Guest Post: "Cannabis - A Long 'Signal of Misunderstanding'", by OOOBuck
TFMR regular, OOOBuck, offers some weekend reading and a history lesson.
Cannabis - A Long 'Signal of Misunderstanding'
Whether you approve of it or not, cannabis reform is coming to your state where it will soon be available for 'recreational' use. Despite some alarmist views (including a few within Turdistan), its legalization will not herald the downfall of our society (the central banks are in charge of that) but will be embraced by both business and government as an opportunity for economic growth and increased tax revenue. I believe those expectations are realistic.
Not unlike the casino craze that began a few decades ago, every government in the country will soon be clamoring for its piece of the marijuana revenue pie. And like the initial craze for building new and bigger casinos, interest will gradually subside. Of course, marijuana will never be just a fad but as its use becomes more commonplace, it will no longer occupy the role of forbidden fruit but rather, the second shelf of your medicine chest.
So what's your problem?
There are a few very real concerns; driving under the influence being foremost. Every idiot with smoke pouring out of his ears can hop into his car and drive to the nearest Piggly Wiggly to buy a shopping cart full of Cheez Balls and frozen pizzas. One day, they may even add some fresh bud to their shopping cart. Obviously, highway safety will require much better testing methods than currently exist.
Also, lethargy is something we all experience from time to time but the relaxation experienced while under the influence of THC (marijuana’s active ingredient) may negatively impact workplace performance, productivity and safety. Again, testing methods need to be improved and appropriate safeguards set in place. This will mean more rules and regulations, all impediments to our personal freedoms in the name of public safety.
So is it worth it?
Only when you come to realize that marijuana and its active components have been a part of human society and medicine for more 5,000 years (almost as long as gold). This herb has been extensively studied and repeatedly shown to provide countless benefits. I won't begin to list its benefits here as there are voluminous studies on the subject. Just google it - reliable sources, extensive research.... it's all there. And of course, it is not just in medical applications affecting our bodies that it is shown to be of benefit but in the many ways that it can influence our lives on a social and spiritual level (appreciation of music, sexual gratification, appetite enhancement, anxiety relief, etc, etc).
If it's so great, why is/was it illegal?
Original legislation in America had less to do with the negative effects of marijuana than it did with racism and immigration. America originally singled out cannabis as a problem only when, in the early 1900s, some southern US states were experiencing a new wave of undesirable Mexican immigration. (Sound familiar?)
Politicians and media of the day pointed to the dangers posed by these new immigrants and chose one of the defining characteristics that made them especially bad. You guessed it... marijuana consumption. Of course, no one took the time to examine the medicines in every day use, a great many of which contained a cannabis ingredient. That wasn't the point. The dark-skinned Latinos just weren't the stuff that we wanted to build 'our' America with. Prohibiting its use quickly resulted in the search, seizure and deportation of untold thousands.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively banned its use and sale. The legislation was prompted by horribly skewed and biased hearings which, among other things, claimed marijuana use caused men of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women. Of course, the MTA was passed promptly but was found to be unconstitutional in years to come.
Never one to be undone by constitutional concerns, Richard Nixon filled the gap by creating the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 and insisted that marijuana be temporarily categorized as both dangerous and addictive, ranking it with heroin and other highly addictive drugs. This was to be followed by a permanent status for the drug as soon as Nixon's suspicions could be confirmed by a government appointed investigative body. Raymond Shafer, former governor of Pennsylvannia, was to head what became "The Shafer Commission".
The Shafer Commission was comprised of numerous doctors, psychiatrists, politicians and lawyers. After almost 2 years of investigative research and debate, the commission presented its report to Congress entitled "Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding". It found that marijuana users, rather than being dangerous, actually became more timid, drowsy and passive while under the drug's influence. It concluded that cannabis did not cause a widespread danger to society, recommending social measures other than criminalization to discourage its use. Not only did the commission reject classifying marijuana as a dangerous Schedule 1 drug, it even questioned its designation as an illicit substance.
This was hardly the news Nixon had been waiting for and with just months remaining in his presidency, he outright rejected the commission's findings and permanently installed marijuana on the list of Schedule 1 drugs.
The Nixon Legacy
Here's an interesting headline from a 2016 article in the Washington Post:
“Police arrest more people for marijuana use than for all violent crimes — combined”
The ACLU and Human Rights Watch report shows that arrests for drug possession continue to make up a significant chunk of modern-day police work.
"Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime," the report finds, citing FBI data. "More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year." Many of those convictions end in some jail time for simple possession but 'habitual offenders' (2 prior convictions) can end up with sentences of 10 to 20 years.... or more! There are currently 54 inmates serving life sentences for marijuana in the federal system (counting only those added to the roles since 1996 - probably a few dozen more from previous years). However, pot lifers in state prisons are not included in this count. A few states — particularly Oklahoma and Louisiana — sentence significant numbers of non-violent marijuana offenders to life without parole. The chart below clearly demonstrates that our fascination with locking people up seems to have taken off after Nixon introduced the Controlled Substances Act.
So what's it all cost?
It is very difficult to find current figures for the actual annual cost of keeping a human being behind bars in America today. The cost depends on whether the inmate is housed in a federal, state or city lock-up and whether he's in a privately owned 'for profit' prison or in one operated by the state. It also varies from state to state and city to city. California for example, costs a little over $70,000 per prisoner annually but New York City jail costs are considerably higher, punching out at an impressive $167,731 to feed, house and guard each inmate, according to a study from the Independent Budget Office. There were over 12,000 inmates spending time in NYC jails in 2013!
For the sake of argument, let's call the average cost of maintaining a prisoner in America in 2018 at something in the vicinity of $60,000 annually. Now multiply that by the total number of men and women that will be peering through iron bars tonight and you'll need to toke up just to handle the numbers. Back in 2009, the number was 2.23 million souls. (That number declined slightly after 2009 but seems to be catching an updraft at the moment.) My calculator reveals costs in 2009 of $133,800,000,000. Probably up a bit since then.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE ! There's the initial brick and mortar costs in building prisons and jails; judicial costs to convict the accused in the first place and of course, policing costs to arrest them and provide evidence to prosecutors. And please, don’t forget the families of those languishing away in our prisons; families were an extra wage earner could make the difference between being on welfare or buying a new car or educating children.
So let’s put it all together with some ball-park estimates…. Costs for arrest and conviction $150,000; additional facilities to house the prisoner - $50,000 to $150,000 (depending on jurisdiction); $60,000 annually for security and maintenance of inmates. (http://druglibrary.net/schaffer/Library/basicfax.htm)
Taking into account all the costs to society, it’s not long before the number 'trillion' appears in the calculation.
OK, not everyone in jail is there on a marijuana conviction
But a lot are. According to a NORML report from 2008, half of all drug convictions that year were marijuana related and a staggering 44% were for simple possession. Thanks to the Nixon administration placing marijuana in the Schedule 1 category of drugs, something significant started to take shape in the early 70s and just continued to grow year after year for the next 40 years.
So, let’s do some simple arithmetic. As mentioned earlier, 2.23 million inmates in prisons and jails in 2009 across America, at least half of them on drug convictions. Of those drug convictions, half were for marijuana related offences. By my count, that works out to about ¼ of all inmates behind bars being there because of marijuana and most of those for simple possession! The calculation is undoubtedly flawed but whatever the real number, it’s enormous and it’s all because a president who was about to be impeached, refused to accept the advice of his own Whitehouse commissioned panel.
So what does that mean in dollars and cents to your tax bill? Well, based on the above numbers and rounded for simplicity, take 1+ Trillions in dollars in total costs, quarter it and you end up with a cool $250 billion…annually. Your tax money at work, folks!
OK. So what happens after we legalize it?
Well, for one thing, we’ll have a lot of people clogging the judicial system as they try to get their asses out of jail. The burden of the cost for doing that will be substantial but it will be partially offset by fewer arrests and convictions entering the system. Just how much isn’t clear but based on recent numbers, we may already be seeing the affect of legalization in Colorado, Washington and growing number of other states. Check out this chart from 2015.
The times, they are a’changin’
Attorney General Jeff Sessions – whether he realizes it or not – will find he is on the wrong side of history and lacks the ability to prohibit states from legalizing marijuana.
While Sessions proposes another front in the war on weed, the DPA report indicates those states that have legalized recreational marijuana are more effective at protecting the public safety and the health of their citizens.
This chart from marijuana.com details 5 states that are liberating both people and money.
“As states legalize recreational marijuana, they are filling their coffers with millions of dollars that would otherwise be headed to the black market. Allocated for the good of society, this new tax revenue is providing critical funding for expanding educational opportunities and creating drug diversion programs.
- From 2015 to 2017, Colorado’s recreational marijuana tax revenue has generated $230 million for the Colorado Department of Education.
- Since legalization began in Oregon, the state has distributed $34 million to its school fund.
- Nevada’s state school fund is projected to harvest approximately $56 million over the next two years based on their 15 percent wholesale marijuana tax.
- Washington state allocates 25 percent of their collected marijuana tax revenue to substance abuse treatment and 55 percent to fund basic health plans.
- Alaska is projected to collect approximately $12 million annually from the recreational marijuana program, funds which will help finance community centers and drug treatment programs.
- California and Massachusetts will invest a share of their marijuana tax revenue in the communities most adversely impacted by drug arrests and incarcerations historically, particularly low-income communities of color, to help repair the harms of discriminatory law enforcement.”
And that’s just the beginning!
Projections for annualized tax revenues when all 50 states come on board are impressive but pale when compared to the staggering costs America has endured since the implementation of the Controlled Substances Act and the inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
The Nixon and Reagan administrations turned a blind eye and chose to ignore extensive scientific and social evidence that marijuana should never have been included in the Schedule 1 list of drugs. Furthermore, those administrations in particular, adamantly refused to consider the extensive research and evidence that overwhelmingly recognized the herb for its medicinal and spiritual properties, not only now but throughout its long history.
That monumental blunder and gross lack of judgement cost the American taxpayer untold trillions of dollars and destroyed the lives of millions of Americans.