Tuesday, March 31, 2009

President Laughs At Supporters

I wasn’t going to do a post today because I have something very special planned for tomorrow (are you as excited as I am?). But this is something I just had to mention. Our president held a “town hall meeting” last week where he answered questions submitted over the internet. And guess what the number one question was. That’s right, the legalization of marijuana.

So the president knew this in advance and had time to prepare an intelligent response to this question, which is clearly important to a large portion of the American public. And how does he respond to this question? With mocking derision. His response:

“There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation, and I don’t know what this says about the online audience. The answer is no, I don’t think that [is] a good strategy.”

He chuckled as he said it, and his studio audience laughed right along. Ha ha, stupid stoners think the president gives a shit about them. And in the few days since, many have written about our president’s mocking of the very people who played a big role in getting him elected. Not to mention the embarrassing follow-up by his press secretary. So I’ll say no more about that aspect of it. Shame on you, Mr. President!

But in all fairness, the topic of the questions to be addressed was the economic situation. And with the trouble our country is in, does anybody really think that the few billion dollars saved and generated by legalizing marijuana would be any more than a drop in the economic bucket? Hardly. So the president’s response, that legalization would not be an effective strategy to boost our economy, is probably true. Granted, he could have said this without deriding anybody. But his answer alone, taken literally, did not really rule out any future changes in the legal status of marijuana. Just that legalizing it to save the economy would be pointless.

On the other hand, I think the question was not phrased correctly and/or not really answered completely. Because if marijuana were legalized, I would assume that hemp too would be legalized. And that’s a whole different story. Legalizing hemp could indeed go a long way toward fixing what’s wrong with this country. Like reducing our dependence on foreign oil for starters. And I think virtually anyone would admit that our being the only country in the world that forbids the growing of the most valuable crop known to mankind just because it is related to a plant that produces a “dangerous narcotic drug” is beyond ridiculous.

So perhaps if our president had given his answer some serious thought, and not been so flippant in blowing off a serious issue, he might not have come across as so pompous and condescending. Not to mention insulting. So please, Mr. President, next time a large group of your supporters poses a serious question to you about an issue that is very important to them, take them a little more seriously. Maybe if you could ignore the propaganda and the hysteria it produces and inject some of that rational thought you are known for, things could really change. We might even stop trying to cut off our nose to spite our face.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Solution To Our Economic Crisis

A while back I wrote an article, called By The Numbers, about the number of people in our country who are criminals because of our current drug laws. I pointed out that if the DEA and other law enforcement officials were really doing their jobs, we could easily put 5, maybe as many as 10, percent of our population behind bars. At that time it didn’t occur to me what the economic implications of that might be. And now, as our country is sliding deeper into the pit of economic despair, suddenly it’s all become clear to me. This could be the solution to all of our problems.

First, let’s look at what would happen to employment opportunities if say 5 percent of our population were convicted and incarcerated for possession of marijuana, as they should be. They are, after all, criminals. Assuming most of these new convicts were previously employed, it would mean that there would be immediate openings in about 1 of 20 jobs. And these would not all be minimum-wage, entry-level jobs. No sir. Marijuana smokers come from all socioeconomic levels, so there would be vacancies from corporate CEOs all the way down to fast-food counter people. The current unemployment rate is around 6 percent, so that alone would almost wipe out our unemployment problem. Assuming we could find qualified, non-incarcerated people to fill all those jobs.

And then there’s that sudden increase of around 15 million new convicts. New prisons would have to be built. Lots of them. And guards would have to be hired. And let’s not forget all the support industries needed to provide for all of the prisoners’ needs. Why it would be a golden age for the private prison industry. It would surely mark the end of unemployment as we know it. And just think of the other, more indirect benefits. Traffic will be lighter, lines will be shorter, and schools will be less crowded. Getting front row-seats at major concerts will never have been easier.

Of course there would probably be some minor inconveniences us law-abiding folks would have to endure. Taxes would probably have to go up to pay for the people in prison. But what would you expect with 1 in 20 people being supported by the state. Sure there would be fewer students in institutions of higher learning, but the faculties would be greatly reduced as well, so it should work out. And we may no longer lead the world in computer technology, with a lot of our top talent out of the picture, but there’s always the cheap knock-off business. And I’m afraid the entertainment industry would probably grind to a halt. But that’s OK, since those of us on the outside don’t really want to watch all that pro-drug propaganda anyway. Now that I think about it, there probably isn’t any industry that would be untouched, except perhaps the clergy. But they have other problems to deal with.

So, you’re probably saying to yourself, it sounds like there’s really no downside. But how are we going to accomplish our goal of sniffing out, arresting, and imprisoning every single one of the regular marijuana-smoking criminals in our country? I mean our law enforcement officials are already stretched to the limit already, aren’t they? Again, where there’s a problem there’s a solution. Yet another industry where employment opportunities will skyrocket. But even with lots more police, how can we possibly catch these people, what with them tending to keep a low profile and all? I mean you can’t just go house to house and search everyone, can you? Why not? Since when has the Constitution stood in the way of accomplishing something really important? Not in my lifetime it hasn’t. If it had, we wouldn’t have all these criminals running around in the first place.

