Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Using the Decriminalization of Drugs to Calm a Restless Nation

The parallels between the first 100 days of the Roosevelt presidency and that of Obama's have been much commented upon, with Roosevelt's first days being used as a yardstick for legislative achievement or at least activity. Now a new link between the two eras has begun to emerge: the decriminalization of marijuana.

In 1933, after Roosevelt enacted a steady stream of legislation to secure the nation's economy that would last generations, he repealed the 18th Amendment allowing for the sale of alcohol. While it was long a Democratic desire to do so, the practical reason was to generate tax receipts from the sale of liquor and expand various programs to put people back to work. It seems times have not changed much in 76 years.

Former San Francisco Supervisor and current State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano says the flailing California economy could receive a $1 billion boost by taxing the sale of marijuana. The legislation is currently in Sacramento. According to a Time article, the estimated $14 billion in sales of the drug would nearly double the state's next largest cash-crop -- milk and cream.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also signaled that the government is beginning to soften its decades-old stance against marijuana when he said that federal raids against California cannabis clubs would cease (such dispensaries are legal in the state) and states would be allowed to make their own laws on the subject.

As populist anger continues to bubble over regarding the economy, a steady stream of huge unemployment figures and the current scandal of corporate bonuses paid with taxpayer money, The Nation's Alexander Cockburn thinks making pot legal might calm the citizenry the way making alcohol legal was intended to cool pre-Great Depression America.

Ending Prohibition was functional to social control. If people head for the bars, they'd be less likely to man the barricades, calling for real change. As FDR's popularity soared, so Obama's popularity has soared for dope smokers, among them those whom the herb is the best and cheapest line of defense against pain.

The Internet has cultivated a large following of cogent pleas for decriminalization easily outnumbered by thousands of hokey ideas and conspiracy theories. The functionality of hemp seems to be quite popular on many of these sites. One unlikely voice in the crowd is noted travel author Rick Steves, who recently visited the Commonwealth Club of California to discuss not marijuana, but his film on Iran.

In a interview this week with Salon, the author gave his views on the elitism of many of our laws regarding pot.

The fact is, the marijuana law in the U.S. is a big lie. It's racist and classist. White rich people can smoke marijuana with impunity and poor black people get a record, can't get education, can't get a loan, and all of sudden go into a life of desperation and become hardened criminals. Why? Because we've got a racist law based on lies about marijuana.

It is unlikely a full repeal of many of these marijuana laws would occur under Obama -- the nation and the relative strength of many moderate Democrats and the Republican party would make it difficult even under the guise of increased tax revenue. What the attorney general's announcement indicates is a willingness to look away similar to what law enforcement already does when there are bigger problems than a high schooler smoking pot during fifth period.

--Steven Tavares


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