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June 2004
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National Review and an End to Marijuana Prohibition

Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No
other law is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed
unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace.

This quote is from the cover story in the new issue of National Review, featuring drug reform figure Ethan Nadelmann titled “An End to Marijuana Prohibition: The drive to legalize picks up.”
Later in the piece, Ethan Nadelman shows the disconnect in the government with the issue that is having the largest effect on promoting change.

The drug czar and DEA spokespersons recite the mantra that
“there is no such thing as medical marijuana,” but the claim is so
specious on its face that it clearly undermines federal credibility. The
federal government currently provides marijuana-from its own production
site in Mississippi-to a few patients who years ago were recognized by
the courts as bona fide patients. No one wants to debate those who have
used marijuana for medical purposes, be it Santa Cruz medical-marijuana
hospice founder Valerie Corral or NATIONAL REVIEW’s Richard Brookhiser.
Even many federal officials quietly regret the assault on medical
marijuana. When the DEA raided Corral’s hospice in September 2002, one
agent was heard to say, “Maybe I’m going to think about getting another
job sometime soon.”

Nadelman also touches on the comparisons with the original prohibition and includes one of my favorite ditties:

In 1931, with public support for alcohol Prohibition rapidly
waning, President Hoover released the report of the Wickersham
Commission. The report included a devastating critique of Prohibition’s
failures and costly consequences, but the commissioners, apparently
fearful of getting out too far ahead of public opinion, opposed repeal.
Franklin P. Adams of the New York World neatly summed up their findings:

Prohibition is an awful flop.
  We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
  We like it.
It’s left a trail of graft and slime
It don’t prohibit worth a dime
It’s filled our land with vice and crime,
  Nevertheless, we’re for it.

Two years later, federal alcohol Prohibition was history.

The whole article is worth reading.
Interestingly, William Buckley Jr (whose quote about marijuana prohibition is on the left side of my page). has announced his retirement from runing the magazine. He was responsible for earlier issues of the National Review which have analyzed the drug war failures. And now, yesterday he wrote another article about the stupidity of marijuana prohibition: Free Weeds.

Today we have illegal marijuana for whoever wants it. An estimated 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, the great majority abandoning its use after a few highs. But to stop using it does not close off its availability. A Boston commentator observed years ago that it is easier for an 18-year-old to get marijuana in Cambridge than to get beer. Vendors who sell beer to minors can forfeit their valuable licenses. It requires less effort for the college student to find marijuana than for a sailor to find a brothel. Still, there is the danger of arrest (as 700,000 people a year will tell you), of possible imprisonment, of blemish on one’s record. The obverse of this is increased cynicism about the law.

We’re not going to find someone running for president who advocates reform of those laws. What is required is a genuine republican groundswell. It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe “the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children.”

Such reforms would hugely increase the use of the drug? Why? It is de facto legal in the Netherlands, and the percentage of users there is the same as here. The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

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