Towards the beginning of the cult classic "Dazed & Confused," a high school senior named Slater, inquires of baby-faced freshman Mitch, "Are you cool?" What Slater was really asking—in this ode to 1970s youth and the counterculture—was, "Do you smoke pot?"
Ahh the '70s. Back before the Reagan Revolution kicked the kooky, corrupt and thoroughly counterproductive War On Drugs into high gear. Suddenly this country lost its collective mind, suffering a lapse in judgment that vaulted well past ill-advised and beyond "they have weapons of mass destruction" to what might best be labeled "the mind of Ted Nugent."
By any measure; economically, morally, democratically, we are the worse for allowing special interests—from private prisons to the security industry—to take us down this road. It has spiritually hollowed us out, while erecting a prominent prison culture that makes The People's Republic of China seem like Woodstock.
This was made all the more evident recently when a Harvard economist, Jeffrey Miron, released a study showing this exercise in dunderheadedness is costing us $13.7 billion a year. Ernest A. Canning points to some statistics reported on Democracy Now! showing that "over the last 40 years, more than 45 million drug-related arrests have cost an estimated $1 trillion."
Hmm, I can't think of any better way we could have spent this money, can you?
But I do know some neo-conservative types who seemingly kneel down in prayer a few times a day to make supple offerings to the graven idol of The Balanced Budget. You'd think they might notice a statistic like this and do something to save money being wasted on imprisoning people who take their mind altering substances through the beer bong, as opposed to a funnel, filter, or medically-approved prescription pill bottle. Although, as Paul Ryan has found out when weighing raising taxes on ascots vs. slashing social programs, it's just so much easier and more fun to cut basic healthcare programs from kids than to honestly tackle real problems.
Sadly, things have gotten no better under President Obama than they were under his predecessors. Back when he was running for President in 2008, Obama claimed to support the “basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs,” He even went further, claiming he would "not be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws.”
Yet, that is exactly what he has done, using the very same Justice Department to raid over 100 marijuana dispensaries during his term. It is shameful really.
The wasted potential of those who will go to our jails instead of our colleges (although at least Rick Santorum won't shake his head in not-so-subtle disapproval of their obvious snobbery) will not only cost these individuals and their families dearly, but our society as a whole. Much like with our health care system, when we ignore or create problems in the short term, they always come back to haunt us as the Ghost of Christmas past—and not the cool one played by Buster Poindexter in Scrooged, either.
Listen, if you don't want to believe any of this, just see what Pat Robertson had to say about this issue recently (yes, I too am stunned I just wrote that). Yes, he took some time off from blaming hurricanes on abortion and "The Way We Were," to come out for marijuana legalization. Now I'm not going to say I think his every neuron is firing in what one might call a fecund direction, but on this one, politicians should listen. They should pay even more attention to the people of this country, who, by a 47 percent plurality, favor marijuana legalization.
Because if we continue with the half-baked idea of expanding this war, we will also continue to watch our financial future, our moral fiber and our civil liberties go up in smoke.
This piece was first published at Al Jazeera English