Want To Strike Back Against Politicians? Here’s How

California’s Proposition 19, the people vs. the politicians – which side are you on?

The great divide between politicians and the people is showing itself in California where polls show the voters support Proposition 19 and where the mainstream politicians mostly oppose it.

There are not many policies more bankrupt that marijuana policy.  In 1970 a national commission recommended that marijuana be decriminalized and non-profit transfers be allowed.  President Nixon, rather than listen to the experts, doubled down on the already failed and mistaken policy.  The result was 100,000 additional arrests the year after the experts said people should no longer be treated as criminals for marijuana use. And since the experts said it should not be a crime nearly 15 million Americans have been arrested.

Only four states have populations larger than the number of people arrested for marijuana since the experts said people should not be arrested for marijuana offenses.

Yet, the status quo politicians – people like Senator Diane Feinstein and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – continue to want to ignore the experts and, more important, they want to ignore the people.

Polls have consistently shown Proposition 19 to be 7 to 11 points ahead of those who oppose the initiative.  Nationally polls show large pluralities and even a majority of Americans oppose keeping marijuana illegal. How can police continue to enforce laws that half the people oppose?  What kind of legitimacy does enforcement of such laws have?  Won’t enforcing illegitimate laws undermine police relations with communities?

That is why smart, experienced police officers like Neil Franklin, a 33- year law enforcement veteran at both the state and city level, supports Proposition 19.  Officer Franklin sees Proposition 19 as a step toward healing the division between the people and the police.  He recognizes that marijuana prohibition undermines the relationship between police and the people they serve because when they come into their neighborhoods it is to search homes, cars and people. It creates distrust and undermines effective community policing.

So, this November the people have an opportunity to tell the professional politicians – we want to end policies that do not work and undermine law enforcement.  The war on marijuana has been a destructive failure.  It seems obvious to most of the people but the politicians don’t get it.

If I were a politician that supported marijuana being illegal throughout my career, I would not want admitting I was wrong.  Hard to say “sorry we arrested you and ruined your life for something that should not have been illegal.”  It is hard to admit an error so large and so destructive of millions of lives.

In 1970 the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommended ending the illegality of marijuana in the United States, the Dutch also had a national commission that reached the same conclusions. The difference was the Dutch listened to their experts and President Nixon and other American politicians ignored our experts.  Well, the results are in – the experts were right and the politicians were wrong. According to surveys conducted by both governments in the United States 41% of Americans have used marijuana, compared to 22.6% in Holland.

In 2001, based on recommendations from a national commission, Portugal went further than Holland and abolished all criminal penalties for possession of marijuana and other drugs.  The result – reduced use, reduced costs and reduced damage from marijuana to peoples lives. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the European Union, a mere 10%.  Further, Portugal reports that use dropped among teens. Rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%.  Drug use in older teens also declined.

TIME Magazine reports that the instincts of Officer Neil Franklin are right. Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugual’s “drug czar” and president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, told TIME that police are now able to re-focus on more serious crimes.

In fact, the experience in the United States is the same.  In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences issues a report entitled “An Analysis of Marijuana Policy.” It recommended going beyond decriminalization and beginning to regulate the sale of marijuana.  In making this recommendation they looked at states that had decriminalized marijuana possession and found the reform had “not led to appreciably higher levels of marijuana use than would have existed if use were also prohibited.”

The NAS also reported that there were savings in tax dollars by ending criminal enforcement against marijuana possession noting that states that decriminalized “have led to substantial savings in states that have repealed laws that prohibit use.”  And, as Officer Franklin noted, the NAS found “Alienation from the rule of law in democratic society may be the most serious cost of current marijuana laws.”

In fact, such savings are also predicted if California passes Proposition 19. The California Legislative Analyst says it would enable California to put police priorities where they belong, saying it “could result in savings to the state and local governments by reducing the number of marijuana offenders incarcerated in state prisons and county jails, as well as the number placed under county probation or state parole supervision. These savings could reach several tens of millions of dollars annually. The county jail savings would be offset to the extent that jail beds no longer needed for marijuana offenders were used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space.”

The findings of the experts are consistent – criminal laws are not the effective way to control marijuana.  Removing criminal penalties does not lead to increased use, but leads to law enforcement savings and better relations between community and police.

