Prohibition Failed: Drug Availability is Unchanged
Despite the "War on Drugs" and the recent tripling of the resources committed to it, drugs are still as available as ever. During the Dec. 8, 1987, hearings conducted by this Committee, the honorable chairman of this committee asked Mr. Francis A. Keating, II, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (Enforcement), Acting Chairman, Drug Law Enforcement Coordinating Group, National Drug Policy Board, the following question:
...I am just asking; as a result of all these efforts in the increase of expertise, technology, and efforts put into this area, are you suggesting that there might be one ounce less of heroin, opium, cocaine, or marijuana on the street as a result of that?
Mr. Keating: No.
Mr. Keating was correct. Availability is unchanged by current policy.
The State Department reported a 25 percent increase in foreign marijuana production during 1987 and the Drug Enforcement Administration estimated a 50 percent increase in domestic production, after eradication, during the years 1986 to 1987. Mark Dion from the Department of State in earlier congressional testimony estimated that as much as 9,000 metric tons of marijuana were imported into the United States in 1986 alone.
There are indications that the government figures on the number of metric tons available in the United States, as high as they may seem, nonetheless,. are underestimated. This is demonstrated by an observation of the President's Commission on Organized Crime (1986) which noted that in 1984, the Mexican police, in raids on only five farms, seized over 2,000 metric tons of marijuana. This was eight times more marijuana than Mexican and American authorities had previously claimed was being produced annually throughout all of Mexico.
Wesley Pomeroy, one of the first administrators of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and a former police chief, said in a recent issue of the Drugs and Drug Abuse Education Newsletter what many in law enforcement will admit, if they can speak off the record, that marijuana cannot be controlled. It is a weed that can be grown anywhere. One can grow it in her bathtub, in his flowerpot, their outside garden or anyplace else. The greatest amount of marijuana actually destroyed by eradication, as a practical matter, is that which is grown wild rather than that which is cultivated for consumption. Eradication will not stop people from smoking marijuana.
At present marijuana is part of an unregulated, untaxed underground market. If allowed to surface, marijuana could be better controlled and at the same tirne, turned into an asset to be used against other more harmful substances.
Prohibition Fuels the Underground Economy
Wharton Econometrics determined for the President's Commission on Organized Crime in 1986 that one half of organized crime's revenues were derived from illegal drugs. Prohibition has created an enormous underground economy which is totally untaxed and unregulated. Large sums float around the economy but do not contribute to it. These sums are not available for use in drug education and treatment. Taxation and regulated availability of marijuana would allow us to educate and treat those with hard drug problems.
It is estimated that the domestic marijuana crop is the most valuable cash crop, overall, in the United States. It has an estimated value of over $10 billion. Revenue from this large cash crop could be used to improve our economy. The tax revenues could fund treatment and education for those addicted to hard drugs.
It is clear that the unintended beneficiaries of our current drug prohibition include those whose profits have increased because prohibition causes higher prices. In the 1980s, like in the 1920s, Prohibition and the application of increased penalties increases the risk which, in turn, increases the price and the profit. Since the actual costs of production remains about the same the profit margin increases.
Interestingly, prohibition's inclusion of drugs such as marijuana with hard drugs such as crack/ cocaine and heroin, has also contributed significantly to the prevalence of hard drugs in our underground markets and in our society. One can obviously smuggle a smaller amount of cocaine at a significantly greater value with less chance of detection than it would take to smuggle a larger amount of marijuana of comparable value. Smaller is easier. Drug Enforcement Administration reports indicate that the costs of bulk cocaine in Florida have gone down dramatically while the cost per unit on the street has remained the same. An obvious effect of this is to increase the margin of profit. It is also demonstrative of the increased volume. The underground market has an interest in turning people toward more harmful drugs since they are easier to handle and produce easier profits. Lumping marijuana with hard drugs is counterproductive and makes this underground market more harmful to our society....
Marijuana arrests for simple possession comprise the greatest bulk of an drug arrests. The funds spent on marijuana prohibition should be diverted to help the tens of thousands of people who would like to obtain treatment for hard drug problems but have no place to go. Making marijuana available through taxed, regulated control would release a lot of resources that could be put to better use. Rather than criminalize productive citizens who occasionally smoke marijuana, we should allocate these resources to treating and educating those with hard drug problems....
