This is about a U.S. president who has and other officials who should reconsider their stances.
This is about a revenue source scornfully rejected by federal and state officials despite their desperate need for new sources of funding to stop further slashes in services the public expects.
And, this is about closing off a gateway for America’s obsessive criminalization that drives the revenue-draining and racially-discriminatory mass incarceration.
This is about reforming America’s expensive and ineffective prohibition of pot. Over 60 million regularly use marijuana experts’ estimate.
The prohibition subject puffed up this past Saturday evening during the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner when comedian Jimmy Kimmel raised reefer reform with President Barack Obama telling the attending Chief Executive that marijuana “is something that real people care about.”
Obama, in a 1995 memoir, admitted using marijuana during his youth.
Yet, the Obama administration is currently conducting draconian crack-downs on medical marijuana facilities that are legal under state law but still illegal under federal law.
Obama once pledged “hands-off” medical marijuana but now contends he ‘meant’ individual users not operations serving those users.
Obama’s graduation from two Ivy League universities — Columbia and Harvard’s Law School — before his political career in the Illinois legislature and U.S. Senate dispels the decades-old mantra that smoking marijuana destroys intellectual capabilities.
Since the dawn of the 21st century police across America have arrested over 8-million people for marijuana violations.
In 2010, for example, police arrested 853,838 for violating weed laws with a whopping 88 percent of those arrests for possession-only, according to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report.
Typical of discrimination, police target Blacks for marijuana enforcement far more than whites despite federal statistics consistently documenting whites using more marijuana than Blacks.
Blacks accounted for nearly half of the 25,635 persons arrested for marijuana offenses across Pennsylvania in 2009.
In California, studies document that Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites and three times more likely for imprisonment.
The president of California’s NAACP has called marijuana reform “a civil rights issue.”
Discriminatory law enforcement constitutes another reason why Obama must stop stonewalling this reform issue.
The president must act to end discriminatory marijuana law enforcement not because he’s Black (or because he once smoked) but because such practices are illegal.
Currently use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in 16 states (including New Jersey) and Washington, D.C.
Despite marijuana’s medical usages since the ancient Chinese and Egyptians, the federal government still maintains marijuana on its Schedule 1 prohibited list for drugs with no currently accepted medical uses.
As of last month, measures to approve medical marijuana were pending in 12 states including Pennsylvania and adjacent Maryland and New York.
Some research documents that teen use of marijuana dropped between 1999 and 2006 in eight of the ten states that legalized medical marijuana.
Federal and state authorities have spent millions of dollars since 1970 successfully beating back lawsuits to simply move marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 that includes drugs with medical uses.
Reforming marijuana laws makes dollars-and-sense.
On the dollars side estimates of new tax revenue generated from legalizing marijuana, published in Bloomberg Businessweek.com a few years ago, ranged from $45-to-$110-billion per year nationwide.
Two years ago a Harvard study placed a $13.7-billion cost on arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment.
Savings from eliminating the billions expended in governmental costs of enforcing marijuana prohibition add to the tax revenue derived from legally selling marijuana — sale proceeds currently go into the non-taxed/untraced black market.
Earlier this year a legislator in Virginia proposed simply studying the issue of legalizing marijuana presenting preliminary figures of enforcement costs saving at $245 million plus new taxes generating $250 million revenue thus netting nearly a half-billion dollars for that state annually, as detailed in a Washington Post article.
A new pot of money from legalized pot sales in Pennsylvania, for example, could significantly increase state funding to the fiscally beleaguered School District of Philadelphia.
Such increased funding would decrease cost cutting schemes like the one announced last week by the School Reform Commission calling for the closing of scores of schools and privatizing many services. If past practice is a predictor those proposals will profit the well-connected more than substantively benefitting poor performing students.
Legalizing marijuana would not authorize putting pot filled pipes into the mouths of elementary/secondary school students any more than legalizing casinos in Pennsylvania authorized youths to gamble and/or drink inside those glitzy gaming facilities.
Resistance to reforming marijuana laws reaches absurd results like barring industrial hemp — a plant cousin of marijuana with no intoxicating properties.
Hemp provides (jobs producing) fiber, food, fuel and other useful items.
Hemp fuel for vehicles — cheaper than gas — can cut dependence on environmentally destructive oil production.
This week in New Jersey authorities seek to convict the often outrageous marijuana legalization advocate Ed “NJweedman” Forchion, trying him for a pot possession arrest.
Forchion’s defense is “jury nullification” — the ages old power of juries to disregard laws they deem unfair.
New Jersey’s constitution declares an “inviolate” right to a trial by jury but New Jersey court practice objects to informing jurors about their nullification power.
The time is ripe for the budding of new dollars-&-sense approaches to the widespread use of marijuana across America.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.