What’s this? A blog post on a Tuesday? Right in between my Doctor Frank fix on medical Mondays and lifestyle Wednesdays? What’s the special occasion, doc? Why, it’s the 4th of July, of course! The day we gained independence from the British Empire, as well as those pesky aliens blowing up the world’s monuments a few hundred years later. It’s also the day to break out the best BBQ recipes, buds and fireworks you can lay your hands upon, so feast on and have as much fun as you can on this most awesome of days!
So, what else can we write on this most hallowed of US holidays? Well, we can start contemplating on a few (specifically 3!) things concerning the present and future of cannabis …
“Incarceration Nation” and Freedom for Non-Violent Marijuana Prisoners
This 2015 U.S. Department of Justice makes interesting reading, with datasets taken from 2012. From page 2 of the report:
“The number of federally sentenced prisoners in the Federal
Bureau of Prisons (BOP) increased 84% between fiscal year
(FY) 1998 and 2012, and the number of drug offenders in
federal prison grew 63% during this time.”
Of a total of 94,678 sentenced drug offenders, 11,533 (12.4%) were marijuana-related offences. The table on p.2 counts 93,000, as 1,678 were offenders with missing primary drug types.
44.3% of marijuana offenders are put under Category 1, meaning that they had no previous imprisonment and minimal criminal history (p. 4). In about 15.2% cases of marijuana sentencing, there was gun involvement in the offense (p.5). The mean length of sentencing imposed for marijuana offences is about 88 months, the median 60 months (p. 6). Crack cocaine offenders seem to have the most extensive criminal histories (p.5).
Page 3 makes for some interesting reading with regards to demographics. Of those arrested for marijuana offences:
- 24% white
- 13.9% black/African American
- 59% Hispanic/Latino
- 1.7% Asian/Pacific Islander
- 1.5% American Indian/Alaska Native
- 65.3% had U.S. citizenship, 28.7% were non-U.S. citizens
As for age:
- 1.9% were aged 18-19
- 25.7% aged 20-29
- 35.9% aged 30-39
- 40.6% aged 40 or older
The sex of those sentenced for marijuana offences shouldn’t surprise anyone:
- 93.6% male
- 6.4% female
The illegal substances that seem to be blighting the communities of America with the most violence, death & addiction are crack & powder cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. Page 3 of this report paints an interesting picture, as it shows that the War on Drugs in general is not necessarily wholly race-related, although the War on Weed specifically seems to affect Hispanic/Latino people and a significant number of non-US citizens most.
Different types of drugs are wreaking havoc in different communities in similar ways. Where crack cocaine affects cities and predominantly African-American youth, crystal meth seems to affect predominantly caucasian communities in mountain towns and cities in the middle of the U.S. The damage wrought by legal substances like alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs – and how they feed into the development, trade and use of illicit substances – would perhaps make an interesting comparison point, but that’s probably a post for another time!
When it comes to drug offences, violent or not, it seems the worst person to be standing in front of a judge or jury is an adult male aged 20 or over, with a slightly greater chance of getting a prison sentence if you bear a tan as well. Males are also more likely to receive a harsher sentence for the same crime in comparison to females, even when controlling for criminal histories and type & severity of offence. Whilst these are issues beyond the scope of this blog, there can be no doubt that at least some of this systemic and harsh treatment of males feeds into the atrociously high rates of homelessness and suicide they face.
Interestingly enough, this is also a massive issue for veterans, many of whom also tend to find themselves “drinking and drugging away the pain” with alcohol, benzodiazepines and barbiturates in areas of high unemployment. How many veterans get into a cycle of addiction and end up in jail? How many of those who are fighting for our freedoms end up losing their own? For all the promotion of women CEOs and other positions of power & influence in the marijuana industry – positions of relative power, privilege & prestige, where arrests are less likely to happen, unless the state decides to make an example out of you – it seems that, when it comes to those facing the prison system and the poverty and disenfranchisement that can often precede and follow a sentence, the War on Weed and drugs in general was and is very much a men’s issue.
The effect the War on Weed has on men and the families they help raise is a cost that has an astronomical price. The educational attainment and mental health problems found in fatherless homes is a much-relegated issue, especially when these fathers are going into prison as non-violent marijuana offenders and sometimes coming out as hardened opioid addicts and career criminals. Shamefully, it’s deemed politically incorrect to point this sort of thing out, and it definitely does seem that many are “willingly blind” to these issues.
There are two interesting pieces that paint a very intriguing picture with regards to crime, punishment and the “War on Drugs”. One is here:
The other is from a 2011 edition of The Wall Street Journal (though you’ll have to sign up to read the entire article):
Another interesting picture-painter is “Gendercide and Genocide” by Adam Jones, Ph.D.. Again, though this is a much wider issue, it is worth noting that it is termed a “Drug War” or a “War on Weed” for a reason, and it is interesting to see who pays the toll in armed conflicts. Of particular note is the section “Men: Gendercidal Institutions”, which states:
“Predictably, the historical record shows a considerable overlap between corvée and associated institutions of imprisonment and incarceration — again, a victimization experience that is and always has been a male near-monopoly the world over.”