Too Little for Too Much
The largest portion of our budget is wasted. Well over 68 percent of all drug arrests are for simple possession. Of these arrests, the vast majority, by far, are for marijuana. Indeed, marijuana arrests comprise about 40 percent of the total of all drug arrests nationally. Simple marijuana possession accounts for 77 percent of these arrests. With marijuana possession cases accounting for the bulk of all state and federal drug arrests in this country, we are wasting significant resources that could be allotted to treatment and education for hard drugs.
It seems counterproductive to spend billions of dollars and tie up the vast majority of our time and effort going after marijuana possession when tens of thousands who are heroin and cocaine/crack addicts are left in the criminal milieu, unable to get treatment for their problems. It is not sensible to devote so much of our enforcement budget to suppression of a relatively benign substance such as marijuana which has no toxic dosage while letting those addicted to such severely debilitating drugs as crack/cocaine and heroin go untreated for a lack of resources.
Given the fact that we have a $20 billion national budget for state and federal efforts and that 40 percent of all drug arrests relate to marijuana, removing marijuana from this prohibition effort would free enormous resources for more practical application.
In California, for example, a 1987 analysis of the fiscal savings attributed to the decriminalization of possession of an ounce or less of marijuana indicated that the total savings for the period of 1976 through 1985 was close to $1 billion. This policy generated additional revenue income in the neighborhood of $4 million.
Alaska has allowed marijuana to be available for personal use since 1975 with no deleterious consequences and at great savings. Indeed, it is better off than many other states because its policies are not fueling an underground market, nor are they criminalizing their citizens for a lifestyle choice. That state does not have the rampant increase in drug problems that many incorrectly claim happens when marijuana is made available.
In Texas, by comparison, they still prosecute all levels of marijuana possession. The lack of benefit compared to the enormous costs involved has given cause to some legislators to consider changing the law. In a report prepared for Texas State Senator Craig Washington, it was estimated that the actual amount of revenue expended per year to punish those who possess minor amounts of marijuana might be as high as $50 million annually. That large amount resulted in punishing only 1 percent of the user population. The cost of the prohibition policy and punishment was considerable. Not only were taxpayer funds expended to little effect, but a lot of damage was done to the private lives of otherwise law abiding citizens. Many ordinary people from all walks of life were arrested and jailed on marijuana charges. They would not be criminals by any definition of the term other than by their act of possessing small amounts of marijuana. These people are being punished but there is little noticeable effect on the marijuana situation in Texas. It costs millions of dollars to the Texas taxpayers while having no effect on marijuana use.
This Texas report estimated that in the United States, as a whole, 1 in 10 people might possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use with as many as 1 in 4 having experimented with it or perhaps using it occasionally. That left approximately one and a half million Texans who regularly violated the law and over 3 1/2 million who occasionally violated the law. Cost benefit analysis indicated that there was, as has been shown in California, a misapplication of resources in the marijuana prohibition laws.
Applying the lessons to be learned from the Alaska, California, and Texas situations to the national marijuana prohibition policy teaches us that the current policy of marijuana prohibition is counter-productive to the overall policy of addressing our national drug problems. We spend twenty billion dollars annually from the coffers of the state and federal government on drug prohibition. We expend the largest portion of these resources on the simple possession of one single drug which is the most benign of them all, i.e., marijuana. We criminalize approximately one-quarter of our population, the 50 million marijuana users, because they smoke marijuana while ignoring the treatment needs of tens of thousand of people who want help for their hard drug problems. Treating all drugs the same is not cost effective. We are wasting our resources. In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences recognized after five years of study that regulated availability of marijuana ought to be allowed on a state-by-state basis. It is a matter of state's rights, not federal action.
Not All Drugs Are the Same
Lumping marijuana with crack/cocaine, heroin and other more severe substances is as impractical as it is inaccurate. Marijuana is not addictive, is not a gateway drug, does not lead to violence, and does not exact the costs to our society as do other drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.
Nearly all drugs and medications have toxic and potentially lethal dosages but this is not true for marijuana. There are no documented marijuana-user fatalities. As a DEA administrative law judge recently found, the consumption of ten raw potatoes can cause a toxic effect on an individual but it is not physically possible to eat enough marijuana to induce a toxic reaction. One would have to smoke 1,500 pounds in 15 minutes for a toxic overdose. There is no credible medical evidence that marijuana has caused a single death. Contrast this to aspirin which causes hundreds of deaths every year by overdose....
