I spent a lot of time this week reading, trying to immerse myself in the background of this plant here in the Land of the Free. So, it’s Sunday night into early Monday morning, I’m online reading, wandering around the house, taking a bong hit every couple hours, talking to my dogs, reading about Henry Aslinger, our nation’s first “drug czar,” the roots of cannabis prohibition in the 1930s and the ridiculousness of Reefer Madness and I realize that I’m agitated. It occurs to me that, for a country founded on the “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the United States certainly works itself into some blind corners from time to time.
Then I get into the statistics. The USA comprises 5 percent of the world’s population and houses 20 percent of its prison population (more than 2.2 million prisoners), according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that 48.4 percent of inmates (totaling more than 1 million people) are incarcerated for drug-related offenses. The ACLU reports that “Between 2001 and 2010, there were 8 million pot arrests ... That’s one bust every 37 seconds.” It gets worse: The same report states that “Marijuana use is roughly equal among blacks and whites, yet blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.”
Ugh, I should’ve just gone to bed. It’s 2:45 a.m. I want to scream but the Missus and the pups are slumbering away. I’m in my living room one moment and straight down the rabbit hole the next, reading about for-profit prisons, Richard Nixon and Drug Scheduling, shoddy science, cover-ups of medical research, the Reagan Era, mandatory minimum sentencing and “The War on Drugs.”
3:30 a.m. Things are going badly; I want to move. I want to leave the country, probably for someplace warmer. Then, I realize that, when it gets down to brass tacks, I’m about as red-blooded an American boy as you’ll ever meet, raised on football, casseroles, and the Grateful Dead, and it occurs to me that we usually get things close to right given enough time – the Civil Rights movement, important judicial rulings affirming equality during the past decade and important steps toward a sensible drug policy during the 21st Century.
But, one issue is destroying any attempt I make to understand it logically – Federal Scheduling: Heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and ... marijuana all fall under the federal government’s most restricted category of chemicals, Schedule I, which is made up of substances that the Department of Justice has decided have “no currently accepted medical use ... a lack of safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.”
While certain things are going well right now, with legalized recreational marijuana here in Colorado but also in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, (along with a program in the District of Columbia, that I can’t quite puzzle out at 4 on a Monday morning) and medical programs in 23 states, there is a significant damper hovering over the cannabis movement. Marijuana remains a Schedule I substance according to the laws of this nation. This means that it’s 100 percent illegal at the end of the day in the eyes of the federal government.
The flow in the right direction is the result of the work of activists and advocates nationwide, but it is only a start, not a guarantee of future success. Now is not the time to rest, but to push harder until all Americans (even our brothers and sisters in the Deep South) are able to enjoy the freedom to kick back and inhale without fear. It’s something to think about for the next week. Be well til then.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good.