Politics in a Nutshell: Matters of fact, not fear

Graphic by Kathryn Messinger

Graphic by Kathryn Messinger


Often enough, people lose sight of the origins of laws or the purpose of war, staying on the same path because it’s something they have been told to believe in or for fear that the sudden impact of change will drastically alter their world views.

People have lost sight of the events that led to the prohibition of marijuana, and the extensive measures that the United States currently takes to keep it that way.

Just when did marijuana become illegal? According to a PBS.org timeline of marijuana illegality, the 17th through 19th centuries saw widespread use of hemp [the actual marijuana plant] in paper, rope, sails and clothing. After the Mexican revolution of 1910, immigrants from the country poured into America, introducing the culture to recreational use of the drug. Fear and prejudice of Mexicans in the states resulted in protests aimed at banning the use of the drug because of the crimes committed by Mexicans who used marijuana.

The Great Depression inspired American Nationalism, creating irrational dislike toward Mexicans because of a shortage of jobs. By 1931, 29 states outlawed the plant due to socially deviant behaviors exhibited by the “racially inferior.” The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 criminalized the substance. President Obama has said throughout his time in office+ that he has bigger fish to fry, meaning that the almost $20 billion in costs doesn’t outweigh the benefits.

State senator Nicholas Scutari said in an nj.com article that the federal law isn’t enforced fairly. Despite the fact that both blacks and whites have similar usage rates, the ratio of those incarcerated between the two is three African Americans, per one Caucasian.

Currently, 20 states and D.C. have decriminalized marijuana in some form, with Colorado and Washington being the only two to establish recreational usage, according to governing.com, a government data website. This past Monday, Scutari introduced a bill that aimed for the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey, on the grounds that the nearly $2 million in tax revenue was netted in the first month of Colorado’s legalization.

Jeffery Miron, senior Harvard University lecturer in economics, in a Huffington Post article, used data from 2010 to estimate the impact of legalization and came to the following conclusion: $8.7 billion would be saved on law enforcement, and another $8.7 billion would be generated through reasonable taxation — add in the effects of inflation, and approximately 20 billion dollars per year would be saved at the federal level.

Marijuana is a Schedule I drug on the federal level, alongside drugs like LSD and heroin. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report in 2010, the amount of arrests for marijuana possession was 663,032, while the amount of arrests for violent crimes was 534,704. In 2011, possession arrests rose to 750,000 and there is a highly probable chance that those numbers have stuck with the trend of rising marijuana arrests since 1980, thanks in part to Ronald Reagan’s signing of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act and the Comprehensive Control Act, which raised the penalties for marijuana possession, with a clause instating mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders. George H. W. Bush’s televised declaration on the war on drugs in 1989 made matters far more severe.

Let’s examine the facts: It is costing the federal government $20 billion dollars a year to enforce a law aimed at those who threatened the 1930s’ way of life, and it is currently enforced based on race, not crime. In an age where the government can’t finance its own military or social security for its well-deserving citizens, it seems that the money could be used somewhere else. It’s time that Americans made decisions based on facts, and not in fear of change.

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