The recent rash of news stories in local media about raids on marijuana gardens and dispensaries leads to an obvious conclusion: the prohibition of marijuana and the accompanying war on marijuana are both abject failures. Federal and state policies have resulted in crime and violence, just as the prohibition of alcohol led to crime and violence. The solution to the current problem is largely identical to the solution to the prohibition against alcohol: legalize it.
Many marijuana growers, dealers and users do not want legalization, much as many in law enforcement don’t want legalization either. Both have a great deal to gain from the prohibition of marijuana. Law enforcement gets good PR in the “war on drugs” and big budgets year after year. The marijuana traffickers get to be outlaws and to make big bucks. The losers are the American people who pay through the nose to buy marijuana and underwrite the continuation of the war.
There have been more than 800,000 arrests every year for the last 10 years on marijuana charges. Since 1970, more than 20 million people have been arrested on marijuana charges. Those arrests have not deterred the growth of the marijuana industry and the steady arrival of new generations of pot smokers, stoners and heads.
“Reefer Madness” has gone on far too long—for 74 years. It doesn’t seem likely to end soon, and the recent raids on dispensaries will have the effect of driving dealers back into the lucrative black market and the unregulated underground economy which has created marijuana millionaires. It’s time to look honestly at the issue, to see all sides, and think rationally about a subject that many are incapable of examining in the cold light of reason. The lack of clarity only adds to the problem. As citizens in Northern California, the U.S. region that grows more marijuana acre-by-acre—and better marijuana, too, than any other region in the United States—surely we ought to be able to put our heads together to come up with rational solutions for ourselves and for the nation at large.
Jonah Raskin is an SSU professor and the author of ‘Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.’