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Part VII

NORML Report on Sixty Years of Marijuana Prohibition in the U.S.

VII. It Is Time To End Marijuana Prohibition and To Stop Arresting Otherwise Law-Abiding Marijuana Smokers

    The "war on drugs" is not really about drugs; if it were, tobacco and alcohol would be the primary targets. They are the most commonly used and abused drugs in America and unquestionably cause far more harm to the user and to society than does marijuana. Yet neither is illegal.

    America tried to prohibit alcohol, but soon discovered that the crime and violence associated with prohibition was more damaging than the evil sought to be prohibited. With tobacco, America has learned over the past two decades that education is the most effective way to discourage use. Americans smoke far fewer cigarettes today than in the past without having the criminal justice system issue a single arrest, administer one drug test, seize any property, or sentence anyone to jail. Yet, the federal government fails to apply these lessons toward a rational and effective marijuana policy. Instead, politicians continue to support and enforce a failed, 60-year old public policy at the expense of rational discourse, billions in misappropriated funds and resources, and many of the founding principles and freedoms that America was built upon. The "war on drugs" has become largely a war on marijuana smokers, and the casualties of this war are the wrecked lives and the destroyed families of the half a million otherwise law-abiding citizens who are arrested each year on marijuana charges.

    As a nation we have talked too long in the language of war. It is time to seek a policy that distinguishes between use and abuse, and reflects the importance America places on the right of the individual to be free from the overreaching power of government. Most would agree that the government has no business knowing what books we read, the subject of our telephone conversations, or how we conduct ourselves in the bedroom. Similarly, whether one smokes marijuana or drinks alcohol to relax is simply not an appropriate area of concern for the government. By stubbornly defining all marijuana smoking as criminal, including that which involves adults smoking in the privacy of their home, government is wasting police and prosecutorial resources, clogging courts, filling costly and scarce jail and prison space, and needlessly wrecking the lives and careers of genuinely good citizens.

    Responsible marijuana smokers present no threat or danger to America, and there is no reason to treat them as criminals. To do so is to wage war without cause against a significant segment of our nation's adult population.

    Speaking before Congress on the 40th anniversary of marijuana prohibition -- August 2, 1977 -- President Jimmy Carter stated: "Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use." Twenty years later, the former president's words ring as urgent as ever. After 60 years of a failed and destructive policy, it is time to once and for all end marijuana prohibition.

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