But beyond the mere curio of this media moment, there's an important issue lurking here. Look again to the comments, and you'll see many people insisting that Haiti should definitely trump the marijuana industry because (implicitly or explicitly) Haiti is an issue of superior moral seriousness to the issue of legalizing marijuana. Precisely because I think the choice is false, I don't want to try and adjudicate that here. (The issue of what is more appropriate or marketable for a major magazine lies outside of both my expertise and my interest.) But I am disturbed by the overwhelming impression that the commenters seem to have that the legalization of marijuana is some silly counter cultural issue. This is especially troubling because I imagine most of the commenters on Mother Jones are the kind of people who favor marijuana legalization.
The legalization of marijuana, it's true, is a libertarian issue. The fundamental principle is the sheer absurdity of the government telling me what I can and can't put into my own body, or trying to adjudicate what is best for my health or personal well-being. I am arguing, yes, for the right to get high. But thanks to the incredible vagaries of the drug war, legalization of marijuana is so much more. It is absolutely, undoubtedly an issue of human rights. Despite the common canard that marijuana is "basically" decriminalized, we arrest people for marijuana offenses at an absurd rate-- and that rate has consistently grown since the early '90s:
|chart courtesy of The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform|
In 2007 there were over 850,000 marijuana arrests (PDF). The United States has only 5% of the worlds population but imprisons 25% of its prisoners. The federal government spent over $15 billion on the drug war in 2010, or a rate of $500 a second. Our country is 66% non-Hispanic white people but 70% of our prisoners are non-white. The justice system is overwhelmingly unfriendly to the poor. And on and on.
I don't understand how it can possibly remain the case that these facts are out there and yet marijuana legalization is somehow seen as a less than serious issue. This is a social justice issue. This is a racial justice issue. This is a deficit reduction issue. This is an issue of elementary personal freedoms. But we can't fix things as long as people who are ostensibly in favor of decriminalization continue to say so with a smirk, or relegate the issue to the margins, or treat it as a distraction or joke. It's time to get serious about a serious and deeply troubling issue.