Our society has a drug problem. But it's not what you think.
The problem with drugs, is how we treat those who do them. In America we have some of the toughest drug laws in the western world. We lock away more people in the United States than anywhere else. More than Iran. More than China.
Think about that...
Half of the people in Federal prison are there for drug offenses. While around a quarter of state and local prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.
We spend 228 Billion dollars a year on the Federal prison system. Imagine being able to eliminate half of that money spent to incarcerate non violent drug offenders,and instead spending it on treatment programs for those taking hard drugs.
You know, crack, cocaine, and meth. The really dangerous ones. Not to mention prescription drugs, that are very much legal.
Most of the drug offenders are there for use and possession of Cannabis, or Marijuana. Surveys show Cannabis as the third largest recreational drug in America. And 50% of Americans favor the legalization of Marijuana. According to Gallup polling as of 2011.
But nonetheless a DEA official by the name of Michele Leonhart has no idea whether or not Marijuana is more dangerous or addictive than crack or heroine. Even in the face of many studies that show that it is not as harmful to health nor is it as addictive as other drugs and therefore shouldn't be classed as a schedule one drug along with the likes of heroine and methamphetamine's.
Jill Stein said it best in her presidential debate:
"Marijuana is dangerous because it's illegal, it's not illegal because it's dangerous."
So why are we spending so much money locking people up for something that isn't even as harmful as alcohol or tobacco? It's a long history when it comes to why we made marijuana illegal, and not really the focus of this article. But I can tell you one of the reasons why we continue to have harsh drug laws is because of the private prison industry and the influence of money in politics.
The private prison industry makes money off incarcerating people, in fact: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest prison corporations made over $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010.
Those corporations use a strategy of lobbying, direct campaign contributions as well as networking in order to influence politicians into making laws that are meant to put more people into those private prisons. The three main prison corporations contributed $835,514 to federal candidates and over $6 Million to state politicians according to ThinkProgress.org
Besides the human cost of being incarcerated, the drug war and the associated stigma of being convicted of a drug offence (even a minor one) can follow a person forever.
A good example of how the drug war can haunt someones life and prevent them from getting back on their feet is a guy I used to know from high school.
His name is Justin, and he's living out of his truck.
A former recreational user of marijuana, Justin was hit with a charge of marijuana possession September of last year. He ended up paying over $2000 in court fees and drug classes as well as six months probation. No longer a pot user, Justin has tried to get back on track after losing his house but faces job discrimination due to the drug charge on his record. Even his plans of going to college have been taken away as he is unable to borrow federal student loans to help cover his tuition costs, as well as to help him pay for things like food and rent.
With no options, as well as no way to afford food as there is now a law preventing college students from being able to get food assistance unless they work at least 20 hours a week. Justin has had to put his life on hold just to be able to afford food.
Having to quit school to eat is not something one should have to do in the richest country on Earth.
It wasn't until recently Justin had to move his camper due to complaints from people in the area, now with nowhere to go, and no money Justin finds it incredibly hard to find the strength to keep up his dreams of one day having a normal life.
"Its just what life is throwing at me. Handling this with dignity is going to be the hard part."Justin Posted on his Facebook wall, explaining to friends what he continues to go through.
The problem with this drug war is that it takes away dignity from those who are trying to get their lives back on track. With so many doors closed by the stigma of having marijuana classified as a schedule one drug; so many people have found it extremely difficult, especially in this economy to rebuild their lives.
The hypocrisy of the current administration as it pertains to the drug war is that the president himself has done marijuana before. Barack Obama knows personally how harmless smoking marijuana really is, and yet he hasn't done anything to promote legalization. He has even increased raids upon dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal under state law. The Obama administration continues to raid dispensaries and use his authority to overrule state laws.
Why? It's the money.
Sadly as long as there is money involved, coming from the private prison corporations, from paper companies, to big pharma that all see hemp as a danger to their business interests. Getting Marijuana decriminalized is going to be nearly impossible to do. While people like Justin and many others will continue to suffer a stigma for doing something that harms no one, and even more people will continue to fill our prisons and jails in order to feed the for-profit prison industrial complex while also filling the pockets of bought politicians in Washington.
This drug war is unconstitutional, anti freedom, and anti American.
We can do better.