Posts Tagged ‘illegal drugs’

US Spends Billions Every Year Prosecuting Marijuana Violations While Economy Tanks

(NaturalNews) The US economy is rapidly unraveling, vital services are being cut, and millions of Americans are losing their jobs and struggling just to survive. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to spend billions of taxpayer dollars every year to fight its endless “War on Drugs,” which includes spending about $7.7 billion a year just on enforcing marijuana laws, and preventing sick and injured patients from accessing this natural, side effect-free treatment for their ailments.

Despite numerous recent cases of relaxed or reneged marijuana laws in various US states, the federal government’s attitude towards the plant remains the same. It considers marijuana to be a dangerous street drug along the lines of cocaine and heroin, despite the fact that it is safer than prescription drugs, and provides natural relief for pain and illness without devastating side effects.

“Without [marijuana], I would be living on morphine and other horrible drugs. I couldn’t do that to my family,” said 71-year-old Marcy Dolin of Rohnert Park, Calif., to The New York Times recently. Dolin, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, smokes marijuana regularly because it is the only remedy for his extreme pain and muscle spasms that works, and that does not cause other harm.

“I used to take a drug called Neurontin, and I just never stopped crying. I was in a fog, totally depressed. I told my doctor that I was going back to just marijuana; he said he would have me arrested if he could. What are they going to do? I’m 71 years old. Are they going to put me in jail? I’m not hurting anybody. It’s just here in my own house.”

And there are literally thousands, if not millions, of other patients like Dolin that would benefit from smoking or consuming marijuana rather than dangerous prescription drugs. Most of them will likely never experience relief without excruciating side effects, thanks to current government policy that favors the drug industry at the expense of what is best for the public. After all, marijuana used to be a legal substance used in medicine, long before the days of Big Pharma’s hijacking of the political structure that now opposes it.

Besides wasting massive amounts of money, the war on marijuana is also preventing significant economic development, according to a recent report in The Morningside Post. If legalized and effectively regulated and taxed, marijuana could generate billions of new dollars in revenue for local and state governments, and create an untold number of new jobs.

“[L]egalization of marijuana — the cessation of prosecutions and tax revenue — could put more than $13 billion into government coffers,” states the MP article.

“A look at Montana … shows how the state has been given a much needed bump from the legalization of medical marijuana. Since 2004, investors have put millions of dollars into the newly legalized medical marijuana sector, creating jobs for professional horticulturists, construction workers, and electricians put out of work by the Great Recession. This small marijuana industry created 1,400 jobs last year — this in a state with less than a million people.”

Medical Marijuana Industry Should Have Same Rules As Other Businesses

Weed and Cash
Don’t Undermine the Medical Marijuana Industry

It’s hard for legal dispensaries to get bank loans, and they can’t deduct expenses from their taxes. Let’s back legislation to fix that

By Scott Shane

Consider two small business owners: One sells a product that medical researchers have shown is a major cause of health problems, from cancer to heart disease. The other provides a medical treatment that doctors prescribe for glaucoma, pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy. Which owner can borrow from a bank and deduct expenses on income tax returns? The answer is the first, who sells cigarettes; the second, who sells medical marijuana, cannot. (To be clear, dispensary owners aren’t prohibited from applying for bank credit. The trouble is anti-money laundering statutes intended to stop illegal drug dealers make banks reluctant to do business with legal dealers.)

In late May, two Democratic congressmen, Jared Polis of Colorado and Pete Stark of California, introduced bills to remedy the federal government’s bias against the owners of medical marijuana dispensaries. Representative Polis’s bill would permit medical marijuana sellers to borrow money from banks, while Congressman Stark’s bill would allow them to deduct business expenses from their taxes. Passage of these bills makes sense for four reasons.

The first is fairness. No small business owners should be denied access to financing or be subject to unfair tax rules simply because they run a business that some in government don’t like. The government should create a level playing field for all business owners. As Polis explained when introducing his bill, “It is simply wrong for the federal government to intrude and threaten banks that are involved in legal transactions.” Using a law designed to root out illegal drug dealers, terrorists, fraudsters, and money launderers as a back-door way to make life difficult for the operators of medical marijuana dispensaries is simply unfair. If Congress doesn’t like state medical marijuana laws, it needs to challenge the legality of these laws directly rather than stack the rules against them.