The narrative of the marijuana industry as it currently stands being a straight, white male club is misleading at best; damaging to our understanding of the issues surrounding the legal system and its effects upon society at worst, both here in the United States and in other parts of the world. The people who seem to be paying the highest price on the road towards marijuana legalization are not only the sick and the disabled of all ages and sexes, but relatively poor men of all colours and creeds in areas of high unemployment. Indeed, it could very much be argued that the legal cannabis world is very much a straight, white female club, seeing as they have fewer men to keep up with! Women have a state-funded incarceration machine giving them a competitive edge, after all – one that won’t punish them as severely as it does males! (Although more female judges might help “equalize the punishment” somewhat.)
Neither the left nor the right seems to be looking too closely at these issues, perhaps because pet theories, a prison system with a profit structure promoting hugely perverse incentives and bad academics have narratives full of lies, distortions and just-world fallacies (“the men must have done something to deserve it”) to hold onto. We can’t go losing those cushy state-, corporate welfare- and “feel good” money- funded jobs now, can we? Criminalizing men is an easy way to make easy money, and both the legal system and the media know this.
Maybe if we want this wonderful plant legalized and see fewer arrests, we need more women in the world of weed, perhaps even close to making up 100% of the industry? The state doesn’t seem to like punishing the ladies, and having women take over the world of weed would mean a dramatic decrease in the number of arrests and sentences being passed out. So get to it, girls of America (and the world)! Become warriors and protect your men! They need your help!
Will Cannabis Become Federally Legal Any Time Soon?
With Trump and co. in power, who knows? We should remember the stats above, though, which show that there was a vast increase in the number of people sent to prison for marijuana offences over both George Bush, Jr.’s and Barack Obama’s terms. To split this as a party-political issue on the federal level is too simplistic, although on a state level, it seems Democrat-leaning states are more likely to legalize cannabis. However, we are sure that there are many socially-liberal, right-leaning voters who might “hold their nose” on this issue, voting for the sake of party allegiance rather than personal feelings. There are probably some Republican governers like Arnold Schwarzenegger who definitely fall into this sort of camp, although we can only be sure of this by asking him!
Do we envisage a ridiculous situation where all 50 states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana, whether medically or recreationally, but still having marijuana stay federally illegal? Sadly, yes. The federal government has too much to lose whilst cannabis is wild and in the hands of the people, rather than the people in the legal drug industries. The scientific and social facts so far suggest that marijuana is safer than many substances, including alcohol and tobacco. Ask a police officer who they’d rather deal with: a crowd of cannabis users or a crowd of drinkers? You’ll pretty much always get the answer, “a crowd of cannabis users.”
There is also an increasing amount of research coming out showing that marijuana does indeed have medical value, making a mockery of cannabis’s current classification as a Schedule 1 substance “with no medical value”. There are also huge numbers of people from the world over raising their hands and saying, “Yes, I use cannabis for my health condition, and it definitely helps.”
Whilst this might be the placebo effect in some cases, many doctors and scientists are agreeing when looking at the success stories and lab test results on the positive health effects and disease-fighting/controlling ability of marijuana’s cannabinoids and terpenoids. Denying people medicine and going against what the science & data shows is not a good look, no matter what political party a person adheres to.
So, why would this federal-state split arise? Part of the reason could be that, even if every state were to legalize cannabis, there would still be a large enough part of the electorate who would prefer to see cannabis remain illegal – remember those with jobs to lose from above? Votes are important at election time, and politicians like many others will put on public faces even with policies they might not agree with in private.
Another part of the reason why this schism between state and federal policy could arise – and perhaps a slightly more sinister one at that – is the idea that the U.S. government wants to retain control of medical marijuana. We’ve already seen in Nevada a judge ruling recreational distribution channels to be controlled by alcohol companies, much to the consternation of many. We also know that the U.S. government has a patent on cannabidiol (CBD).
Marijuana is clearly big business, and it’s clear to many that the state wants to keep control of it. Big pharma, big alcohol and big tobacco won’t let such a large revenue stream slip through their fingers, and they’ll use whatever power and influence they have to leverage the U.S. government and ensure whatever legislation they write suits them best. For many Americans, this poses a fundamental existential question: is this free-market capitalism and freedom, or special-interest cronyism?
Another pair of burning questions for many in the cannabis community at the moment, especially as marijuana becomes recreationally legal, is: “How do we prevent this industry of ours from ending up the same way? Can we prevent this from happening, or do we have to appeal to special interest politics in order to get marijuana legalized?”
What Will the Rest of 2017 Bring with Regards to Cannabis Legalization?
We see more and more evidence coming through about cannabis’s efficacy for the treating of various conditions. We see medical marijuana slowly replacing and/or reducing the need for benzodiazepines, barbiturates and opioids being prescribed at the moment. We also see a massive move towards the legalization of recreational marijuana in many other states, especially when they see the amount of tax revenue raised by states making recreational marijuana legal.
“Critical mass” (the sociodynamic phenomenon, not the weed strain!) is probably a few years away yet; but when it does reach in the United States, expect there to be a massive domino effect, with countries the world over doing the same and legalizing marijuana themselves. The market’s too big an opportunity for other countries to miss out on and, for better or for worse, money talks!
Phew … ! That is all for this special 4th of July blog post. We hope we’ve given you some things to think about, especially as some of these questions and issues are so vital to our understanding of what the U.S. is and what it stands for. Who knew cannabis could help us explore the psyche and spirit of the U.S. political, judicial and economic system as a whole!?