Dare I Mention the Word - Marijuana

The following is a response to blogger Paul Hammond's posting on Barack Obama's position on marijuana.


America’s criminal justice system has over the past few decades evolved into a criminal justice industry where vested interests and corporate interests have propelled our country into the largest prison in the world, and the largest prison population in the world. And it is not just the two million who languish in cells; it is the millions more affected as families and communities are disrupted. It is not just the millions incarcerated; it is the consequences of the world’s greatest crime university that takes in young men who committed small crimes and turns out hardened criminals and recidivists. It is not just the millions who sit imprisoned, but the fact that one in three adult black men in America are felons or ex felons – deprived forever of not just their suffrage, but disadvantaged regarding housing, employment and education opportunity. And a huge portion of those entering this system for the first time are there for relatively small illegal drug offenses.

We fail to recognize how barbaric we appear relative to all other western countries and many third world countries when it comes to crime and punishment. We fail to understand that The Netherlands, where small amounts of recreational drug possession is decriminalized, that for every person per population that Holland puts behind bars, America puts fourteen. That’s right, we incarcerate at a rate fourteen times as high, on a relative basis, than does The Netherlands. These are hard facts.

And as for marijuana use, the middle class, clean cut, white suburban high school student, who goes into the murky shadows of inner city realms to find a bag of grass, is coincidently exposed to predatory drug pushers who will acquaint our young lad with a far more dangerous and addictive menu.

Our pharmaceutical industry and our physician enterprises are all too eager to prescribe any of an assortment of “legal” mood changing chemicals to their affluent patients. But marijuana, a medicinal for centuries, cannot be even seriously studied for its efficacy.

I lived recently in Amsterdam for two and a half years. There were three coffee houses within blocks of the middle class canal house where I lived (not like the more psychedelic tourist trap Amsterdam coffee houses that cater to the world’s backpacking youth). These were not shady crack houses with disreputable clients, they were bright and warmly friendly gathering places where well dressed neighbors met, sipped coffee, would perhaps ceremoniously roll and share a Dutch marijuana and tobacco joint, and relax amidst an environment where crime is virtually unknown, excepting the occasional bike theft.

We, as Americans, arrogantly insist that we are the beacon to the world, but fail to look outward for solutions that other countries have long ago found to a myriad of social issues – not the least, an undeniable urge of many to chill out with an occasional marijuana smoke.

I can’t fault Obama too much for backing off this subject on which an inordinately influential segment of our population still views with irrational hysteria – I only hope that more, like you, will have the courage to come forward and insist that marijuana be fairly judged in the civic square relative to tobacco and alcohol use.


Paul Hammond said…
Well thought out and entirely correct. I fault him though. He claims to be a different sort of politician. Sometimes part of that is tellingt people what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear.
Bill Garnett said…
I admire and sympathize with your idealism – especially at the ripe ole age of 251 (as your profile suggests).

We had two straight talkers in this campaign – Dennis Kucinich on the left and Ron Paul on the right – and we saw how their candidacy fizzled. Politics, reasonably and perhaps unfortunately, requires compromise.

We have a president who was an alcoholic and certainly a drug user in college, a past president who “didn’t inhale’ and committed a sexual indiscretion that a couple miles away in Virginia would have been a felony. We live with, and as a society accept, quite a bit of hypocrisy.

But it is not so much the fault of our leaders as it is, as the cartoon character Pogo once better said, “We Have Found the Enemy and It Is Us”. Yesterday, in a hotly contested race, in Midlothian where I live, only one in three registered voters showed up at the polls. “We the People” have abrogated our responsibility and into that void have stepped the powerful and corporate interests.

I got this message today from a 23-year-old student at VCU:

“I went to my polling place, my old elementary school right after I got off work. I got there at 630, stood in line until after 7:00, at which point I found out from a friend that all the networks had already proclaimed Obama, whom I was voting for, the winner..

Since I wasn't even half way through the line and had made plans to meet my friends, I left.

Unfourtunatly, I later realized that VA is not a winner takes all state, so my vote would have mattered regardless.

I also saw nobody under the age of 30 while I was standing in line. Many of my friends voted, and any of them that didn't certainly weren't owning up to it.”

I rest my case.
Alter of Freedom said…
I tend to agree with Paul. I did not chose to vote in the Democrat primary which I truly considered in large part to situations like this. I truly will never vote for Clinton nor do I feel she should be placed at the head of the table of Democrats simply b/c it is "her time", but as far as Obama goes there are still far too many unclarified details of policy to convince me he is anything more at this point than a great communicator, campaigner, orator of the sermon on the mount type largely due to a large number of "NOT VOTING" records as a Senator just in the last year. Its like the drug issue you refer. Why is it he does not want to seem to take a stand on these where he failed to even cast a vote in 2007:
SCHIP 9/07
CHIP 11/07
Bridge Repair Funding (even after the collapse in 2007)
Energy ACt of 2007 12/07
US-Peru Trade Agreement 12/07
National Defense Authorization Act 2008
Prohibiting Funds for Groups Performing Abortions (fine with me if we do not want tax dollars going to groups who perform these but why not at least cast a Nay/Yeah)
Obama is quite inspiring but like your drug issue there comes a time when one has to actually step up and articulate some real stands on the issues that one communicates so eloquently need our attention.
Paul Hammond said…
All these people agreeing with me is quite disturbing. You must be part of the "Paul Hammond" demographic I keep hearing about.

More about Obama. I feel like somebody's got to pick on him and as Al Franken has said, "Why NOT me?". As soon as I get motivated (which usually doesn't take long) I'm gonna start taking a few pops at him, all legitimate I hope.
Anonymous said…
Man and here I was thinking that Amsterdam was one of the world capitals of bike theft. I guess that only sounds heinous to a guy who cares a lot about bikes.

Coming from Vancouver and Victoria, I can tell you right off the bat that there is a connection between crime and drugs on a societal level.

People who are intoxicated/stoned feel entitled to any petty crime so long as it's not violent.

I now live in Asia where drugs are very rare.

Looking from the other point of view, what does this society lack due to a very low incidence of drug usage?


The absence of drug use causes NO negative side effects.

Here where I live, Betel Nut is the 'drug of choice' that sits on a fairly level plane with MJ (although with stronger links to cancer). It's totally legal and plenty of 'societal degradation' occurs because of it.

I don't mind if people want to use it medicinally or even responsibly, but it's 'selective ignorance' to suggest that because it is a 'soft drug' that it has _no_ negative factors.

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