FAVORING TOBACCO OVER MARIJUANA

But fairness isn’t the only reason I support these bills. I also find it perverse that the government favors the tobacco business over the medical marijuana industry when the former is responsible for several costly medical problems and the latter provides a medically prescribed treatment. Not only does the government’s approach makes it difficult for people who need physician-prescribed marijuana to get the treatments they need, imposing pain and hardship, but the approach is also backwards. The government supports the sale of cigarettes, which cause cancer, but discourages the sale of medical marijuana, which is used to manage the side effects of the chemotherapy that these cancer patients must endure. As for healthy individuals who abuse the system to get high, isn’t that why we spend large sums of money to stop the illegal drug trade?

By blocking the growth of the medical marijuana industry, federal policy makers are missing a golden opportunity to encourage entrepreneurship. Government officials often speak of finding new, high-growth industries, which are rare. Consultancy See Change Strategy in Olney, Md., forecasts that medical marijuana, currently a $2 billion industry, will reach nearly $9 billion in five years. That’s about the same size as the dry cleaning and laundry service industry.

Finally, by opposing the medical marijuana industry, the federal government is missing the chance to cut government expenditures and raise taxes in one of the few areas where such actions would face little opposition by business owners. Unlike virtually every other industry, where higher taxes are vehemently opposed, the medical marijuana industry welcomes higher taxes. In Oakland, for example, the industry drove the effort to impose a 1.8 percent tax on gross sales from medical marijuana sellers.

The potential economic gains from the legalization of marijuana are far from trivial. A 2005 study by Jeffrey Miron, then a visiting economics professor at Harvard, found that government spending could be cut by $7.7 billion and tax revenue increased by $6.2 billion if marijuana sales were legal and taxed at the same rate as alcohol and tobacco. A $14 billion improvement in the government budget isn’t something to ignore, especially in the current environment of paralysis over how to reduce high deficits.

Allowing owners of medical marijuana dispensaries to borrow money and deduct their business expenses from their taxes seems like a way to make policy fairer, encourage a high-growth industry, and reduce government expenditures and raise tax revenues without much opposition. Those seem to me like the kinds of objectives our elected officials should be striving for when introducing bills into Congress.

Scott Shane is the A. Malachi Mixon III Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University.

Top 10 Cannabis Studies The Government Wishes It Didn’t Fund

10) MARIJUANA USE HAS NO EFFECT ON MORTALITY:
A massive study of California HMO members funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found marijuana use caused no significant increase in mortality. Tobacco use was associated with increased risk of death. Sidney, S et al. Marijuana Use and Mortality. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 87 No. 4, April 1997. p. 585-590. Sept. 2002.
9) HEAVY MARIJUANA USE AS A YOUNG ADULT WON’T RUIN YOUR LIFE:
Veterans Affairs scientists looked at whether heavy marijuana use as a young adult caused long-term problems later, studying identical twins in which one twin had been a heavy marijuana user for a year or longer but had stopped at least one month before the study, while the second twin had used marijuana no more than five times ever. Marijuana use had no significant impact on physical or mental health care utilization, health-related quality of life, or current socio-demographic characteristics. Eisen SE et al. Does Marijuana Use Have Residual Adverse Effects on Self-Reported Health Measures, Socio-Demographics or Quality of Life? A Monozygotic Co-Twin Control Study in Men. Addiction. Vol. 97 No. 9. p.1083-1086. Sept. 1997
8) THE “GATEWAY EFFECT” MAY BE A MIRAGE:
Marijuana is often called a “gateway drug” by supporters of prohibition, who point to statistical “associations” indicating that persons who use marijuana are more likely to eventually try hard drugs than those who never use marijuana – implying that marijuana use somehow causes hard drug use. But a model developed by RAND Corp. researcher Andrew Morral demonstrates that these associations can be explained “without requiring a gateway effect.” More likely, this federally funded study suggests, some people simply have an underlying propensity to try drugs, and start with what’s most readily available. Morral AR, McCaffrey D and Paddock S. Reassessing the Marijuana Gateway Effect. Addiction. December 2002. p. 1493-1504.

7) PROHIBITION DOESN’T WORK (PART I):
The White House had the National Research Council examine the data being gathered about drug use and the effects of U.S. drug policies. NRC concluded, “the nation possesses little information about the effectiveness of current drug policy, especially of drug law enforcement.” And what data exist show “little apparent relationship between severity of sanctions prescribed for drug use and prevalence or frequency of use.” In other words, there is no proof that prohibition – the cornerstone of U.S. drug policy for a century – reduces drug use. National Research Council. Informing America’s Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don’t Know Keeps Hurting Us. National Academy Press, 2001. p. 193.

