So, I was reading a Greenwald article over at Salon today. It's a good article, well worth the read, about some of the more facepalm-worthy aspects of our criminal justice system. His main point is how we have completely different levels of enforcement for the different classes in society. As part of this argument, he mentions the weirdness of our drug laws, particularly with regards to marijuana, and, well, that prompted me to go off on this tangent right here:
There is no goddamn reason marijuana should be illegal.
Now, I'm a bit of a social (not fiscal, though) libertarian, and I'm generally against government outright-banning of things that cause no harm to others. So, I'm in philosophical favor of pretty much all drugs being legal and subject to licensing, regulations, and quality control. But, I can certainly see an argument being made that coca-derivatives and opiates and especially meth cause enough damage to not be available to the citizenry. I don't *agree* with that argument, but there's a reasonably valid argument to be made.
That valid argument does not exist for marijuana.
Marijuana is far, far less toxic than either alcohol or tobacco, and quite possibly has less detrimental effects than caffiene does. It's also not chemically addictive, unlike tobacco or opiates. The high is obviously associated with lack of productivity during the period of effect, but, well, so is alcohol. Getting high also doesn't induce anywhere NEAR the level of violence (except to the food budget, of course) or other crazy-ass behavior that alcohol can. I love me my booze, and I homebrew when I can, but Demon Rum is far worse for society than Mary Jane is. Frankly, outside of moral panics, OMG DRUGS!!1! , and its association with "the wrong kinds of people" (read: brown, hippies, or both), I've never seen any reason it should be demonized at all.
I'd brought up this topic in class a few times, and gotten the weird-ass response of "well, but would you want your professors or fellow students showing up high? No! So we shouldn't legalize marijuana, or everyone will toke up all the time." This 'counter-argument' obviously ignores the general role of social mores and the threat of censure in policing behavior. After all, alcohol is legal, and yet (ok, except for around House Party Weekend) folks don't show up to class or work drunk. If they did, they'd be fired or kicked out of class or just generally shunned. If anything, being high would be *less* acceptable than being drunk, given the social hangups about it, while drinking is grandfathered in under centuries (or even millenia) of acceptability.
Oh, and to bring it back to Glenn's original point, marijuana criminalization is one of the issues that really does highlight class and racial divides in this country. It's illegal, and prosecutable, but most everybody (including cops) doesn't really thing of it as that bad. So, suppose you're a random teenager with a stash of pot that is somehow seen by a neighborhood cop. Whether you're arrested for that, or let off with a warning, is ENTIRELY due to that cop's reaction to you.
Are you a white, well-dressed, generally "All-American" (and what a messed-up descriptor THAT is) kid, perhaps relaxing after a rousing game of tag football in the park with your similarly middle-class friends? Well, maybe you go home with a warning. No sense messing up a good kid's life with a frivolous drug charge.
Are you brown or black, wearing "ghetto" clothes, maybe kinda "thug" looking, smoking a joint to finish off a pickup game of basketball? Urban decay! Moral failings of the youth of color! Zero tolerance, lest the menace engulf us all! Plus, that's just what you can be gotten on, obviously you're up to no good anyway, so it was just a matter of time. Good thing they got you in time.
Now, I've actually never had pot myself. This wasn't for lack of opportunity, or even really a lack of desire, but until this past year (and my GPA shooting to fuck and damnation) I had the ambition of working in national security, and didn't want to bother with the potential issues with getting clearance. But if I *had* taken a drag back in college, it would have been with the reasonable assumption that nobody would fucking care, even if folks in 'authority' knew. My bosses would *facepalm*, and maybe verbally smack me upside the head, but there'd be no real disciplinary action. The admins I knew in the housing office would pull strings to let me off with a warning. Lots of folks, obviously, don't have these assurances.
Ultimately, our drug laws are an excercise in hypocrisy. It's outlawed, but everybody does it. Everybody does it, but very few are prosecuted. Very few are prosecuted, but they get mandatroy minimum sentences. Holy fuck. This shit is insane!