Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reefer Madness

Many of you, probably most of you, are aware of the protests and sporadic violence here in Charlotte surrounding the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. The issues raised by that incident and what has resulted from it are far, far too complex to deal with in one blog post. But, did you know that, according to police accounts, what first drew their attention to Mr. Scott was that he was smoking a marijuana blunt. Those officers were there to serve a warrant on another man. But Scott's rolling and smoking a blunt was enough to draw these officers' attention.

My last blog post was on the murder trial I just lost. That incident revolved around the sale of one ounce of marijuana. Four people were touched by that incident. One is dead, one is in prison for the rest of his life, one is in prison for the next 40 years, and one has four bullets in his body that will be there for the rest of his life. Because of one ounce of marijuana.

Marijuana has proven medical benefits for pain management, treatment of PTSD, nausea, glaucoma, and perhaps other conditions. But it is the dreaded "killer weed"; it is the feared "gateway drug". It ravages youth and turns them into drug fiends. So, for decades, the U.S. has engaged in prohibition. And, as with all prohibition, created a huge, profitable, and incredibly dangerous black market. That kills thousands. Oh no, not through use of the drug. There is not a single, documented case of anyone every dying from marijuana overdose (compare that to alcohol). Yet, once again, for all the talk about de-escalating the "war on drugs", the DEA refused to reschedule marijuana. It is still a Schedule I substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I is like the supermax prison of controlled substances. It is supposed to be for drugs with a "high potential for abuse" with no "current accepted medical use"; drugs so dangerous even your doctor won't be able to help you if you come in contact with it. Which guarantees that, at least at the Federal level, complete prohibition will remain the order of the day. Which guarantees more violence. Which guarantees more dead bodies and bodies in prison forever. But not because of what the drug does, but because of how we treat it.

Colorado legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults. The doomsayers predicted the youth of Colorado would fall helplessly, en masse, to the evil weed. Statistics show otherwise and, in fact, teen use of marijuana in Colorado is slightly below the national average. Those who argue that marijuana is a gateway drug point to studies that show a correlation between marijuana use and other drug use. But those correlations exist with alcohol and tobacco as well. And the vast majority of marijuana users do not move on to other drugs.

Drug abuse, in all its forms, takes a huge toll on some people. Of that, there can be no doubt. But does that mean that treating use of the drug as criminal activity helps? Well, Portugal decided to see what would happen if you answered that question "no". And not just with marijuana but with ALL drugs. All drugs, in low-level quantities, were decriminalized in 2001. So there is a 15 year chunk of data to look at. I have a link to the study below, but the short answer is that drug use in Portugal has dropped significantly, such that it is one of the countries with the lowest prevalence of use of most formerly illegal substances. There is a catch, however. Portugal, at the same time, invested in serious treatment alternatives for those who have issues with drugs and alcohol.

So, just in Charlotte, just in my little world, the prohibition on marijuana demonstrably leads to death and destruction. The data that lifting that prohibition would help remedy some of that death and destruction seems promising. But we refuse to open our eyes and see.

If you are interested in reading further, these were sources for some of what you just read:

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