Marijuana should be should be legal, regulated, and taxed

I grew up in the American Deep South, in Lower Alabama, with Jim Crow and Old Crow, where fire-breathing preachers, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and I all knew that one may never kill a mockingbird.

And in that day and place, the “War on Drugs” was actively waged county by county. The drug was alcohol and the method of war was called “local option.” Every several years, the Baptists and the bootleggers would team up politically to try to get their county voted “dry” again. But like all the wars on drugs in Western civilization, it was only temporarily and geographically somewhat successful.

The 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the Volstead Act) was ratified in 1919 and went into effect in 1920, making illegal the manufacture, distribution, and sale (but not the possession for personal use) of ethyl alcohol as a beverage.

Prohibition did sharply decrease the amount of alcohol consumed for several years, but was never popular and was circumvented in numerous ways by a public that liked to drink. Al Capone typified that era’s gang-drug wars. Franklin Roosevelt ran for president on a platform that included repeal of the 18th, a promise delivered upon in December 1933.

When President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, he was merely placing a new administrative emphasis on the American prohibition of many psychoactive substances that began in 1914 — 41 years later, it isn’t even surprising for this columnist to agree with many others, including noted conservative Pat Robertson, who have declared that war to be over, the country having suffered ignominious defeat.

Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander in her acclaimed new book argues eloquently that the Drug War is The New Jim Crow. It seems that Nixon’s failed drug war was never only about drugs.

It was, and is, about subjugating African Americans by incarceration on felony drug charges, intended to deny them the right to vote, as one element of Nixon’s long successful Southern Strategy for Republican success.

So although this “war” failed in its efforts against drugs, it did and does succeed as a political strategy by depriving millions of citizens of their right to vote, even lifelong.

As a toxicologist and forensic pathologist, I have been on the record since 1971 that marijuana is far less harmful than either tobacco or alcohol.

The drive to take psychoactive drugs is and always will be overwhelming to many people. But when the laws intended to prevent harm from a drug are more harmful for individuals and for society than is the drug, it is sensible to change those laws.

And that time is now for marijuana.

Recognizing full well that our society has not done a good job regulating either tobacco or alcohol, and that marijuana is not harmless, I nonetheless believe that cannabis cultivation, possession, marketing, sale, and use should now be made legal, regulated, and taxed in all 50 of these United States.

George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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  • lemaman

    so true.  narcoterrorism is horrendous and will never stop.  Legalize it all, tax and regulate it and be done.  we will never win this contrived “war” on drugs

    • DamnGoodDoc


    • Alice Robertson

      The war on drugs is much larger than MJ.  Didn’t you find it interesting who defeated the bill in CA.  The growers….it was really interesting to watch how that played out.   It just isn’t as simple as you state.

  • davemills555

    Legalize marijuana and you will see half of the cops in America getting pink slips and half of the non-voilent offenders in America’s prison system being released. Yet, try to tell that to the defenders of morality, the Tea Party! 

    • Alice Robertson

      Many Tea Party supporters are libertarians who support Ron Paul.  Half of the cops laid off?  Wow….smoking MJ must really cut down on crime.  Wonder why the Indians were into scalping?  Ha! 

      • davemills555

        Native Americans got their land stolen by our founding fathers, the very same founding fathers who wrote the documents that proposed “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The very same founding fathers that owned slaves while then penned those words. Is there any wonder why those betrayed Native Americans resorted to scalping the people that came to steal their land? Think tea bagger…THINK!

        • Alice Robertson

          The scalping happened amidst their own tribes.   It was often a sport not a civil rights action.

          I am not a Tea Party supporter….maybe on some levels…but not on others…but I am American Indian and can get Peyote Rights:)  Try volunteering at an Indian Reservation to help them as I have and see what government regulation and interference has done to them on the reservation and their own infighting.  Then think about how to really help them…. the Tea Party has nothing to do with their current problems.  Then study a bit more about abolitionists and with your passion I hope you have read the fictional, heartbreaking Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 

          Government often creates a learned helplessness that, ultimately, helps no one.

  • cherdan

    Once again this country is hostage to the Puritan ethic.

    • Alice Robertson

      What the Puritans didn’t smoke the peace pipe?  They certainly enjoyed their Rum.  I guess I don’t view it as Puritanism which was really more about the law of God…and MJ being natural and all….:)  It is a libertarian issue under the guise of the government making more profit to waste.  MJ will be legal eventually…the Hippies grew up…and so did their kids….it’s a supported issue. 

  • hbranman

    Amen!!  Most of the crime by young people is related to the laws that make it a felony to use drugs that some people can NOT control.  At the same time, Big Pharma runs this country.  The professors in the medical schools are all on the payroll of those companies.  There are hundreds of thousands of deaths each year related to pharmaceutical drug interaction or overdose. And, the FDA will block any “Natural” cures for Cancer and other degenerative illnesses.  Our government officials who continue to fight legalization of marijuana are all on the “take”.

  • Alice Robertson

    Your writing seems to reflect libertarianism, and attract celebratory tokers.  To be consistent with your train of thought….do you like, Dr. Ron Paul believe heroin should be legal?  Where are the boundaries?  There is evidence on both sides of this fence.  I know Bill Bennett as former Drug Czar (and Education Secretary)  brings facts to the table that are ignored and he is pounded personally (odd…marijuana hasn’t produced the calming effects on detractors it should:)

    I read recently about making psychedelics legal.  Good read!  Good trips too!  Isn’t the aisles of Walgreens going to be ultra colorful at some point in the future?  One wonders where the government coffers and our rights as a society…not on a personal liberty level… end and begin.  It’s a vital question for doctors to answer in the day and age when our very life depends upon tax dollars, which will, ultimately, lead to the demise of many.

  • westeasterly

    It’s nice to see a logical approach on the issue of drugs.  Certainly no drug is harmless (ask any ED physician about the “safety” of tylenol), but sometimes the unintended consequences of prohibition far outweigh any harm.  It certainly was true of 18th amendment, but it’s no less true now.  Despite relatively equal usage rates, I’ve seen statistics which reflect 80% of those incarcerated for marijuana are African American, the vast majority of which are young men.  And despite the lifelong harm caused by the legal system (try getting a job and having a successful life with a felony conviction), nearly everyone I ask knows where they could get marijuana if they wanted it.  

    The drug war is one of the most expensive failures our government is currently engaged in.  And let’s not forget the human toll; hardly a week goes by without reports of Mexican cartel violence significant enough to make US news.  It’s as though we learned nothing from the 1920′s!  Prohibition does nothing to stop people from doing as they please, it just turns otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals and enriches organized crime.  By his own admission, President Obama used quite a bit of cannabis in his youth, and now he’s responsible for perpetuating this terrible public policy.  There’s a huge disconnect, and quite a bit of hypocrisy, all culminating in ruined lives.  All for the sake of some moral high ground because some people wish to tell other people how to live their lives.  

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