Now that a majority of Americans oppose continuing the criminal prohibition of marijuana for adults, it is time for voters to send a clear message to politicians – end these ineffective and expensive marijuana laws.  It is time to stop repeating the mistakes of the past and develop policies for the future that will actually work.  Voters should vote Yes on Proposition 19 so the politicians get the message: Time for real change.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. franco_american1962 said on October 8th, 2010 at 8:38am #

    Here is something I posted on a marijuana medical site:

    To those legalization sell outs who court the state: legalize and control? permalink


    Cannabis is a medicine and not a drug: a Libertarian’s take

    As a self-avowed and lifelong cynic, I can strongly identify with the adage that claims a cynic as a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Perhaps in the struggle to bring down the edifice that is the war on drugs, one brick at a time, certain concessions will have to be made along the way, and it will be necessary to bed down with the enemy, that entity called the State.
    However, what are the long-term implications of turning a plant into a controlled substance, which will give this state the power to tax, regulate, and punish those who refuse to accede to the absolute power of the state?
    I will not go to far afield with references to the U.S. Constitution, and to classical notions on matters of individual freedom. However, suffice it to say, the prerogatives and claims set forth by the U.S. govt., ostensibly serving to win its war on drugs, are neither constitutional nor a valid position for any nation claiming to be truly free.
    I strongly believe that one important cornerstone to personal freedom is how readily a society can eschew its paternalistic and self-serving interests, while creating the kind of social and political climate conducive to greater individual freedom. No governing body, nor state, can tenably intercede on behalf of a reasonable adult, vouchsafing tastes and appetites, on nothing more than a benchmark of social and political expediency (The struggle of man vs. state has also seen itself played out, time and again, with the controversial “right to die”, an otherwise rational decision for those suffering interminably. Nevertheless, the state has seen to it to likewise intercede, usually to the detriment and erosion of the sanctity of the individual as autonomous). The ingestion of drugs and a free market for those drugs would also be a guarantor of freedom (as was the case in the U.S. until the early twentieth century, with proportionally far fewer addicts than today, and far fewer regulations on how doctors could treat their patients, including palliative care).
    If activists jump the bandwagon, and push for legalizing marijuana for a strict set off uses, will anyone wind up being better served? Will prisons empty themselves of marijuana convictions? Will the right to grow the plant in one’s garden be legally safeguarded? To these questions and many others not being seriously asked, no good will come from medical marijuana law…in any state.
    Defining cannabis as a medicine not only pays short shrift to the richness of “our” relationship to the plant, but, it is in many ways conceding to the absolute power of the state.
    Maybe it’s a start. “When in Rome do as the Romans”. Such is the manner for lobbyists working to have laws changed, by giving the plant a more user friendly reputation. However, if marijuana is to be universally accepted as medicine (a drug, as per government control), through all the hard hours of work by a cadre of advocates and lobbyists, will the casual user be any less stigmatized and persecuted?
    If the public message is that marijuana is a medicine, while glossing over all its other uses and attributes, then the Federal government and states will avail themselves to impose any kind of controls on who can consume a plant and who can’t-perhaps with greater than ever legal sanctions against law breakers. The war against a plant, and those who use it, is a vitiation of one’s Constitutional freedom to be left alone in matters of personal taste and lifestyle! And the Congress, which continues its de facto war on the individual, knows this!

    A letter I sent to the MPP follows:
    To whom it may concern;
    I have dilated on this ongoing discussion over the legalization of marijuana on many websites, so I will be brief and to the point. I think that this courting of the powers that be is a sell-out. I understand that your organization is no less being “practical” in its approach to making marijuana more acceptable, however, your efforts at educating the public and quashing those myths surrounding a wonder-plant is short-sighted and, ultimately, counterproductive. As a Libertarian, my cringe factor goes up when I read of your “failed drug war” rhetoric. I might suggest that everyone at your main office get a copy of Thomas Szasz’s “Ceremonial Chemistry” and “Our right to drugs”, to understand that no good can come of begging the state for any measure of legalization, and that the state cannot possibly justify its position on same, be it the collective or individual good. Perhaps your logic dictates that when in Rome, one should do as the Romans, however, all the hard work of your cadre of advocates and lobbyists will be good money after bad, especially when your message is that of legalizing marijuana for a strict set of (medical) purposes. I believe that all legalization advocacy groups, in pushing for legalization of marijuana for the terminally ill and ailing, might very well pull at the heart strings of the public, politician and media, however, even as a strategem, is wrongheaded from the outset!

  2. demize said on October 8th, 2010 at 11:12am #

    That is a truly Impressive treatise.