6) PROHIBITION DOESN’T WORK (PART II):
(DOES PROHIBITION CAUSE THE “GATEWAY EFFECT”?): U.S. and Dutch researchers, supported in part by NIDA, compared marijuana users in San Francisco, where non-medical use remains illegal, to Amsterdam, where adults may possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses. Looking at such parameters as frequency and quantity of use and age at onset of use, they found no differences except one: Lifetime use of hard drugs was significantly lower in Amsterdam, with its “tolerant” marijuana policies. For example, lifetime crack cocaine use was 4.5 times higher in San Francisco than Amsterdam. Reinarman, C, Cohen, PDA, and Kaal, HL. The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and San Francisco. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 94, No. 5. May 2004. p. 836-842.

5) OOPS, MARIJUANA MAY PREVENT CANCER (PART I):
Federal researchers implanted several types of cancer, including leukemia and lung cancers, in mice, then treated them with cannabinoids (unique, active components found in marijuana). THC and other cannabinoids shrank tumors and increased the mice’s lifespans. Munson, AE et al. Antineoplastic Activity of Cannabinoids. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Sept. 1975. p. 597-602.

4) OOPS, MARIJUANA MAY PREVENT CANCER, (PART II):
In a 1994 study the government tried to suppress, federal researchers gave mice and rats massive doses of THC, looking for cancers or other signs of toxicity. The rodents given THC lived longer and had fewer cancers, “in a dose-dependent manner” (i.e. the more THC they got, the fewer tumors). NTP Technical Report On The Toxicology And Carcinogenesis Studies Of 1-Trans- Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, CAS No. 1972-08-3, In F344/N Rats And B6C3F Mice, Gavage Studies. See also, “Medical Marijuana: Unpublished Federal Study Found THC-Treated Rats Lived Longer, Had Less Cancer,” AIDS Treatment News no. 263, Jan. 17, 1997.

3) OOPS, MARIJUANA MAY PREVENT CANCER (PART III):
Researchers at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO, funded by NIDA, followed 65,000 patients for nearly a decade, comparing cancer rates among non-smokers, tobacco smokers, and marijuana smokers. Tobacco smokers had massively higher rates of lung cancer and other cancers. Marijuana smokers who didn’t also use tobacco had no increase in risk of tobacco-related cancers or of cancer risk overall. In fact their rates of lung and most other cancers were slightly lower than non-smokers, though the difference did not reach statistical significance. Sidney, S. et al. Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence (California, United States). Cancer Causes and Control. Vol. 8. Sept. 1997, p. 722-728.

2) OOPS, MARIJUANA MAY PREVENT CANCER (PART IV):
Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher whose work is funded by NIDA, did a case-control study comparing 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and had somewhat lower cancer risk than non-smokers (tobacco smokers had a 20-fold increased lung cancer risk). Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006.

1) MARIJUANA DOES HAVE MEDICAL VALUE:
In response to passage of California’s medical marijuana law, the White House had the Institute of Medicine (IOM) review the data on marijuana’s medical benefits and risks. The IOM concluded, “Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety are all afflictions of wasting, and all can be mitigated by marijuana.” While noting potential risks of smoking, the report added, “we acknowledge that there is no clear alternative for people suffering from chronic conditions that might be relieved by smoking marijuana, such as pain or AIDS wasting.” The government’s refusal to acknowledge this finding caused co-author John A. Benson to tell the New York Times that the government “loves to ignore our report … they would rather it never happened.” Joy, JE, Watson, SJ, and Benson, JA. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. National Academy Press. 1999. p. 159. See also, Harris, G. FDA Dismisses Medical Benefit From Marijuana. New York Times. Apr.
21, 2006

Patient Advocates Back 3 Medical Marijuana Bills in Congress

ASA1.jpeg
Graphic: Rebels With Just Cause Award
Steph Sherer, ASA: “This kind of policy shift is a no-brainer and should garner the bipartisan support of Congress”

Three medical marijuana bills introduced in Congress on Wednesday have the support of patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA). The most significant of the bills is one introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), which reclassifies marijuana from its current federal status as a dangerous drug with no medical value.

Another bill, introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), will allow banks and other financial institutions to provide services to medical marijuana businesses without being subject to “suspicious activity” reporting requirements.
The third bill, introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), changes the federal tax code “to allow a deduction for expenses in connection with the trade or business of selling marijuana intended for patients for medical purposes pursuant to State law.”