And really, that’s all just a start. Once we get all the regular marijuana users safely locked away, there’s the occasional and even the one-time users we still have to worry about running around free on our streets. Occasionally breaking the law is still breaking the law. According to most estimates, somewhere in the neighborhood of half the adults in this country have used marijuana at least once. That’s right, 1 out of every 2 people in this country is a fugitive at large. If we could pull off apprehending and incarcerating all of these dangerous criminals, we wouldn’t have to worry about anything other than the prison industry ever again. Half the population would be behind bars, and the other half would be guarding and taking care of them. It would be a new era of unheard-of prosperity. And our streets would be safe once again (or for the first time). Well except for the murderers and such. With all that effort devoted to dangerous drug users, a few other criminals might just slip through the cracks. Seems like a fair trade. Do you think it’s too late to reconsider that economic stimulus package?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Most Intelligent Statement By A U.N. Official—The Winner Is...

Drum roll, please... Antonio Maria Costa (Maria?), director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. And that statement, made at the recent U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in support of the ongoing war on drugs, is:

“Should humanity accept pedophilia, human trafficking or arms smuggling out of a naive sense of market inevitability or intractability? ”

So let me get this straight. A consenting adult, smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her own home is comparable to engaging in pedophilia, slavery, and/or arms smuggling? If we legalize one, we might just as well legalize them all? Is it just me, or this this guy a few cards short of a full deck? (Or maybe he’s high on drugs.) Is personal use of a recreational drug really such a serious “crime” as to be equated with some of the worst offenses known to mankind? To answer that, I think we need to take a look at exactly where recreational drug use fits on the “seriousness” scale of crimes. To better illustrate this scale, I’ve created this blog’s first-ever original graph.

The horizontal axis of this professional-looking graph represents the seriousness of a crime. I’ve taken the liberty of placing some common crimes in their approximate locations on the scale. You may disagree with the exact placement of these items, but I think you get the general idea. You might also notice that almost all of the “crimes” on this scale have something in common. They are considered crimes because they involve one person doing harm to another. And that harm doesn’t have to actually happen. For example, driving under the influence or speeding are crimes because those acts have the potential for doing harm to another person. And it’s generally true that the more harm caused, actual or potential, the more serious society considers that crime.

So where exactly does recreational drug use fit on this scale? I’ve separated that “crime” from the scale and surrounded it with question marks on the graph (pretty cool, eh?) because that is the $64,000 question recently under consideration by the U.N.: How serious of a crime is using recreational drugs? Apparently the director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime believes it should be located on the right half of the graph, somewhere between arms smuggling and pedophilia. Makes you wonder who this guy knew (or blew) to get his cushy U.N. job. I suspect he did not dazzle them with his intellect during the job interview. Unfortunately, among world leaders and policy makers, he is far from alone in his opinion. That’s why we are where we are today. And why it looks like the U.N. will decide to continue with its failed prohibitionist policies.  In other words, stick with the status quo.

Now me, I’d place personal use of recreational drugs somewhere to the left of speeding on the graph. Actually, I guess that would put it off the graph, and thus make it not a crime at all. But that’s just me. I can’t help but think of all the responsible recreational drug users I know, and can’t quite equate them with pedophiles or arms smugglers. And in case you didn’t realize it, I was using sarcasm in the title of this piece, as I am wont to do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Message

Every time you hear someone speaking out in favor of the war on drugs, they invariably mention one reason why this war can never end. They may discuss other valid and not-so-valid reasons to continue the war, and these reasons vary depending on the source. But it always seems to boil down to the single, bottom-line, most-important, fundamental reason why the war on drugs can never end: The Message.

If we decriminalize or, god forbid legalize, any or all drugs, what kind of message would that send to our children? Good question but, you know, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard any anti-drug crusader actually answer that question. (Perhaps it’s a rhetorical question?) So I’ll take it upon myself to answer for them, to put words into their allegedly drug-free mouths. The message that they believe it will send to our children is simply this: Drugs are OK.

But I think it’s more than that. And it’s not just children that might get the wrong message. I think they believe that by saying drugs are OK, that they will be condoning drug use. Even worse, they fear that people will infer from the message that the government is not only condoning, but actually encouraging people to use drugs. They seem to believe that the only thing stopping the vast majority of Americans from using and abusing drugs is the law. Without such a law, every man, woman, and child in the U.S. of A. would start abusing drugs. Not just the people that would use drugs in spite of the laws, but everyone. They won’t be able to help themselves. Without their government telling them what is bad for them, they have no way of knowing. If something is legal, people just can’t help doing it.

