Should We Legalize Marijuana?
In the perspective of America's war on drugs, marijuana is one of the biggest enemies. And since alcohol and tobacco, two life threatening substances, are legal it is a relevant question to ask why marijuana is illegal. The taxpayers of America can partly answer this question when they fill out their tax forms and when they hear the hash rhetoric used against marijuana by the government. The fact that marijuana is illegal is sufficiently caused by the amount of money, jobs, and pride invested in the drug war
. In other words, the government cannot turn back now.
In order to demonstrate this cause, the difference between illegal and legal substances (specifically alcohol and marijuana) must be abolished. Alcohol, as we all know, was once illegal. The reason that it was illegal was because the ill effects of alcohol
led many people
to fight for the prohibition cause. Some of these ill effects are direct and some alter the behavior and motor skills of the drinker, helping them do things they would not usually do. More often than not, the direct effects result from heavy drinking, like "depression is frequently diagnosed in alcoholics" (Rittenhouse 140). But just getting drunk can do serious harm. "Accidental trauma forms the major cause of brain damage from alcohol" (140) would indicate alcohol as a threat to human health.
Marijuana on the other hand seems a little out of place in its classification as illegal. The source previously cited notes that, "Although it is classified as a Schedule I drug for regulatory purposes, it is clearly different pharmacologically from the opiate analgesics" (Rittenhouse 151). Also, recently a heated debate has arisen on the medicinal value of marijuana. Whether there is a definite use for marijuana is unclear, but there is surely no such debate concerning alcohol.
So once again I posture the question why is marijuana illegal if it is not more dangerous than substances that are legal? The American government's investment in the war on drugs spans the spectrum of governmental offices. But the main recipient of funds from the budget is the Drug Enforcement Agency, located in the Department of Justice. Before I start quoting budget allocations, I would like to ask the reader to make a small assumption. The budget does not make distinctions between fighting marijuana and fighting cocaine, heroine, etc. So I would ask that the reader assume marijuana accounts for five percent of the budget's drug prevention allocations. This is probably much smaller than the actual percentage, but there is no way (as far as I can tell) of knowing for sure, and I do not want to overstep my bounds. So, keeping the above in mind, the projected 1998 budget allows for 15.997 billion dollars for what it calls "Federal Drug Control Funding" (Budget 331). The aforementioned Drug Enforcement Agency, better known as the DEA, was projected to receive 1.146 billion dollars. Also, 281 million dollars was projected to be spent on federal prisons for the housing of drug offenders. If marijuana was to be legalized these amounts would be reduced and taxpayers would gain, but the government would lose that very same money.
Besides the money that would be lost, many people would have to find another job. The projected 1998 budget allocated 753 million dollars to "salaries and expenses" for the DEA alone (Budget 467). This is more than half of what the DEA receives from the government, meaning that jobs and the funds that the jobs need would take a serious hit from marijuana legalization.
A more intangible investment that the government makes in the war on drugs is its pride. The government makes a concerted effort to inform the American public that marijuana is bad for the taxpayers. The budget allocated 620 million dollars for what it calls "Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities" (Budget 331). This most probably involves education for the schools and communities on the adverse effects of marijuana. Ex-DEA agent Michael Levine comments that, "As I write this, President Bush and the 'drug czar' are playing the media for all its worth to convince us of the effectiveness of the drug war" (Levine 13). Also, I recently observed a commercial sponsored by the Office of the National Drug Control Policy, a governmental agency, which depicted marijuana as a problem in our society. The camera showed a father and his son eating breakfast without talking to each other. After about fifteen seconds of silence a voice chimes in with, "Another missed opportunity to tell your kids about marijuana". These organizations and powerful individuals seem to be putting their very credibility on the line in their belief that marijuana should be illegal. Furthermore, it would be an incredible case of the government swallowing its pride if marijuana was to be legalized.
In light of all this information, the legalization of marijuana would be quite a defeat in their investment. It is not only the amount of money invested in the enforcement of anti-marijuana laws or only the jobs that count on marijuana being legal. Nor is it only the pride with which the American government takes in fighting the supposed evils of marijuana. If marijuana were to be legalized then the whole loss of all these factors would be the real heartbreaker. In addition to this, the government, as an investor, is in a rather unique position. They have virtually total control over the decision of legalization. Would it then be prudent for them to suddenly throw away their money, jobs, and pride without extreme pressure from an outside source. No, it would not; the government would never alienate so many people and so much money, unless they had to politically.
It is ironic that the government chose to wage a "war" on drugs, because the current situation with marijuana seems to be strikingly similar to that of the Vietnam War. Because of the government's arrogant stance against communism, Vietnam was prolonged for many more years than it had to be. In explaining the threat of a possible nuclear war, writers George Kahin and John Lewis comment that, "Kennedy appreciated the dangerous potential inherent in any step by step escalation of violence whereby a nation's objectives are gradually broadened as it becomes more committed to a favorable outcome" (Kahin 181). The government's new "commitment" for a drug-free America, however, has nothing equivalent to the threat of nuclear war to stop the escalating Drug War.
For Vietnam, it took an almost revolutionary social movement for the government to pull out of their investment. This is also the case with the war on drugs. No matter how badly it is working or how wasteful it is for taxpayers, the government is not one to throw away its investment on its own. There must be strong pressure from the American people for the government to let go of the investment. However, herein lies the problem; for the cause of legalizing marijuana is not perceived as a noble cause, and the vast majority (especially middle and upper class) of Americans would not lift their pinky finger for legalization. So until this changes, the government will most likely get to keep the huge investment that they have in fighting marijuana.
1. Analytical Perspectives, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 1998. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office:1997.
2. Kahin, George McTurnan and John W. Lewis. The United States in Vietnam. The Dial Press, New York: 1967.
3. Levine, Michael. Deep Cover. Delacorte Press, New York: 1990.
4. Rittenhouse, Joan Dunne, ed. Consequences of Alcohol and Marijuana Use. National Institute on Drug Abuse; Rockville Maryhland: 1979.