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Photo: Étienne Fontan/Eye Times Photography
Steph Sherer, ASA: “We are urging passage of the Frank bill in order to take advantage of all points of leverage”
​ “All of these bills will have a positive effect on hundreds of thousands of Americans and only a negligible impact on the rest of the country,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA, a medical marijuana advocacy group. “This kind of policy shift is a no-brainer and should garner the bipartisan support of Congress.”
To shore up support for these and other local and state medical marijuana bills, ASA is launching a new advocacy program.
ASA is equipping patient advocates with new tools to lobby state, local and federal governments. The group on Wednesday unveiled a new program establishing a “Medical Cannabis Think Tank” to provide activists the support they need to analyze pending or proposed legislation and to lobby for the best laws possible.
To support the lobbying effort, ASA also unveiled its new “Online Training Center,” with more than four hours of educational streaming video and more than 400 pages of instruction manuals and worksheets.
ASA’s program also includes an improved “Raid Response Center” to better prepare for aggressive federal interference.
As part of the “Sick and Tired” campaign, ASA and others filed a writ Monday in the D.C. Circuit to compel the federal government to answer a nine-year-old petition to reclassify cannabis. The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) argued in the writ that the government has unreasonably delayed an answer to the petition in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration has the opportunity right now to address the needs of patients across the country by reclassifying cannabis,” Sherer said. “However, since Congress can also reclassify cannabis, we are urging passage of the Frank bill in order to take advantage of all points of leverage.”
If passed, the Frank will would not only recognize marijuana’s medical value, but also provide a medical necessity defense in federal court, a right not currently afforded to patients and caregivers who are in compliance with their local and state laws.
The Frank bill would also usher forth greater research into the therapeutic properties of cannabis and create incentives for the development of new cannabis-based medication.
Advocates hope the Polis bill, if passed, will end the current ban on banking services for medical marijuana businesses by financial institutions like Wells Fargo, CitiCorp and Bank of America.
The Stark bill has the potential to end dozens of medical marijuana dispensary audits by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) currently taking place, and settle once and for all whether the IRS can demand tax on gross or just net proceeds.
More Information

Synthetic Drugs Send Thousands to Hospital

Synthetic substances that mimic marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs are making users across the nation seriously ill. Synthetic substances that mimic marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs are making users across the nation seriously ill.

 

INDIANOLA, Iowa (AP) – Until he tried a marijuana look-alike product called “K2,” David Rozga’s most dubious decision was getting a Green Bay Packers tattoo on his shoulder. Then the 18-year-old athlete and band standout got high on the fake pot last June and complained to a friend “that he felt like he was in hell,” his father said.Though he had never suffered from depression, the teenager went home, found a shotgun and killed himself — one of at least nine U.S. deaths in the last year that authorities suspect were caused by synthetic products designed to mimic marijuana, cocaine and other illegal drugs. An Associated Press analysis shows that the substances are increasingly causing users to fall seriously ill, with some suffering seizures and hallucinations.Available in many head shops for as little as $10, the synthetic drugs are often packaged as incense or bath salts, but they do nothing to perfume the air or soften water.
 
