state prosecutors as saying that "no drug matches the threat posed by marijuana." A fantastic Rolling Stone article ("How America Lost the War on Drugs," Ben Wallace-Wells) quotes drug czar John Walters as equating cannabis growers to "terrorists who wouldn't hesitate to help other terrorists get into the country with the aim of causing mass casualties." The numbers are even scarier than the rhetoric. A study by a Harry Levine at Queens College in New York shows arrest rates for cannabis possession increased from 39,000 between 1987 and 1996 to 362,000 in the last decade. That's over nine times the rate of the decade prior. While the less rational among us will argue such an increase is because of the inherently addictive and destructive nature of such a terrible, terrible drug, the more rationale (such as those among us who've read the dozens and dozens of medical reports stating that prior conclusion is most definitely not the case) will realize this is a politically- and ideologically-motivated attack on an incredibly intelligent and diverse community.
Obviously, a trend of increasing drug arrests is in no way indicative of a future trend of legalization. However, there is also a U.S. presidential election in the works and it's increasingly likely a young, mixed-race Democrat will take the vote.
But so what? Potheads have been wanting to legalize cannabis for ages, and neither Kerry nor Gore hinted at even decriminalization when they ran. Add to the fact the sheep-like mainstream voter is deathly afraid at the devil merry-ju-wanna and it looks like the second verse will be the same as the first.
Obama, however, is significantly different from both Kerry and Gore. U.S. political culture has also dramatically changed since 2004. Bush's rhetoric of fear was entirely effective due to not only a mediocre Democratic nominee but also prevailing worries about Iraq and the War on Terror. There's also the trend of Americans generally not voting out the incumbent during a time of war.
How Obama also differs is that even if you discount his mixed-heritage he's--to use probably the understatement of the year--probably at least a little bit more sensitive to black issues than Bush. This is significant because the War on Pot is heinously discriminatory towards minorities. In the Levine study, 85 per cent of the people jailed for marijuana possession were either black or hispanic. The rate of incarceration in New York for blacks is nearly 3.8 times that of whites. Taken to a national level, the rate is two and a half times greater. Worse, in some parts like Syracuse, the rate is nearly ten times that of whites.
Regardless of how you interpret this, the fact of the matter is that there is an immense number of non-violent black drug offenders in prison. In fact, according to an International Herald Tribune article, 2008 marked the first time in history when more than one in every hundred Americans was in prison. The total U.S. prison population is in the neighbourhood of 1.6 million. According to a separate source, an estimated 80 per cent are non-violent drug offenders. How is this sustainable in any capacity? If you look at the graph of incarceration rates, it's an exponential curve. One would think it would level out, however, it hasn't. Furthermore, states spend almost 7 per cent of their entire budget on corrections, behind only the three big ones: health care, education and transportation.
Consequently, there's both a financial and social aspect to the situation. It is quite likely the black community will pressure Obama to do something about the fact they're being unfairly discriminated against (whether this is true or not, though I tend to veer towards the former), and if not, then the obscene cost of the U.S. prison state will result in at least some sort of leniency towards drug offenders by necessity alone. The average cost to imprison a single person for a year in the U.S. is $23,876. This doesn't even begin to touch upon the lost income tax revenue potentially generated if those jailed for cannabis sale or production were able to legitimately make their living. The British Columbia marijuana industry is worth over $8 billion according to a Fraiser Institute study--and that's in a country of 33 million. Were cannabis legalized in the States, a country of 230 million, the money made from taxes would be enough to fund either the War on Terror or something like health care ad infinitum. It doesn't matter which end of the political spectrum you lean towards, legalization makes brilliant financial sense.
I also believe that if the Democrats are smart and want to dismantle the Republican party for the next two decades, they will try to differentiate themselves from the Bush administration as much as humanly possible. What better way to do this than to legalize an innocuous substance that has been demonized by conservatives since time immemorial? The near-fascist detention of cannabis users can easily be coupled with the near-fascist manner in which Obama's predecessor has done everything. Were the Democrats and media to historically paint the Bush administration as fascist, the notion of President Jeb Bush will seem utterly farcical come 2012.
None of this will ever come to fruition if the cannabis-using population of the U.S. remains silent. If there is to be change in the manner I've described, it has to come from massive grass-roots pressure--no pun intended. If cannabis prohibition in the United States ends, it will end everywhere. How utterly bizarre would a news story about Canadians trying to extradite U.S. pot seed dealers sound? Canada is economically pressured by the U.S. in the bulk of our domestic policy and this is just another instance where we'd follow--and this time, it wouldn't even cause us national queasiness.
Freedom's coming in 2010. Spread the word.