By George Rohrbacher, Member, NORML Board of Directors
In America since 1965, there have been 21 million arrests for marijuana, 9 out of 10 for quantities of an ounce or less. Over 800,000 were arrested for pot last year, with people of color and the young being arrested and incarcerated in hugely disproportionate numbers. Under current Washington State law, if arrested for possession of even the tiniest amount of cannabis, a person faces a mandatory night in jail, handcuffs, mugshots, fingerprints, and a criminal record that, thanks to the internet and data-mining, might follow a person for the rest of their life.
The Mexican Cartels have murdered tens of thousands of people in their own country and now their violence is spilling over the boarder into America. Sales of marijuana in the US are estimated to account for half of the Cartels’ revenue stream. By simply legalizing pot, by taking the business and the profits of marijuana out of the hands of these criminals, taxing and regulating cannabis would be a devastating blow to organized crime. And at the same time, regulation would ensure our citizens that standards of purity and potency had been met.
California, Oregon and Washington have all had marijuana legalization initiatives filed this year. California’s initiative already has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and recent polling of likely voters found that 56% plan to vote, “Yes”, on the measure come November. California’s Board of Tax Equalization has estimated that the legalization of cannabis will bring $1.4 billion in new tax revenues to the state’s cash-strapped municipalities.
This month, a Pew Charitable Trust poll found that 73% of all Americans are in favor of legal access to marijuana as medicine. Used as medicine for over 4,500 years, the DEA’s own Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis L. Young ruled: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man…” Without even holding a hearing, and over the objections of the American Medical Association, all uses of cannabis were outlawed by Congress in 1937. Since California’s passage of Prop 215 in 1996, 14 states have now taken back their medical marijuana rights from the Feds. Much safer than aspirin (gastric bleeding, death) or Tylenol (liver damage, death), marijuana is safer than virtually every other over-the-counter and prescription medicine for sale in America. Cannabis is also far safer, as a recreational drug, than either the very speedily deadly alcohol or the slowly lethal tobacco. Marijuana is not only safer for the individual, but it is safer for the society, too. A Seattle Police Sgt. patrolling Seattle Hempfest’s cannabis-imbibing 100,000 person crowd told me, “…compared to the crowds coming out of Safeco or Quest field after a game, patrolling Hempfest is like patrolling a Girl Scout picnic.”
Through my own recreational use, I discovered marijuana the all-natural non-toxic pain medicine with far less severe side-effects than the prescription alternatives. I believe cannabis should be legal for medical, recreational, food and fiber uses. Cannabis should be legal for American farmers to grow. If cannabis is legal for all, sick people will be able to get it. Ending this prohibition, America must also wean law enforcement from its 70-year-old marijuana arrest addiction. Cannabis use didn’t turn either Michael Phelps or Barack Obama into a couch potato or a loser. It’s time to legalize it. Tax and regulate marijuana…Now.
George Rohrbacher is a retired cattle rancher, former WA state senator (R), former Commissioner of Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, currently serving on the NORML Board of Directors (For additional information please review the titles of two of the blogs I’ve written for the NORML blog: “Confessions of a Medical Marijuana Patient” and “Marijuana Prohibition and Fatherhood”)
This essay was originally published in the Peninsula Daily News on May 4th.