The ‘land of the free’ needs to live up to its cherished ideals


I bet many of us here on this side of the Canada-U.S. border were eagerly awaiting the results of the vote on Proposition 19 in California, anticipating an easy win for the passage of the initiative that would have legalized recreational marijuana use in the state.

But, it would not be so. When all the votes were tallied up it was struck down with 54 per cent of California voters rejecting the measure and 46 per cent supporting it. The campaign in favour of legalization was banking on a surge of participation from young voters and others on the periphery of the political process.

Unfortunately voter turnout was abysmal. Perhaps the stereotype of the lazy pothead prevailed this time around. 

The failure of Proposition 19 in California, considered one of the more progressive states in America, has been seen as a large blow to the pro-legalization movement. They may have lost the battle this time, but the war is far from over.

Support for legalization is growing among all segments of society, from young people to professionals and even members of law enforcement.
It has reached 50 per cent or more in several western states, including Oregon, Washington and Nevada. 

Sooner or later marijuana will be legalized. The debate is now shifting towards how it is going to be done. Part of this change in opinion has largely been due to the disaster called the War on Drugs.

The average citizen and police officer are beginning to understand that putting more and more people behind bars for marijuana possession and cultivation is simply unsustainable. 

According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, there were over 1.5 million drug arrests in the United States of which more than half were marijuana related. With tens of thousands in prison for marijuana-related crimes and an innumerable amount of law enforcement resources dedicated to combating it, it is clear that the money spent is being wasted in an effort for which there is no end in sight. It has been three decades after the launch of the War on Drugs and there is nothing to show for it.

It is really quite sad that the U.S. has learned nothing from the prohibition of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Sure, less alcohol was consumed by fewer people, but at what cost? This time period is best remembered for the Italian-American gangster Al Capone. Criminal activity became rampant because of the ban of alcohol.

There was nothing noble about this “Noble Experiment,” which sought to curb social immorality. Instead, it resulted in an increase in social problems and the flourishing of a highly profitable and violent black market for alcohol. I guess there’s some truth behind the saying that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. 

Those who genuinely want to make the world a better place should look to Portugal as a model for drug policy. In 2001, Portugal abolished all criminal penalties for personal drug possession. Drug trafficking is still illegal, but drug users are targeted with therapy and rehabilitation rather than prison sentences. A follow-up study found that in the five years after the start of decriminalization, drug use by teenagers and the rate of HIV infections among drug users had declined and the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction had doubled. 

These results speak volumes against the hard-line drug policies that have done so much harm to the United States.

The country known as the “land of the free” and a bastion for individual freedoms needs to live up to its ideals.

Those who support sensibility and reason need to come out against the social conservatives who cry out against big government in the pocketbook and at the same time support greater government intervention into people’s lives.

The United States was recently promised that “change” was coming. I hope it comes soon.

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