Editorial: Marijuana prohibition creates waste of effort, money

Editorial Board

War drone controversies, government shutdowns, faulty federal programs — these and other issues recently have hidden the slow creep that marijuana possession and use have made toward legalization. While we worry about health care and foreign disputes, state legislation and federal policy shifts increasingly have favored the legalization of one of America’s most common illegal substances.

And that is not such a bad thing.

According to a Gallup poll released on Oct. 22, Americans are now generally in favor of the legalization of marijuana, with 58 percent saying they advocate legalization. This is a record high in the 44 years that Gallup has been posing the question to the American people, and a reflection of a changing tide of opinion in the United States.

Now that the states of Washington and Colorado have legalized the substance (at least at the state level), lenience seems to be a growing national policy. Even though marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, a recent decision made by the Justice Department shows that federal authorities do not plan on pursuing its possession.

As Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said: “The federal government is respecting the will of Colorado voters.” This leads us to believe that if the national tide were to lean toward acceptance of marijuana, so too would the federal government.

Even in Washington, D.C., lawmakers are considering decriminalizing marijuana. Possession of less than an ounce could, in the future, do no more harm to an individual than a $25 ticket. This is much less than the current penalties: arrest, permanent charges to records and potential jail time.

D.C. lawyer Paul Zukerberg has asked: “Is it not cruel, and unusual, to deny a young person caught with a bag of weed his chance for entry into productive society?”

The current criminalization of the drug does just that. Something considered now by 58 percent of the American population to be harmless and deserving of legal status can cost an individual his or her entire future.

The truth is the penalties dished out for marijuana use or possession violently escalate the “problems” surrounding marijuana. The reason that people are so quick to advise us against marijuana’s use is because it can “ruin your life.” It does this not through any inherently dangerous side effects, but simply through the social and criminal punishments that a user must endure.

Many politicians establish their platforms in part around harsh drug penalties and policies. The constituents lured in by these policies are blind to the very things those politicians don’t want them to see — their weak positions on more important issues.

With ever-increasing positive sentiment toward marijuana, the problems that marijuana use presents seem to be fading in the public’s eye. As a result, continued political focus on the subject seems to act only as a veil behind which politicians can hide more pressing or unsavory issues.

As is evidenced by the Gallup poll, Colorado and Washington state laws, and sporadic decriminalization, America is ready to leave the marijuana problem behind. Harvard University senior lecturer Jeffrey Miron said U.S. state and federal governments spend $20 billion a year on marijuana prohibition.

Though insignificant compared to the figure of our national debt, $20 billion is a lot to be spending on persecution with which most Americans do not even agree. Instead of spending tax dollars on something that does relatively little-to-no harm, we should focus our national resources on the bigger issues at hand.

In the end, whether you are for or against marijuana legalization, in the words of President Barack Obama: “We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”