When Will Mainstream Media And Veteran Politicians Accept The Fact That Marijuana Reform Is Here To Stay?
By John Payne, Show-Me Cannabis Regulation Executive Director
On Election Day, voters in Colorado and Washington legalized the adult use and distribution of cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana). These votes represent seismic shifts in the American public’s attitude towards the plant and likely portend the end of our 75 year failed prohibitionist policy. However, some members of the media still found it difficult to take the issue seriously, with anchors joking about the munchies, a new meaning for Denver’s nickname as the mile high city, and states “going to pot.” As Jon Stewart noted on The Daily Show later in the week, “just talking about a marijuana story gives news anchors the giggles.” And not just anchors: When I gathered signatures for Show-Me Cannabis Regulation’s legalization initiative this past winter and spring, many folks thought the issue was a light one – a humorous one.
But as someone working to end the war on cannabis because of the very serious harms that have been inflicted by this policy, I know that it is no laughing matter.
The least funny aspect of the war on marijuana is black market violence. Last year, nearly 20,000 people were killed in the fighting between the Mexican government and the drug cartels on America’s own southern doorstep – more than twice as many people than were killed in the war in Afghanistan. Just as bootlegger violence ended with the repeal of alcohol prohibition, this horror will end when cannabis prohibition is repealed. According to a study released by a respected Mexican think tank a few days before the election, marijuana legalization in just three states would deny the cartels of up to 30 percent of their profits. People likely would not scoff at marijuana legalization if they reflected upon the thousands of lives it could save.
That’s true domestically, too, as prohibition is transforming parts of our own country into war zones. Law enforcement agencies execute tens of thousands of SWAT raids every year, and most of them are for drug warrants. Furthermore, these raids frequently do not go as planned. All too often, police raid the wrong house or end up shooting family pets or even residents when they react, quite predictably, with panic at having their home invaded violently.
Readers may remember a 2010 incident in Columbia, Missouri where the police raided a young couple’s home and shot both of their dogs, killing one of them. The other dog was merely wounded by a ricocheting bullet, which could have just as easily struck and killed the couple’s seven-year-old son. Police only ended up finding a trace amount of marijuana and paraphernalia, but the prosecutor had the gall to charge the couple with child endangerment, when it was the government’s marijuana policies that truly endangered the child’s life. Scenes such as this play out across this state and this country every day; this particular one is only well-remembered because the police recorded the raid, and the video subsequently attracted a great deal of media attention.
Once they hear that this is how our cannabis laws are enforced, people rarely giggle.
They also do not laugh when they hear that more than 750,000 of their fellow Americans are shackled and caged every year for cannabis offenses – nearly 90 percent of them for simple possession. It’s true that most people convicted of possession won’t be sentenced to prison, but they often receive a criminal record that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Every time they apply for a job, financial aid for higher education, or sign a lease on an apartment, they will likely be asked if they are a convicted felon, and when they say “yes,” they will be passed over for similar applicants without the burden of a criminal conviction.
The most common response I received when I gathered signatures was fear. Many people who support marijuana legalization are afraid to sign a petition on the issue for fear of retaliation from their employers or the police. This extends to volunteers, as well. Many volunteers have ended their involvement in cannabis law activism because their employer threatened to retaliate against them for it; because it could be used against them in a custody dispute; or because they have been previously convicted of a cannabis offense, and their probation officer would view it as a violation. The very existence of these people proves that cannabis prohibition is eroding our most basic right of free speech, but their justified fears prevent them from correcting those who laugh off cannabis law reform as fundamentally unserious.
This country was founded on the ideal that every individual is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but cannabis prohibition strikes at the most basic fabric of our society by violating every one of those rights. Numerous recent polls show that a majority of Americans want to legalize and regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, but not nearly enough people understand that it is not only a good idea, but also one of the utmost importance. This policy is killing thousands of people abroad, eroding our civil liberties by ransacking our homes and suffocating free speech, and creating a permanent underclass of people who have been convicted of nothing more than possessing a plant. I can think of no other domestic policy in the United States today that does so much damage and all in the name of a policy that has been entirely ineffective at preventing people from using marijuana.
When most politically-engaged Americans start to think of cannabis prohibition in these terms, the laughter will stop, and newscasters will stop showing B-roll of people taking bong rips every time they interview a cannabis law reformer. The consequences of cannabis prohibition are deadly serious, and it is time that this issue moves from the periphery of our political discourse to front and center.
This editorial was published on the Missouri News Horizon website last Friday, November 16 and then distributed to their media affiliates across the state. If you would like to help us continue spreading the truth about cannabis policy to communities across the state, please donate now!