Prioritize Cannabis Legalization!

  • Graphic Sam Jones

In a recent interview with VICE founder Shane Smith, President Obama was asked about his thoughts on legalizing marijuana, which was one of the most popular viewer-submitted topics for the interview.

“It shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority,” he dictated. “I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.” But people’s interest in his answer to this question isn’t about their political priorities.

Rather, it stems from the fact that the US is in a state of cognitive dissonance with regards to cannabis. Some states are still enforcing criminal laws and incarcerating people for possession and trafficking, while other states are regulating and taxing its sale just like alcohol. That, and the general feeling that legalization is inevitable given the present situation and its momentum, leads one to plead: why can he not just say it already?

Certainly, there have been improvements from the president himself, as he recently granted clemency to 22 federal prisoners doing time for nonviolent drug offenses. But that’s a drop in the bucket with respect to the number of people currently behind bars for nonviolent drug charges. With a little more effort I don’t see why that number couldn’t have been more like 2000 pardons granted.

It sure would be lovely to remind President Obama that legalization and drug policy reform have everything to do with the economy, jobs, war and peace. They’re interconnected issues, not separate ones. Regulating and taxing cannabis brings significant economic benefits, no question about it. What you’re essentially doing when you legalize and regulate is funneling into the economy millions or billions of dollars which are currently circulating in an unregulated black market.

Case in point: Colorado raised $50 million in taxes after selling $700 million worth of medical and recreational cannabis in the first year of legalization. Certainly, people were still buying pot before legalization, but now it can be taxed to contribute to schools and other public services, and its quality can be well-regulated.

Case in point: Colorado raised $50 million in taxes after selling $700 million worth of medical and recreational cannabis in the first year of legalization. Certainly, people were still buying pot before legalization, but now it can be taxed to contribute to schools and other public services, and its quality can be well-regulated.

These same measures of legalization and regulation also create jobs. An entirely new industry sprouts up, with supply chains and cannabis clubs and lounges to be staffed. With regards to war, the “War on Drugs” has really been a war on some people who use some drugs. Obama himself recognized that drug war policy not only hands out disproportionate sentences, but has also disproportionately affected communities of colour, rendering many people unemployable due to criminal records.

In 2012 alone 660,000 Americans were arrested for possessing small amounts of cannabis, a plant whose general safety we’re well beyond establishing. This has indeed been a war on drug users waged for decades with devastating results for communities. Drug war policies also directly affect war and peace in other countries. To give just one example, the drug gangs in Central and South American countries, and the resulting violence and deaths, are enabled by the black market whose demand they supply.

Despite what Obama thinks we should be prioritizing, cannabis legalization is gaining momentum and making quick progress. Successful legalization in Colorado has been followed by Oregon, Washington D.C. and Alaska, with more states surely to follow. In Canada, cannabis legalization seems poised to be an issue in the next federal election. Countries around the world have been adopting smarter drug laws, and a UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs in 2016 may finally change the direction of international drug policy away from criminalization and toward regulation and health-based approaches.

In conclusion, cannabis legalization is a movement with relevance to all the things Obama says we should be prioritizing. And because of the socio-cultural momentum of the time we’re living in, it’s a movement to which passionate and motivated people can readily contribute and see tangible progress. It’s rewarding. Make it a priority!

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