New York Times: A Debate Full of Smoke & Mirrors
A Debate Full of Smoke & Mirrors, by Daniel Gold of The New York Times:
With legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington and interest elsewhere to follow that path, it might seem that decriminalization’s time has come. Not so fast, Brett Harvey says in “The Culture High.” Too many entrenched interests benefit from the status quo, he contends, to assume that a tipping point has been reached.
Mr. Harvey, who first examined marijuana’s prohibition in “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High,” gives a brief history here. The federal government effectively criminalized marijuana in 1937, but it wasn’t until 1971, under President Richard M. Nixon, that marijuana’s inclusion in the new “War on Drugs” proved politically popular. Among other consequences, billions of dollars have been spent policing pot, and hundreds of thousands of users have been jailed — even as alcohol and tobacco have had far more harmful health and social effects.
“The Culture High” notes that drug dealers and law enforcement agencies both support dope’s continued illegality, since it gives dealers their business and the police their budgets. Among other interested parties the film cites: privatized prisons (which hold a disproportionate number of drug users); the pharmaceutical industry, whose drugs face competition from medical marijuana; and media organizations, which benefit from Big Pharma advertising.
Some of this seems like stoner’s paranoia, and some of the film’s talking heads, mainly comedians, don’t make the best advocates. Over all, though, its experts — law professors, addiction specialists, economists, behavioral researchers and former law enforcement officers — argue forcefully for decriminalization. Libertarian in tone while pressing a “tax and regulate” solution, “The Culture High” makes its case for a side in the marijuana debate that often goes unheard.