United States government must rethink policies on drug war

    Marijuana has been glamorized by Hollywood, glorified in music, demonized by D.A.R.E., disdained by parents, yet heralded as a relaxing pastime by thousands — if not millions — of people around the world. And let’s not forget the potential medical benefits of smoking marijuana.

    Of course, the “”Johnny smokes pot, so I can, too”” argument doesn’t justify smoking weed. The argument doesn’t justify the legalization or even the decriminalization of marijuana.

    We must remember why marijuana is considered so dangerous in the first place. Some of the effects of marijuana include memory loss, lung damage, increased risk of heart disease — and don’t forget that Mexican-Americans who smoke marijuana become violent, angry and gain an abnormal amount of strength for fending off authorities.

    In the early 1900s, marijuana was used primarily by the lower classes in the Southwest. In this region, the lower class was comprised of migrant workers from Mexico. Authorities claimed that these migrant farm workers were violent and immoral, and these behaviors became associated with the use of marijuana. The media began to print stories about the “”dangerous Mexican farm worker”” and how marijuana made him prone to violence. Stories such as these resulted in widespread anti marijuana legislation in nearly every state west of the Mississippi River. Don’t believe me? Read Jerald W. Cloyd’s article, “”People and Problematic Meanings,”” in his book “”Drugs and Information Control.””

    The notion is obviously ridiculous, and Cloyd does not support the legend of the violent migrant worker. He claims, on the contrary, that myths about Mexicans and their marijuana, blacks and their cocaine, and the Chinese and their opium were part of the push toward the criminalization of many drugs. He also argues that drug use among the white upper class was portrayed as use for medicinal purposes.

    Whites claimed that they were able to control their use, whereas the drug use among lower-class minorities, who were oversexed and prone to violence in society’s eyes, was purely for immoral pleasure. Just look at the people who smoke marijuana today. You will probably find that they are pretty relaxed, fairly hungry and maybe a bit paranoid.

    You would be hard-pressed to find a credible news story about a person who became uncontrollably violent while under the influence of marijuana — drunken people, on the other hand, are more prone to violence. The drug policy in the 21st century is based on stereotypes and the implementation of scare tactics by programs such as D.A.R.E. No doubt, there are dangers surrounding many drugs. But with “”soft drugs”” — especially marijuana — we must rethink our drug policy.

    The government is spending billions of dollars in the war against the sale or consumption of drugs. Prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent drug-related offenders. The court system is clogged with people charged with petty drug offenses.

    Billions of dollars are sent to drug-supplying countries in the attempt to eradicate the transport and supply of drugs when the problem seems to be the demand for drugs not the supply of drugs.

    The current British government recently softened its drug policy. Personal use of ecstasy and other “”dance drugs”” will be ignored in nightclubs. The guidelines set by the government accept that drug use is a part of youth culture that cannot be eradicated.

    The guidelines have also developed ways to help those who do decide to use drugs at clubs, implementing “”chill-out”” rooms, free water and better ventilation. The government acknowledges that the use of dangerous drugs cannot be stopped, so it is helping people who decide to take that risk. The punitive focus is shifted to dealers and those who use “”hard”” drugs like cocaine and heroin.

    The decriminalization and possible legalization of marijuana has been discussed within the British Parliament. Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes has contended that the prosecution of marijuana users is a waste of time. The focus should be on help for the addict and punishment for the dealer. A pilot program in parts of London allows people caught with marijuana to be given no more than a warning. The result in the first six months has been an increase in the hours of man power saved by the police.

    There have been some encouraging reforms in drug policy around the United States, but the government needs to find a way to rethink the current drug policy. The focus should step away from trying to prosecute users of drugs such as marijuana. More focus should be on punishment for the dealers, help for the addicts and a campaign to truly educate the public about drugs — D.A.R.E. does not work (If you are going to keep claiming this, you should address why. -ml).

    Billions of dollars can be saved, the courts and the authorities will have more time to devote on more important issues, and prisons will be freed up for violent criminals.

    We need to rethink our drug policy and stop wasting time and money on a war on drugs that we cannot win.

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