There has been so much rage directed at Judge Thomas Gilbert over the past year for his two-toke misadventure at a Rolling Stones concert, but little or nothing has been said in the press about what‘s really wrong here: our harsh and misguided national policy on marijuana.
A pity, because there are no “bad“ people enmeshed in the marijuana issue, no matter which side of the bench they are on. What we do have, however, is a bad system that is desperately in need of reform.
As noted elsewhere in this issue, a Canadian Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs issued a 600-page report last year, urging the decriminalization of marijuana in that country. The committee‘s report debunked long-standing myths, such as the notion that marijuana is a gateway to hard drugs such as heroin, or that marijuana is addictive. Marijuana may be habit-forming along the same lines as Pepsi and cheeseburgers, but it certainly isn‘t addictive. And considering that virtually every American between the ages of 18 and 55 has smoked marijuana at some time -- including two American presidents, a vice president, the conservative mayor of New York and other luminaries -- then it seems unlikely that pot is the dangerous gateway its critics imagine. The whole nation would be heroin addicts under that logic.
The irony of the Canadian Senate report is that its results are virtually the same as that of President Richard Nixon‘s own drug task force, delivered over 30 years ago.
Back in 1970, Nixon established the Shafer Commission officially known as the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. According the the book, “Smoke and Mirrors,“ the commission included two senators and two congressmen from each party, the dean of a law school, the head of a mental health hospital and a retired Chicago police captain. Not exactly a bunch of stoners.
Nixon‘s commission compiled thousands of pages of information and launched 50 research projects. Their report is said to be the largest ever completed on marijuana by the federal government. But their findings -- like those of the Canadian Senate -- were in favor of legalizing pot. Faced with a political bombshell, Nixon dissolved the commission and launched the ill-fated War on Drugs, apparently as revenge against youth for its rebellion against the Vietnam War.
Two major government reports 30 years apart agree that marijuana should be decriminalized, yet our institutionalized reefer madness goes on. Each year, more than 600,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession, and as a letter writer notes in this issue, the penalties can be the same as assault. “It would be better, legally, for you to beat your wife, rather than buy a bag of dried flowers,“ claims Robert Pierce of Traverse City, who is serving 93 days in jail for marijuana possession.
Then there‘s the cost to taxpayers. In Michigan, we currently spend an average of $27,000 per year to keep a prisoner behind bars. We taxpayers will divvy up $1.72 billion to Michigan‘s Corrections Department budget this year to house 18,000 more felons than we had in 1990. Coincidentally, that $1.72 billion is about the same amount as the state‘s $1.7 billion budget shortage that has put us in a terrible crisis trying to fund our schools, police, Medicaid and many other public services.
Every state in this country is facing a similar budget crisis -- literally bankruptcy. Given that, can we afford to keep throwing money at our prison/industrial complex to keep pot smokers locked up?
For that matter, there are currently more than half a million Americans behind bars for non-violent drug violations as the result of misguided, vengeful policies which perpetuate the careers of hard drug pushers and keep their victims addicted.
Should Rush Limbaugh serve hard time in prison for his drug addiction? Maybe if Limbaugh was frog-walked into a federal Supermax prison like the thousands of other Americans his ilk have condemned, we‘d start having a more thoughtful discussion on where this costly and unfair War on Drugs is taking us.
My Christmas List
Yeah, I admit it -- I‘ve already started my Christmas shopping, and it‘s way before Halloween. I‘ve even got some money saved this year to help bail out the local economy instead of the vultures at the credit card companies.
And I‘ve got my own Christmas wish-list all made up for the things I‘d like to have. So, dear Santa, here ‘tis for your consideration.
Please Santa, no more mentions in the press about Demi Moore‘s unbearable 25-year-old boyfriend Ashton Kutcher. At least wipe that silly grin off his face.
Please give Arnold Schwarzennegger a plane ticket to Michigan so he can see how a state handles a budget crisis with bi-partisan cooperation and a can-do spirit. Kind of, anyway.
Please, Santa, no more sanctimonious editorials and front page stories about Judge Gilbert in the Record-Eagle until the writers there divulge their own pot-smoking histories. In the spirit of full disclosure it would be great to see the R-E editorial staff and their photos plastered on the front page, whipping themselves with the same zeal they exercised on Gilbert for their own misdeeds with alcohol or the evil weed.
Santa, don‘t let the nurses of the 406th stand out in the bitter cold again this year on the picket line unless you mandate that the hospital‘s administration stand out there with them. Maybe things would get settled faster if all parties were freezing their keesters off.
And Santa, please blow up the time machine that rock radio playlist programmers are using so they‘ll be stuck back in 1979 where they belong and the music can move on.
Come to think of it Santa, forget this new $12 scheme for CDs and knock the prices down to the 1968 level of $3.64. That‘s how much albums cost when music was still worth listening to.
Please invent a computer that will write this paper by itself and dispense coffee too so I‘m not stuck in front of this crazy thing every day. And make it look like Britney Spears while you‘re at it.
The world peace thing... that would be cool too, Santa, but probably too much to ask.