In the midst of a presidential election year, Americans rightly expect to hear debates on almost every relevant topic. However, there is one topic that seems to be missing from the debate, even when it seems compellingly relevant: The “war on drugs.”
When we talk about Mexican and Central American immigration, we ignore the fact that many immigrants are unaccompanied children, refugees fleeing drug war violence, while drug warriors claim to be concerned about “the children.” And when the violence follows the refugees, we blame them, not the drug war.
When we talk about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, we ignore the fact that the opium poppy crop is a major source of their funding, and Western suppression of these crops is a major source of conflict with the poorest people in a very poor country.
Italy is considering marijuana legalization, because they say the black market is a major source of funding for both the Mafia and terrorists, which has been obvious for years – and not just in Italy.
Similarly, when Americans talk about needing more security, we don’t talk about the enormous waste of police resources spent on hundreds of thousands of arrests every year for small amounts of marijuana.
Civil rights advocates frequently cite statistics that show that blacks are far more likely to be arrested, and more severely punished for drug crimes than whites, even though use rates are very similar. But that has been blatantly obvious for decades. Would it be less unjust if we arrested more whites and punished them more severely?
Black Lives Matter protests that police violence against blacks is a systemic problem, but marijuana prohibition is the major source of interaction between the police and young black men – and yet even they don’t mention the drug war.
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And “public health” is naturally a major issue in the election, except for the drug war. Absurdly, drug overdose deaths now exceed both those killed in traffic accidents and gun violence. In 2014, approximately 13,000 Americans were killed by guns, and approximately 32,675 were killed in traffic accidents, but there were 47,055 drug overdose deaths – but zero marijuana overdose deaths.
We know how difficult it is to reduce gun and traffic deaths, but in October of 2014, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate … compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time.”
And that is just the beginning of the cost of suppressing research on the medical use of cannabis. For decades the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration have made it almost impossible to do any research on any possible benefits from cannabis. But of course they would always say that we needed more research before we could stop arresting sick people. Even now the Obama administration is delaying a decision on rescheduling marijuana. Officially, it still has “no medical value.” But don’t mention the drug war.
The urgency of these widely varied problems with the drug war seems obvious, so why can’t we even mention the war on drugs?
Richard Cowan is chairman of the Board of FreedomLeaf inc. and former Executive Director of NORML.