As more Americans experiment with them, the results are becoming evident at hospitals: a sharp spike in the number of users who show up with problems ranging from labored breathing and rapid heartbeats to extreme paranoia and delusions. The symptoms can persist for days.”These kids weren’t looking for anything bad to happen,” Mike Rozga said of his son’s death. “The truth is they didn’t know what they had gotten themselves into.”At the request of the AP, the American Association of Poison Control Centers analyzed nationwide figures on calls related to synthetic drugs. The findings showed an alarming increase in the number of people seeking medical attention.At least 2,700 people have fallen ill since January, compared with fewer than 3,200 cases in all of 2010. At that pace, medical emergencies related to synthetic drugs could go up nearly fivefold by the end of the year.”Many of the users describe extreme paranoia,” said Dr. Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center. “The recurring theme is monsters, demons and aliens. A lot of them had suicidal thoughts.”The recent surge in activity has not gone unnoticed by law enforcement and elected officials.The Drug Enforcement Administration recently used emergency powers to outlaw five chemicals found in synthetic pot, placing them in the same category as heroin and cocaine.
But manufacturers are quick to adapt, often cranking out new formulas that are only a single molecule apart from the illegal ones.On Wednesday, the Senate’s Caucus on International Narcotics Control held a hearing in Washington to discuss curbing the growth of synthetics.”This is a whole new method of trafficking,” testified Joseph T. Ranznazzisi, deputy assistant administrator in the DEA‘s office of diversion control. “We’ve never experienced this before, when the product is just on the shelf.”Rozga implored lawmakers to act swiftly to prevent more deaths: “We are not doing enough, and we are not moving quickly enough.”Recreational drugs created in the laboratory have been around at least since the middle of the 20th century, when LSD was first studied. But these latest examples emerged only a few years ago, starting in Europe.The products were typically made in China, India and other Asian nations and soon arrived in Britain and Germany, according to DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.In the United States, fake marijuana was last year’s big seller, marketed under brands such as “K2″ or “Spice.” This year, the trend is “bath salts” with names like “Purple Wave” and “Bliss.”Besides being cheap and easily obtained, they do not show up in common drug tests.Synthetic marijuana typically involves dried plant material sprayed with one of several chemical compounds, most of which were created by a Clemson University scientist for research purposes in the 1990s. The compounds were never tested on humans.It’s packaged to look like pot, and users typically smoke it, but experts say the high is more comparable to cocaine or LSD.The bath salts are crystalized chemicals that are snorted, swallowed or smoked. They contain two powerful stimulants: methylenedioxypyrovalerone (or MDPV) and mephedrone, which mimic cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine.
So far in 2011, poison control centers have received nearly 1,300 calls about synthetic pot, compared with 2,874 calls for all of last year, according to the poison control center data.Poison calls for bath salts rose at an even greater rate. The centers took 301 calls in all of 2010, but had more than 1,400 for the first three months of 2011. Most of the calls came from doctors and nurses reporting patients in emergency rooms.”The problem is really exploding here,” said Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, director of the West Virginia Poison Center. Her state had three cases of bath-salt poisoning in December.”We’ve had 131 cases since Jan. 1,” and one-third of those were within the past two weeks, she said late last month. A law banning bath salts and synthetic marijuana was signed Tuesday by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.Physicians generally treat the overdoses with anti-anxiety medication such as Valium and Xanax, which ease the frenetic, drug-fueled activity in the brain and body.”They cut back on the hallucinations, slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure. It can take large doses. It can take repeated doses,” Scharman said.In some patients, symptoms can last for days.”One described it as like being on cocaine, but 10 times worse,” said Anna Rouse Dulaney of the Carolinas Poison Center in CharlotteDEA agent Gary Boggs said users assume that the products are safe because they are available in stores, even though they are typically labeled “not for human consumption.””These products are in an unregulated, unlicensed industry,” Boggs said. “No one knows the strength of the ingredients. You don’t know what you’re taking.”
In addition to the DEA’s recently adopted ban, a federal law allows for prosecution of “analogue” drugs that mimic the effects of illegal substances.But authorities acknowledge the challenge of stopping the drugs’ spread. DEA experts are evaluating as many as 50 new synthetics.”The possibilities are endless,” Boggs said. “There’s probably hundreds of formulations out there.”At least 20 states have banned chemicals found in fake marijuana, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures compiled for the AP. Most others have legislation pending.At least nine states have banned substances found in bath salts, and 25 have laws in the works.Lawmakers know they’re fighting an uphill battle.”These chemists are pretty sophisticated and creative and are going to stay one step ahead of us, I’m afraid,” said Kentucky state Rep. John Tilley, a Democrat who sponsored his state’s ban on drug-infused bath salts.Some head shop owners see all the alarm as an overreaction.In Des Moines, near Drake University, the Day Dreams shop has found the synthetic marijuana “Spice” to be a proven money-maker. Along with incense, hippie clothing and drug paraphernalia, the store has sold thousands of packets of the crumbly, brownish-green leaves. Many of the packages are displayed behind the counter as a safeguard against shoplifting.Contrary to DEA claims that the product is most popular among teens and college-age customers, co-owner Kathy Fiedler said two-thirds of her buyers are middle-aged.”I even have grandmothers coming in,” said Fiedler, 56.If Iowa lawmakers adopt a ban, she said, they risk opening the door to shady backroom chemists crafting far more dangerous things.Reports of misuse are widespread.In Kentucky, authorities say a young woman driving on a highway after using bath salts became convinced her 2-year-old was a demon. She allegedly stopped the car and dropped the child on his head. He survived and was taken from his mother’s custody.A Hawaii man pleaded guilty to attacking his girlfriend and trying to throw her off an 11th-floor balcony while high on “Spice.”In January, a Fulton, Miss., man who hallucinated after taking bath salts used a hunting knife to slit his face and stomach.And in March, a 19-year-old man named Trevor Robinson-Davis died in suburban Minneapolis after overdosing at a party on a synthetic drug called 2C-E, a “cousin” to a banned rave-party drug. Ten others at the party became ill.Back in Indianola, David Rozga’s parents said their son had been active in his church and was preparing to start college in the fall. He loved the Green Bay Packers so much he had Brett Favre‘s No. 4 tattooed on his shoulder.”We said at the time, ‘If this was the worst thing he ever did, we did a pretty good job.’ Unfortunately, it wasn’t,” Mike Rozga said.Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, introduced a measure bearing the younger Rozga’s name that would permanently ban five chemicals used in synthetic marijuana products.Jan Rozga hopes the law will be her son’s legacy.”I did not stop being David’s mother when he died,” she said. “I still feel very protective over him, what happened to him, and I want to right that wrong for him.”

