By Doug Fine | Alternet
America will benefit to the tune of billions every year when we end one of our worst domestic policies since … the prohibition of alcohol.
Even though I’ve lived west of the Mississippi for half my life, the native New Yorker in me has always been dismissive of reports that my tax dollars are being used to fund black helicopters that are hassling Americans in defense of foreigners, or the UN, or something.
“We have a Constitution,” was my standard tavern line to tipsy ranchers in places like Deming, New Mexico. No Americans are getting invaded by men jumping out of helicopters, I argued. Then I spent a year on the front lines of the war on drugs.
While researching what a post-drug war economy might look like from the producer standpoint — a project spurred in part by the 2011 arrest of the town mayor near my New Mexico ranch on charges that he was a member of a Mexican cartel — I quickly learned to sleep through the roar of helicopter blades that essentially provides the summer soundtrack in American cannabis production country. These choppers are used to seize something like 1% of the domestic cannabis crop. Oh, and sometimes they’re black.
It’s loud and nearly constant, but 40 years of such expensive, constitutionally questionable, cartel-ignoring nonsense has hardly put a dent in supply or demand. How do we know this? Let’s quote the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2009 Domestic Cannabis Cultivation assessment: “The amount of marijuana available for distribution in the United States is unknown…Despite record-setting eradication efforts in the United States, the availability of marijuana remains relatively high, with limited disruption in supply or price.”
Regardless, your tax dollars and mine, by the billions, in a time of fiscal crisis, are going to arrest otherwise law-abiding Americans north of the border. As former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and even Albert Einstein have pointed out (in 1921 during that early bout of nonsensical Prohibition) this further enriches the murderers south of the border by sustaining a prohibition economy. I don’t know how my neighboring cattle ranchers in the desert knew it, but they’re right: the war on drugs really is being fought for the benefit of foreigners.
Want an example? Just before he and his wife had their Mendocino County, California farm and medical cannabis cooperative destroyed by heavily armed and chainsaw-wielding Drug Enforcement Administration agents last October, a locally permitted, non-profit cannabis farmer and chamber of commerce member named Matt Cohen told me he was confident that he and his fellow American farmers (of America’s far and away number-one cash crop) were on the right side of history.
As we toured the field where his 99 man-sized plants wavered fragrantly in the breeze, the 33-year-old Cohen told me, “By the time alcohol Prohibition ended, on December 5, 1933, 23 states had already enacted laws regulating the alcohol industry.” Yep, he really knew the date. It was kind of his mantra.
In other words, before Congress was forced to wake up 80 years ago, enough states first decided that hysterical zealots telling people what they could or could not ingest was not the way to go, policy-wise. It was no way to run an economy (alcohol taxes at times had provided 70% of federal revenue prior to Prohibition). It was not even a good way to “think of the children,” as the screed still goes. When gangsters control an industry, they don’t ask to see ID. One hundred million Americans have used cannabis, including the last three presidents. “They shouldn’t have to be federal criminals,” Cohen told me last August.
Cohen was not a local criminal. Every plant on his farm wore an expensive, bright-yellow, local permitting “zip-tie” bracelet around its stalk. These represented participation in a new county program started because, in the words of Nobel Laureate free-market economist Milton Friedman in 1991, “Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords.”
True in 1933, true in 1991, true in 2012. With Connecticut’s new medical cannabis law, the latest but not the last, we’re at 17 states now unilaterally declaring peace in the drug war, and that number is going to keep growing (Massachusetts and Arkansas voters go to the polls on the issue in a couple of weeks on the medical side, and Coloradans, Oregonians and Washingtonians will be voting to fully end the drug war by regulating cannabis for adult social use). In fact, despite two recent polls showing a majority of Americans favor full — not just medicinal – marijuana legalization, it looks like the one-state-at-a-time model is going to be the one that ends the four-decade, ineffective, trillion-dollar war on cannabis.
That’s because the drug war issue is, in the words of former New Mexico Governor and current Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the issue of “greatest disconnect” between Americans and their leaders on the federal level.
What he means is, there is as yet almost no support in Congress, especially in the Senate, to get cannabis out of Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This absurd classification means that officially the plant has no beneficial uses at all. Even cocaine and methamphetamine are in Schedule II. As the tired and wrong rhetoric about brains frying on drugs fades from the society’s zeitgeist, the taxpayer is coming to ask why.
Here’s what I discovered: devoid of reason or results, inertia becomes the last refuge of the drug warrior. And it’s a powerful refuge. You think it’s hard to get funding for a program? That’s nothing compared to urging a legislator to turn off the tap once the bureaucratic flow is cascading to beneficiaries. And at a higher cost annually then Reagan’s entire 10-year Star Wars initiative, the drug war is one big flow. Sixty-billion dollars of our taxes are spent annually (state and federal) to lose this war.
Appropriations taps tended to get rusted in the on position because a lot of jobs and programs are at stake. That is sure true in the case of America’s longest and most expensive war. An American is arrested for cannabis every 37 seconds, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. This despite its proven medicinal properties and what any honest law enforcer will tell you is a much easier call to get than an alcohol one or one connected to America’s real epidemic: prescription pill abuse.
That cannabis is the main domestic drug war target has nothing to do with public safety. The reason for all the rural raids and urban stop-and-frisks is that a lot of people are paid to keep doing these things. The federal DEA alone has more than 9,000 employees and a budget of $2.5 billion. That’s an industry, people. Local law enforcers are directly and indirectly reimbursed based on their arrests and property seizures. Private prison executives guarantee incarceration rates in bids to municipalities. And the same banks you use launder Mexican drug money.
President Obama knows all this. Or did until his inauguration. In 2004, he said, “The war on drugs has been an utter failure. I think we need to…decriminalize our medical marijuana laws.” In 2011, hounded for three years by cannabis activists at every town hall meeting he held, he finally said, “Am I willing to pursue a decriminalization strategy as an approach? No.” Hard to turn of the money tap, ain’t it? That explains the federal disconnect, Governor Johnson. Too much of the drug war, in practice, is incarceration industry welfare.
Are there bad players in the American cannabis industry, which crop is worth more than corn and wheat combined, according to ABC? Of course. Criminals are just about all that prohibition’s free-for-all creates, other than a massive prison population. It’s why we’ve heard of Al Capone.