And you know what? I think they are absolutely right. I can’t speak for others, but I know that the law is the only thing stopping me from committing a variety of immoral acts. Without such laws in place, I would most certainly be totally out of control. Multiply that by 300 million, and you can see why our government is so worried. I mean, what if other victimless crimes involving only consenting adults were suddenly no longer crimes? Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but if prostitution were suddenly legal in my state, I’d probably be found in the company of hookers more often than not. Thank goodness the law is preventing me from engaging in such immoral behavior. Not that I’ve ever had any desire to engage the services of a prostitute, but who knows if I’d feel the same way if my government didn’t threaten to put me in jail for such behavior. The same is true for gambling. I don’t really enjoy gambling and never really had much interest in it. But maybe that’s because it’s illegal in most places. If it were to become legal in my state, I’d probably loose everything in a matter of days. You’d find me day and night in a casino, probably with a hooker by my side. And what about gay marriage? I’m not gay, but who knows what might happen if the government sent me a message that marrying someone of the same sex is OK. I’d probably be first in line for a marriage license. That is, if I could tear myself away from the hookers and black jack tables. And worst of all, just imagine if there were no seat belt laws. I can just see myself cruising along at high speed, my unused seat belt flapping in the breeze, my gay spouse by my side, a hooker in the back seat, all the while shooting craps. And I’m a reasonably responsible adult. It would surely be total anarchy.

Assuming that I’m your typical, average Joe, maybe the government has a point after all. If a behavior is not illegal and there is no threat of being labeled a criminal if you engage in it, what’s to stop people from doing it? You can’t count on people to have common sense or even to make reasonably intelligent decisions. That’s what the government is for. Sort of like a kindly Big Brother, watching out for our best interests and threatening to punish us if we get out of line. And the big brother analogy is very apt, since they use threats and intimidation to keep us on the straight and narrow. Anyone who’s ever had a real big brother knows how effective that approach is. Kind of makes me feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that my government will always be there to tell me what is right and wrong, and to make me sorely regret ever doing anything that they’ve told me is wrong.

Oh, and since my government decided back in 1933 that alcohol is OK, I’ll be consuming that drug non-stop. Why? Because by making it legal, my government is encouraging me to use it. And because I know that my government wouldn’t ever let me do anything that might cause harm to come to me. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No More DEA Raids?!?!?!

The American medical marijuana community is practically creaming their collective jeans over a statement made by (Obama-appointed) attorney general Eric Holder at a recent press conference. Just to put things in context, here is the question he was asked:
“A second thing on drug policy: Right after the inauguration there were some raids on California medical marijuana dispensaries. Was that a deliberate decision by you, by the Justice Department? Is that a prediction of policy going forward? Do you expect those sorts of raids to continue? <…unintelligible…> what the president said during the campaign.”
And here is Mr. Holder’s response:
“Well, what the president said during the campaign, you’ll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we’ll be doing here in law enforcement. He was my boss during the campaign. He is formally and technically and by law my boss now. And so what he said during the campaign is now American policy.”
Virtually every medical marijuana proponent in the country is taking Mr. Holder’s statement as absolute truth. They are hailing his statement as a milestone, a turning point in the government’s policy toward medical marijuana. It’s official—DEA harassment of the medical marijuana community is now a thing of the past. Medical marijuana patients all across the country can now live happily ever after without fear of prosecution for taking their medicine.

And it may very well turn out to be everything medical marijuana users have hoped for all these years. Then again, maybe not. I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but I feel the need to play devil's advocate here.

Mr. Holder’s statement sounds kind of vague to me. He didn’t specifically mention marijuana in his response, though that was the question he was responding to. He can easily come back to quote what he said as having nothing to do with marijuana. A lot of campaign promises were made. Does that mean they are all “American policy” now?

Even if we are to take what Mr. Holder said in good faith, since when does a sound bite from a press conference equate to the establishment of a national policy? At least any more so than a campaign promise does. It may come as a surprise to some, but politicians have been known on occasion to say things that are not entirely truthful, especially when they are trying to get elected.

And I’m no legal scholar, but I’m pretty sure you can’t change a law by making a statement at a press conference. In other words, the Controlled Substances Act is still in effect, and marijuana is still a Schedule 1 substance. So it sounds to me like our Attorney General is saying that he will not be enforcing the law. Not that I’m complaining in this particular case. But do the American people really want an Attorney General that publicly states he is not going to do his job? Surely someone other than me has asked, or will ask, this question. Does the president really want to give his opponents even more ammunition against him by appointing someone to his cabinet who openly flouts the law?  And what about when a new president is elected and a new attorney general is appointed?  What’s to prevent them from enforcing the law again? At best, this can only be a temporary solution.

Don’t get me wrong. I really hope all the optimism in response to this statement is justified. But I’ve been around long enough to have learned that premature chicken counting is never a good idea. I’ll believe what Mr. Holder said and start celebrating when something is actually put in writing (i.e., a new or modified piece of legislation) or we’ve gone a year without any further DEA raids of medical marijuana dispensaries. For now though I am, at best, cautiously optimistic.