Marijuana users do not go about committing other crimes to support their recreational use. The millions of Americans who use marijuana are generally productive members of our society. Their only criminal association occurs because marijuana is a prohibited substance and its possession is a crime. They are forced to have contact with and fuel the underground market in order to obtain marijuana for their personal use.
They should not be cast out of society because they prefer marijuana to scotch, gin or bourbon. They are educated, skilled and dedicated men and women. They are people from all walks of life who have used marijuana and are none the worse for wear because of it. Making 50 million citizens criminals does more harm than good.
Removing Marijuana from Current Drug Prohibition Would Help Solve the Nation's Drug Problems
Marijuana is the most widely used of all drugs currently prohibited. It is the one which has the least potential for abuse. It has less toxic potential than alcohol or tobacco. It is not a gateway drug such as tobacco. Alcohol and tobacco combined contribute to five hundred thousand deaths each year in the United States. this is not true for mari-juana. Alcohol contributes significantly to 54 per-cent of all violent crimes in the United States. This is not true for marijuana. Alcohol costs the country $100 billion in economic losses each year. This is not true for marijuana.
Prohibition of marijuana does, however, criminalize tens of millions of law abiding Americans who, except for their occasional use of marijuana, would not otherwise be the least bit involved in the criminal law system.
Removing marijuana from the current prohibition scheme and making it available through taxed, regulated access would also deprive the black-market economy of an enormous economic resource which it currently uses to fuel other criminal activity. It is estimated that organized crimederives one-half of its resources from drug profits.
Crop value estimates place the domestic marijuana crop at a value over $10 billion. It is believed by some to be the most valuable single cash crop in our country. Given the underground nature of the market, these are conservative estimates.
Taxed and regulated availability would not only liberate billions of dollars in law enforcement resources and allow them to be diverted toward education and training for drugs that present a greater problem to our society, but this policy change would also generate revenues in the neighborhood of $10 billion per year. It would no longer be necessary for tens of thousands of drug addicts to be compelled to remain in the criminal milieu because there is no treatment facility available for them. It would make it possible for the government to begin to use the most proven and reliable means known for changing societal behavior — education.
The regulated, taxed availability of marijuana would allow billions of dollars that are now channeled through law enforcement and the backways of illegal blackrnarkets to be used to educate and treat those with hard drug problems.
This would not be a surrender to the dealers. It is a means to take them out of the black market. It is not an endorsement of use but recognizes that it is a matter of choice. When we tell young people about the harm of drugs, if we honestly admit that marijuana is not as harmful as other substances, then they will more likely listen to and believe us when we warn them about other drugs. If we tell young people lies about one thing, they will likely not believe us about anything else. To lump marijuana with hard drugs and treat all of them the same is to not tell the truth...
The issue of the use of psychoactive drugs as a moral issue is a red herring. Everyone alters their consciousness. Some do it through alcohol, others through caffeine or nicotine, while some use through fiction novels and fantasy movies. Others alter their consciousness through meditation and through religion. People should be allowed to choose their own means of altering their consciousness in the privacy of their own home without interfering with others or being subjected to interference from their government. Altering one's state of consciousness in one's own way should be a constitutionally protected right. Let us not punish the millions who now sit at home and choose a different path.
Marijuana is a mild consciousness-altering substance that is nonaddictive and comparatively nondeleterious when compared to alcohol and tobacco. Its regulated availability ought to be allowed.
Americans respond to honesty and education. Let us be honest and remove marijuana from its current prohibition. Let us not lump it together with other more harmful substances. It is different. Let us admit this truth. It is less harmful. Let us say so. Let us use the funds that we can save from this failed marijuana policy to educate and treat those who need it.
Education has led to an overall reduction in the consumption of tobacco, hard liquor, red meats and fatty foods. Americans are becoming healthy, not because it is a crime to be unhealthy, but because education is telling them it is the right thing to do. Let us take our dollars out of criminalizing tens of millions of our people for a choice of lifestyle and put that money into education so that the people can learn the truth about such substances as crack, heroin and PCP. Let those who wish it have available treatment. Let us give them someplace to turn other than a jail cell.
We can achieve all of this by making marijuana available in a controlled and regulated system. Let us be reasonable.
Marvin D. Miller, Esq., Statement on Behalf of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Before the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, "Hearing on Proposals to Legalize Drugs," Sept. 29, 1988.