Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

April 26, 2004 - The New York Times (NY)

Make Peace With Pot

By Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation" and "Reefer Madness"

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Starting in the fall, pharmacies in British Columbia will sell marijuana for medicinal purposes, without a prescription, under a pilot project devised by Canada's national health service. The plan follows a 2002 report by a Canadian Senate committee that found there were "clear, though not definitive" benefits for using marijuana in the treatment of chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and other ailments. Both Prime Minister Paul Martin and Stephen Harper, leader of the opposition conservatives, support the decriminalization of marijuana.

Oddly, the strongest criticism of the Canadian proposal has come from patients already using medical marijuana who think the government, which charges about $110 an ounce, supplies lousy pot. "It is of incredibly poor quality," said one patient. Another said, "It tastes like lumber." A spokesman for Health Canada promised the agency would try to offer a better grade of product.

Needless to say, this is a far cry from the situation in the United States, where marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, a drug that the government says has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical uses and no safe level of use.

Under federal law it is illegal to possess any amount of marijuana anywhere in the United States. Penalties for a first marijuana offense range from probation to life without parole. Although 11 states have decriminalized marijuana, most still have tough laws against the drug. In Louisiana, selling one ounce can lead to a 20-year prison sentence. In Washington State, supplying any amount of marijuana brings a recommended prison sentence of five years.

About 700,000 people were arrested in the United States for violating marijuana laws in 2002 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) - more than were arrested for heroin or cocaine. Almost 90 percent of these marijuana arrests were for simple possession, a crime that in most cases is a misdemeanor. But even a misdemeanor conviction can easily lead to time in jail, the suspension of a driver's license, the loss of a job. And in many states possession of an ounce is a felony. Those convicted of a marijuana felony, even if they are disabled, can be prohibited from receiving federal welfare payments or food stamps. Convicted murderers and rapists, however, are still eligible for those benefits.

The Bush administration has escalated the war on marijuana, raiding clinics that offer medical marijuana and staging a nationwide roundup of manufacturers of drug paraphernalia. In November 2002 the Office of National Drug Control Policy circulated an "open letter to America's prosecutors" spelling out the administration's views. "Marijuana is addictive," the letter asserted. "Marijuana and violence are linked . . . no drug matches the threat posed by marijuana."

This tough new stand has generated little protest in Congress. Even though the war on marijuana was begun by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, it has always received strong bipartisan support. Some of the toughest drug war legislation has been backed by liberals, and the number of annual marijuana arrests more than doubled during the Clinton years. In fact, some of the strongest opposition to the arrest and imprisonment of marijuana users has come from conservatives like William F. Buckley, the economist Milton Friedman and Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico.

This year the White House's national antidrug media campaign will spend $170 million, working closely with the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The idea of a "drug-free America" may seem appealing. But it's hard to believe that anyone seriously hopes to achieve that goal in a nation where millions of children are routinely given Ritalin, antidepressants are prescribed to cure shyness, and the pharmaceutical industry aggressively promotes pills to help middle-aged men have sex.

Clearly, some recreational drugs are thought to be O.K. Thus it isn't surprising that the Partnership for a Drug-Free America originally received much of its financing from cigarette, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies like Hoffmann-La Roche, Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds and Anheuser-Busch.

More than 16,000 Americans die every year after taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen. No one in Congress, however, has called for an all-out war on Advil. Perhaps the most dangerous drug widely consumed in the United States is the one that I use three or four times a week: alcohol. It is literally poisonous; you can die after drinking too much. It is directly linked to about one-quarter of the suicides in the United States, almost half the violent crime and two-thirds of domestic abuse. And the level of alcohol use among the young far exceeds the use of marijuana. According to the Justice Department, American children aged 11 to 13 are four times more likely to drink alcohol than to smoke pot.

None of this should play down the seriousness of marijuana use. It is a powerful, mind-altering drug. It should not be smoked by young people, schizophrenics, pregnant women and people with heart conditions. But it is remarkably nontoxic. In more than 5,000 years of recorded use, there is no verified case of anybody dying of an overdose. Indeed, no fatal dose has ever been established.

Over the past two decades billions of dollars have been spent fighting the war on marijuana, millions of Americans have been arrested and tens of thousands have been imprisoned. Has it been worth it? According to the government's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, in 1982 about 54 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 had smoked marijuana. In 2002 the proportion was . . . about 54 percent.

We seem to pay no attention to what other governments are doing. Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium have decriminalized marijuana. This year Britain reduced the penalty for having small amounts. Legislation is pending in Canada to decriminalize possession of about half an ounce (the Bush administration is applying strong pressure on the Canadian government to block that bill). In Ohio, possession of up to three ounces has been decriminalized for years - and yet liberal marijuana laws have not transformed Ohio into a hippy-dippy paradise; conservative Republican governors have been running the state since 1991.

Here's an idea: people who smoke too much marijuana should be treated the same way as people who drink too much alcohol. They need help, not the threat of arrest, imprisonment and unemployment.

More important, denying a relatively safe, potentially useful medicine to patients is irrational and cruel. In 1972 a commission appointed by President Richard Nixon concluded that marijuana should be decriminalized in the United States. The commission's aim was not to encourage the use of marijuana, but to "demythologize it." Although Nixon rejected the commission's findings, they remain no less valid today: "For the vast majority of recreational users," the 2002 Canadian Senate committee found, "cannabis use presents no harmful consequences for physical, psychological or social well-being in either the short or long term."

The current war on marijuana is a monumental waste of money and a source of pointless misery. America's drug warriors, much like its marijuana smokers, seem under the spell of a powerful intoxicant. They are not thinking clearly.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact