Americans have declared the Drug War is over
- Drugs won big on Election Night.
- In all seriousness, it wasn't so much a win for drugs as it was a win for Americans, who after almost a century of Drug War have finally declared prohibition to be a failure (again).
- But the War on Drugs drags on, and until the states and the federal government put an end to the over criminalization of drugs, Americans will still have their lives ruined by prohibition.
- To paraphrase John Kerry, "How do you ask a person to be the last to die for a Drug War that was a mistake?"
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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It's fun to say "drugs won the 2020 election." It's an easy joke, but it's a serious matter, and it's seriously good news for the country that the Drug War lost big at the ballot on Election Day.
Based on the results from Tuesday, it appears the half-century long "War on Drugs" and the much-longer prohibition on marijuana are both gasping their last breaths, thanks to voters in states both deep red and blue voting to liberalize drug policy.
States as geographically, politically, and demographically diverse as Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota all voted to fully legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Even Mississippi voted to legalize medical marijuana.
Washington, DC, voted to make the criminal enforcement of mushrooms "among the lowest law enforcement priorities," while Oregon voted to legalize the consumption of psilocybin mushrooms for mental health therapy, and decriminalized the possession of all drugs — even heroin, meth, opioids, and cocaine.
It's important to note that decriminalization is not legalization, it merely treats simple possession as a public health issue, rather than prosecuting it as though it were a violent crime. And one need not celebrate greater public access to hard drugs to appreciate the simple fact that prohibition has once again failed in America.
The racist and hysterical "Reefer Madness" propaganda of the 1930s rebirthed prohibition in America just a few years after alcohol prohibition was rescinded by constitutional amendment. Then President Richard Nixon ratcheted up the War on Drugs in 1971, which one of his top aides decades later explicitly admitted was a deliberate war on "the antiwar left and black people."
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan — as well as hardline-prohibition Democrats such as then-Sen. Joe Biden — brought the War on Drugs into the mass incarceration age. Well into the 1990s, states and the federal government tripped over themselves to pass more punitive anti-drug measures, mandatory minimums, and zero tolerance drug testing policies.
After almost a century of pointless tragedy, all signs point to the Drug War eventually being buried in ignominious defeat.
With every election cycle, the US political class has less to fear from the pro-prohibition voting bloc. Recent polling shows nearly 70% of US voters and more than half of likely Republican voters support marijuana legalization. When you've lost an overwhelming majority of the public and most Republicans, you'd think there would be a rush to end a multi-generational self-inflicted tragedy, right?
Marijuana legalization remains mired in a painfully slow crawl, primarily because of the federal governments' ridiculous designation of weed as a "Schedule I" narcotic — reserved for the most dangerous drugs with the least medicinal value.
That designation keeps legal dispensaries in states with full legalization from being able to accept credit cards or work with most banks. It also leaves them at the whim of the Justice Department, which still reserves the right to stage federal raids no matter what state law says.
The other biggest reason marijuana legalization continues to move at a glacial pace is the inability of local politicians to work out the practical details of what a post-Drug War world looks like.
New York has a completely Democratic-dominated government, and yet, marijuana legalization failed two years in a row. A major sticking point in the negotiations was over the number of guaranteed licenses for minority-owned dispensaries. Not a trivial concern, but how many years does it take to work that out when it's all Democrats negotiating with each other?
We should never lose sight of the fact that for as long as it takes to work out these political and economic considerations, people will be prosecuted for marijuana possession or minor distribution.
And they — like all drug "offenders" — may be handcuffed, fingerprinted, and forever placed in "the system."
They may permanently lose their access to public housing, education, and employment. They may end up in violent conflicts with police. They may end up on an irrevocable path to self-destruction because their state treated the drug addicted as a threat to society, rather than treating drug addiction as the real threat.
Prohibition turns people, including the non-addicted, into criminals. And as the worldwide leader in imprisoning our citizens, we don't need to artificially create more criminals.
Many states continue to fight as dead-end insurgents in a Drug War that's all over but the shouting. And along with the still-instrangient federal government, states ruin lives based on archaic failed policy.
When Vietnam veteran John Kerry testified before Congress about the abject failure of a war in which he served, he asked "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
The Drug War is widely acknowledged as a mistake, but it joylessly putters on.
Someone's going to be the last person whose life is destroyed by the Drug War. We can only hope that those in government work to ensure a more swift end to prohibition, lest too many more lives be destroyed by a mistake.
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