By Rose Pedenko and Tanya Simon
Over forty years ago, Baby Boomers were encouraged to experiment with drugs (smoke it, snort it, pop it, shoot it) as part of embracing the cultural changes, the culture clashes, and the “cultural revolution.” The idea was to detach from the existing conventions and societal hierarchies.
The merits, as well as the excesses, of that era continue to evoke strong emotions, often in the form of nostalgia or regret, and perpetuated through film and music. There are some who have never moved on, who remain stuck in a “ganja” haze, and are perfectly content. And there are the others who moved on but maintain that recreational drugs (marijuana, for the most part) are no more harmful than an occasional cocktail.
We can’t debate the experts’ analyses of maturity, self-control, addictive personalities or religious tenets in this short commentary. What we can do is lay out a common sense position for legalizing marijuana in the U.S., which might help turn the tide of extreme violence that is racing at breakneck speed onto our border states.
There is a very real danger proliferating up and down California’s border with Mexico, and the war being waged against the Mexican cartels for the running of illegal drugs is now spilling into our country. At the same time, Mexico, like California, is on the verge of financial and social collapse. The reason for these failures is the hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal drug money. If marijuana were legalized, those hundreds of millions would find their way into city coffers. The “illegal” aspect remains the exclusive reason for the violence.
The root cause of this war is Americans’ insatiable thirst for illegal drugs.
Exacerbating the bloody conflicts is Americans’ unapologetic unwillingness to “just say no,” like the naïve anti-drug campaign of the 1970s. It might’ve been cool back then to spit in the face of common sense, but today that cool has been overshadowed by the savage violence associated with drug traffic. Self-indulgence and lack of personal responsibility makes victory in a war on illegal drugs impossible.
1920s Prohibition will never again be revisited, because no one who enjoys fine wines, champagnes, beer, and old Scotch will ever sacrifice that pleasure. Alcoholic beverages have become the most accessible and legal choice to escape our every day stresses (which are mounting exponentially). The irony is that alcohol kills 6½ times more American youth than all other illicit drugs combined.
Protecting our children should always be the primary focus in eradicating the illegal drug pipeline. However, it goes without saying that our best-laid plans for our children’s safety and well-being can be overridden by peer pressure to be cool. Endless adoration of celebrity “bad boy” and “bad girl” behavior, and movie glamorization of violence in the drug trade turns this battle into a joke. And who is having the last laugh? The cartels.
California is on the verge of bankruptcy, and so the political lobbying to legalize marijuana is going into overdrive. This convinces us, at least, of the efficacy of possibly generating huge tax revenues through the sale of “legal” grass. Whether you agree or not, legalizing marijuana is an idea whose time has not only come but may be the only way to survive what has already escalated into a protracted un-winnable war, not only on our southern border but also in Afghanistan.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated that between 1989 and 1998, American users spent $39 billion to $77 billion yearly on cocaine and $10 billion to $22 billion yearly on heroin. To arrive at these estimates, they multiplied the number of users by their typical expenditures, and then converted the resulting estimates to 1998-dollar equivalents. Most of the downward trend resulted from changes in the consumer price index. The U.S. now spends over $19 billion a year on the war on drugs. That money would be better spent on prevention rather than on interdiction.
We are not saying that America should revive the 1909 marketing of pharmaceuticals - “…marijuana, heroin and morphine…is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health,” but that we use common sense to regulate the distribution as we do for all other drugs. Heck, all you have to do is advertise the side effects on television and that’s enough to scare you. Will there be abuse? Yes. Can we live with it? Don’t we already? The best way to police drugs is to police ourselves and stop flushing taxpayer dollars down the toilet (with the evidence).
We’ve had it both ways for nearly a century: alcohol (legal) on one end of the teeter-totter, and drugs (illegal) on the other. Should it balance? Would it be worth the time and money invested to legalize marijuana? We say yes, because, so far, the anti-drug policymakers have yet to provide cohesive answers as to why the current strategy on the war on drugs, which costs billions of dollars and thousands of man-hours, has never worked.
Americans will always abhor and complain about the violence associated with drug crime. At the same time, however, they also need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and face the real problem.