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My Turn: Now is the time for pot decriminalization



For the Monitor
Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Polls show that the majority of New Hampshire residents want to end Prohibition (again). This is true whether you poll Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens or independents.

Prohibition was a bad idea when Woodrow Wilson signed the Harrison Act in 1914. It got worse when it was extended to alcohol, and worse yet when FDR pushed through the first federal anti-marijuana law in 1937.

Intellectually, Prohibition was born of the early-1900s Progressive Era’s idea that individual decisions could be replaced with the rule of experts, especially if those experts were white males trained in Eastern universities.

The “Noble Experiment” of alcohol prohibition failed massively and brought organized crime, corruption and harm to users of contaminated alcohol. Since then, we have continued the experiment on various other chemicals, with yet more lethal failures. No matter how many Ivy League experts are put in charge, a central bureaucracy regulating the human bloodstream always causes more harm.

The Drug War created the career path of drug dealer for inner-city youth, diverting millions of young people out of productive work and into prison. It caused high drug prices that drive addicts to street crime. Those same high drug prices are subsidies to terrorist organizations.

The IEDs that kill American soldiers in Afghanistan are bought with Taliban drug profits, profits that would disappear the day drugs were legalized. The Fort Bragg-trained “Zetas” that slaughter tens of thousands in Mexico, the FARC in Colombia, various Central American gangsters – all were funded by Drug War “price supports.”

The Drug War does not reduce drug use. The taboo molecules are now much more abundant. Without the War on Drugs, contaminated street cocaine and heroin would long ago have been replaced by safer, cheaper products from Novartis and Bayer. There would also be much less addiction. Portugal and Switzerland have proven that addicts cure themselves when treatment is available without the threat of prison.

The Drug War creates un-American class differences, ripping a rift between those designated as “ins” vs. “outs.”

The well-off are free to use Adderall (an amphetamine), or modafinil, or Oxycontin (same mechanism of action as heroin). Poor people using chemicals with identical pharmacology have their pets shot and stun grenades thrown into their living rooms, and then serve long prison terms due to lack of legal representation. Laws mandate that poor people get longer sentences; for example, the scientifically inexplicable differences in sentencing for “crack” cocaine versus powder. (Yes, the penalties are still unequal, after all these years.)

There is no point to me repeating the arguments against the Drug War to the readers of the Monitor. Nearly everyone wants to end it. And the least controversial drug is marijuana – less lethal than cigarettes, less dangerous to the user and other drivers than alcohol, far milder than opiates.

Yet in New Hampshire, alone among New England states, we still preserve FDR’s 1937 reefer-madness laws. For the last decade, the New Hampshire State House has passed decriminalization and legalization bills (usually written by Republicans and sponsored by legislators from both parties). A total of seven such bills passed the House. Each time, Democrat governors fought hard to block them – and won.

There will be no Democrat governor to block decriminalization next year. Gov. Sununu campaigned on a platform of marijuana decriminalization, and it should be one of the first measures passed in 2017. A legalization bill will be floated as well.

I ask New Hampshire Democrats to support the Republican governor’s decriminalization efforts, and also to support those who want to catch up to Massachusetts and legalize. Only full legalization will capture the full benefits of ending the War on (some) Drugs.

(Bill Walker lives in Plainfield.)