Opinion

It’s time to legalize cannabis | Guest column

By TROY BARBER

People have mixed reactions when they see or hear the words "legalize marijuana.”

To marijuana reform advocates, the implications are understood, but when these words fall on prohibitionist eyes and ears, they impart a fear of moral decay. These words are often interpreted as approving of, or advocating for the use of marijuana.

This is simply not true.

The phrase "legalize marijuana" is a clarion call to end prohibition on cannabis. When we hear the word "prohibition," we usually associate it with alcohol and the 18th Amendment. The connection that many people do not make is that we have been living under prohibition of cannabis in Washington state since 1923.

"Marijuana" is not even a proper term. The Depression-era propaganda of “Reefer Madness,” which led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, used the word to connect it to Mexican migrant workers. It was intended as a derogatory slur, rooted in racial prejudice.

"Cannabis" is the more appropriate term. It is the plant family that both industrial hemp and marijuana come from. Hemp contains very little of the psychoactive compounds that produce a "high," yet it is grouped with marijuana as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act, along with heroin.

This schedule classification is clearly misleading. Marijuana has demonstrated medicinal value and hemp is not a drug. This creates a false dichotomy, one in which either marijuana is as dangerous as heroin — or worse — that heroin is as safe as marijuana.

Calling for an "end" to prohibition is not entirely accurate either. The word "end" suggests that prohibition on cannabis has always existed. The truth is, American citizens have lived for more than a century and a half without any prohibition whatsoever.

Many generations have now lived under the tenets of legislated morality. This is a violation of the core principles of freedom and liberty.

Now that we know what it is not, let's address what it is: the repeal, reform and regulation of laws concerning cannabis. Reversing prohibition is more sensible than ending it.

The problem is that these terms don't have the impact that the phrase "legalize it" has. For better or worse, this is the most widely used phrase, even if misunderstood or inaccurately applied.

If this phrase continues to create an element of fear, for the destruction of our moral fabric, please consider what living under prohibition does: it creates an illegal black market that lures people to profit from a risk-valued product (price inflated by risk). Prohibition has not driven down demand. It creates criminals and potentially corrupts some in law enforcement.

This market is unregulated, and profits are not taxed. Our children are at risk because drug dealers do not check for identification, and our drug policies do not tell the truth. Innocent people are caught in the wake of drug cartel violence and murder.

For anyone that says "legalize it," what they are really saying is: "Let's reform current drug policy to a civil and humane approach of regulate and educate."

Considering the destructive impact the war on drugs has on our society, the damage to families, and economic and environmental losses, we soon realize "legalization" is not a dirty word after all. It is a moral imperative.

— Troy Barber is North Kitsap coordinator of Sensible Washington.

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