Some time ago, I realized that certain places in the United States had changed its laws in regard to marijuana, both the use and growing of it. Of course, this isn’t news to whoever is reading this, but as a non-American (I live in the United Kingdom), it is not a subject that I have followed closely.
What did intrigue me was how this shift in policy came to take place. Decriminalization, and reclassification have been going on for years, not only in the United States, but suddenly there are legitimate growers and companies on the stock exchange? it’s true, this trend isn’t new, but the place of it surprised me, especially in America.
The question: How did this come about?
One American administration after another has been at the forefront of the “War on Drugs” for decades, pouring billions of dollars into the fight to eradicate the drug trade. This has been aimed at hard drugs and the cartels that run the drugs, but marijuana has also been part of the package. Money, material, and support have been poured into the fight, mainly into producing countries that use the U.S. as a marketplace. So, why now has there been a domestic rethink?
One answer could be that it is just impossible to police, like trying to stamp out a cockroach infestation using your feet. Maybe, reason has finally entered politics. The use of weed is so widespread that it is as common as alcohol. The amount of time and money the police waste on persecuting smokers, and small-time dealers just isn’t worth it, from an economic point of view. The paperwork and the waste of time clog up police administration, the courts, and finally, the prisons.
An American friend of mine told me what once happened to him, back in the 1970s. This was New York City, and he was sitting on the stoop of his apartment building, smoking a joint, when the local beat cop came along. The cop stopped and looked sternly at my friend, and then said, “Don’t be an idiot, go around the corner where I can’t see you. If I arrest you, I’ll be drowning in paperwork for the rest of the day.” That was five decades ago, when most of society reacted to smoking dope with shock-horror. Since then, its widespread use has turned it into a common, recreational pastime.
Something that people living outside of the United States have heard of is the “Moral Majority.” How did this type of legislation get past them? As I understand it, the laws allowing marijuana for personal use, and the legalization for the growing of it, are state laws, therefore local, not nationwide. The moral majority present themselves as Christian, God-fearing, and right-wing, opposed vigorously to what they consider evil; they are pro-authority.
No doubt, “drugs” of any kind, apart from alcohol, would be a major target. Drugs are a sector of society that is spread across the United States, wielding strong political power. One would imagine that drugs would oppose such measures with all its might. So, what happened? Did reason prevail, and the politicians, who usually pander to reason, suddenly grow backbones? Or was it a case of a battle already lost?
Other groups that may naturally oppose these laws are obviously criminal gangs, and those that feed off the illicit trade. Many people have grown rich selling marijuana; as a banned substance, they can mark up the price. It is a repeat of the 1920s during the Prohibition Era when the Sicilian and other gangs rose in power by supplying contraband alcohol. There are also the corrupt officials, police, court officials, and lawyers that earn by shielding and defending those in the underground trade. Legalization would undoubtedly cut into their profits. On the other hand, what about official organizations such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, and others tasked with stamping out the trade? Did they rejoice that the trend towards legalization would lighten their caseload, or unhappy because it limited their reach, and diminished their responsibility?
One possibility is that a greedy government, both state and federal, decided to ditch the moral stance and go for the money. Maybe a secret lobby by the Internal Revenue Service, to get their hands on a previously untapped tax source? The potential revenue income through taxation must be mind boggling, and would probably outstrip alcohol, shortly. Or was it a case of grassroots lobbying? Were there so many individuals and social organizations, in other words, tax paying voters that banded together and launched an onslaught on the legislators? This leading to politicians, whatever their private thoughts, to support what was before, political suicide.
Let’s not forget another major player, the business community. Surely, they have envied the vast profits of the illicit drug traders. Sensing the mood of people in general in regard to what most think of as a harmless pursuit, they put their considerable weight behind the movement for legalization. Getting in on the ground floor of a previously illegal industry, one with an already established client base and untold potential for growth and profit, would be seen as a brilliant move. They can risk their capital, but without the added risk of jail time!
In conclusion, I would like to think that old-scoundrel reasoning has reared its ugly head, and those with the power to change the laws, listened. Fed up with trying to stem the rising tide and eradicate the use or sale of a substance that is probably less harmful than cigarettes, and certainly much less harmful than alcohol, they gave in.
If anyone does have a concrete answer, I would love to hear it.