Why This Cop Asked the President About Legalizing Drugs

You might not think a 65-year-old retired cop would take to the Internet to ask the president of the United States to consider legalizing drugs, but that’s just what I did recently. The answer I got from President Obama in YouTube’s “Your Interview with the President” contest pleasantly surprised me.

In stark contrast to when the president literally laughed off discussion of marijuana policy in a similar online question-and-answer session in 2009, Obama responded to me by saying that legalizing drugs is “an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” Although he noted that he remains personally opposed to legalization for now, he acknowledged that “we have been so focused on arrests, incarceration, interdiction… that we don’t spend as much time thinking about how to shrink demand.” This welcome statement validated the viewpoint I developed over my 15 years of trying to enforce the drug prohibition laws.

I began my career in law enforcement as a deputy with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in 1985. Later, I moved to Washington State to work for the King County Sheriff’s Office in Seattle, where I worked in our most difficult neighborhoods as a patrol deputy and training officer. I also did a stint as an undercover detective making drug buys, running informants and writing and executing search warrants. I long ago lost count of how many drug arrests I made.

You might think my attitude towards drug users would only have hardened over the years, but the opposite proved to be the case. Understand, I in no way condone or support the use of drugs. And crimes committed by drug users to support their habits must be punished as the crimes they are.

What I came to understand, however, is that this is really a public health and education problem and must be addressed as such. I’m old enough to remember when doctors in white lab coats were on TV hawking cigarettes. It took a long time and a consistent public awareness campaign, but tobacco use in America is down dramatically. Can you imagine the mayhem had we outlawed cigarettes? Can you envision the “cigarette cartels” and the bloodbath that would follow? Yet, thanks to a public awareness campaign we’ve made a huge dent in tobacco use without arresting a single cigarette smoker.

The “drug” problems our society is plagued with are, for the most part, actually drug prohibition problems, the result of a black market. We will never be able to legislate people away from self-intoxication. It’s been going on since the first hominid ate a piece of fermenting fruit and got high on the alcohol content. All we succeed in doing by outlawing these substances is create a gargantuan black market for drug dealers and cartels. The illicit market is estimated to be a half-trillion dollars a year. For that kind of money you can by yourself a sovereign country and in some cases the cartels seemingly have. Mexico is engaged in, basically, open warfare with the cartels. The level of violence and brutality is unprecedented.

If the colloquial definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, what does that say about our “War on Drugs”? We’ve been pursuing this strategy for 40 years. It has cost a trillion taxpayer dollars, thousands of lives (both law enforcement and civilian) and destroyed hundreds of thousands more by incarceration. Moreover, it undermines the safety of our communities by overcrowding our jails and prisons, forcing them to give early release to truly violent offenders.

So, in a country where, all too often, the only voices heard (or at least heeded) are those of large corporations or special interest groups with powerful lobbyists in Washington, I thought the president’s YouTube forum might be a chance to pose a question directly to the person in charge. Long odds to be sure, but a chance nonetheless. Surprise doesn’t begin to describe my reaction upon learning my video question ranked first place in the online voting and would be presented to the president.

It is extremely encouraging to hear President Obama respond to a question about our national drug policy in a reasonable, respectful and serious manner, the first time a sitting president has done so.

This is obviously a complicated, highly-charged issue, with Obama and many elected officials still opposed to legalization. But nothing will ever improve without first acknowledging the need for discussion. In that regard, the president’s YouTube comments are a tremendous first step.

We can only hope his words encouraging a serious debate on the topic prove to be more than rhetoric, and that he will take on the admittedly complicated challenge of revisiting and, hopefully, revising our national stance on drugs.

MacKenzie Allen, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, is a retired deputy sheriff who did policing in Los Angles and Seattle.

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