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NORML 2008 Conference: “The War on Pot Is a War on Young People”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 20, 2008

    The War on Pot Is a War on Young People
    via Alternet

    NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano delivered this speech at NORML’s 2008 National Conference, “It’s Not Your Parents’ Prohibition” in Berkeley, California.

    According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of all Americans busted for pot are under age 30, and 1 out of 4 are age 18 or younger. That’s nearly a quarter of a million teenagers arrested for marijuana violations each year.

    To put this bluntly, we now have an entire generation that has been alienated to believe that the police and their civic leaders are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.

    And the sad fact is: They’re right!

    Why is this the case? And why, as a community, don’t we talk about it?

    (Text of full remarks after the jump.)

    Young people, in many cases those under 18-years-of-age, disproportionately bear the brunt of marijuana law enforcement.

    Demographically speaking, the above statement is a “no-brainer.” Yet this is hardly a fact that we as a reform community like to admit or emphasize. Instead, you’ll hear reformers argue that the war on pot is a war on patients — and at some level, it is. Or you’ll hear advocates proclaim that marijuana enforcement disproportionately impacts African Americans and Hispanics — and to some degree, it does. Attend enough of these conferences and you’ll inevitably hear that our movement needs better representation from women and minorities, both of whom face unique hardships because of the drug war, and that criticism is appropriate too. But, one thing you’ll most likely never hear is that our movement needs greater involvement from teenagers and young adults.

    But we should — because for the young people in the audience, the war on pot smokers is really a war on you.

    According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of all Americans busted for pot are under age 30, and one out of four are age 18 or younger. That’s nearly a quarter of a million teenagers arrested for marijuana violations each year.

    To put this bluntly, we now have an entire generation that has been alienated to believe that the police and their civic leaders are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.

    And the sad fact is: they’re right!

    Why is this the case? And why, as a community, don’t we talk about it?

    There are several reasons why young people are far more likely, statistically, to be busted for weed than those over age 30. Most obviously, young people are more likely than their counterparts to smoke pot, and toke more frequently. They’re also more likely to indulge in places that will inadvertently attract law enforcement’s attention: in parks, dorm rooms, cars, dimly lit parking lots. Let’s face it, most teenagers aren’t going to go home and smoke weed in their room while their parents are home, though if they did, it’s far less likely they’d ever be arrested for it (of course, it’s possible that their parents’ might face legal repercussions, but that’s another story.)

    Young people are also more likely to have frequent interactions with sellers of weed, an activity that also increases their likelihood of one-day being arrested. Of course, it’s not that young people enjoy hanging around drug dealers, but it’s that young people typically have less disposable income, which means they have to buy their pot in smaller quantities on more frequent occasions.

    Young people are also more likely to take risks — and they’re also more likely to commit traffic violations. Both these actions, though unrelated to marijuana per se, greatly increase the likelihood that young people will have face-to-face contact with law enforcement, and this contact often ends in a pot arrest.

    So why then, if more than 650,000 Americans busted for weed annually are under age 30, don’t we spend more time talking about it? Easy, because we’ve let our opponents hi-jack the ‘kids’ issue.

    There’s a saying among reformers that drug law reform is the ‘third rail’ of politics. If that’s true, then talking about drugs and kids is the ‘third rail’ of drug law reform. But it’s a ‘rail’ we need to start talking about.

    Those who favor the continued prohibition of cannabis base their arguments on the false premise that the continued enforcement of said laws “protects our children.” This statement is nonsense. In fact, just the opposite is true.

    The war on weed endangers the health and safety of our children. It enables young people to have unregulated access to marijuana — easier access than they currently have to legal, age-restricted intoxicants like alcohol and tobacco. It enables young people to interact and befriend pushers of other illegal, more dangerous drugs. It compels young people dismiss the educational messages they receive pertaining to the potential health risks posed by the use of ‘hard drugs’ and prescription pharmaceuticals because kids say: “If they lied to me about pot, why wouldn’t they be lying to me about everything else too.”

    Most importantly, the criminal laws are far more likely to result in having our children arrested and placed behind bars than they are likely to in any way discourage them to try pot.

    These are the facts, and it’s about time we start shouting them from the rooftops.

    For three decades now, our opponents have framed this issue from the standpoint that they care more about the health and safety our young people than we do — that we’re just a bunch of self-centered pot-heads that are willing to sacrifice the lives of our young people so that we can catch a buzz. Well, it’s time for us to respond.

    Yes, we do favor changing the marijuana laws. We care about protecting the health and safety of our children too. And by changing the laws, we are protecting the health and safety of America’s young people. After all, under prohibition it’s America’s young people that are being lied to; it’s our children that are being approached by drug dealers; it’s our children that are smoking pot in cars and putting their lives and others at risk to try and avoid the detection of their parents or the law; and it’s our children that are being busted in unprecedented numbers.

    Finally, let me close with one final reason why we as a community must begin acknowledging this reality and that is this. Even though young people suffer the most under our current marijuana laws, they lack the financial means and political capital to effectively influence politicians to challenge them. Young people also lack the money to adequately fund the drug law reform movement at a level necessary to adequately represent and protect their interests.

    In short, if we ever want the marijuana laws to change, that we as a community have to better represent the interests of young people, and we must do a better job speaking on their — and their parent’s — behalf.

    We must also do a better job allying with organizations that speak on behalf of youth, particularly urban youth — who are most at risk of suffering from the lifetime hardships associated with a marijuana conviction. We must do a better job reaching out, engaging, and recruiting students to continue to take this issue seriously after they graduate college — and that includes offering them internships and employment once they’ve received their degrees. Finally, reformers must do a better job reaching out to the parents of young people, and urging them to become active members and financial contributors of the cannabis law reform movement.

    They say it’s the so-called “parents movement” that derailed the “pot-progress” of the 1970s. Well then I say that it’s high time we recruited our own “NORML Parents” movement to finish the job once and for all.

    98 Responses to “NORML 2008 Conference: “The War on Pot Is a War on Young People””

    1. Alec says:

      I completely agree with everything here. I, as an 18 year old, hate cops. Its true. We see cops as people who are out here to bust us for smoking, speeding, whatever. My friends and I always make jokes when we see the “To serve and protect” slogan on the cars by where we live. More like “To bust and cuff”

    2. Clarke says:

      “If they lied to me about pot, why wouldn’t they be lying to me about everything else too.”

      I feel like this probably rings especially true with teens nationwide; how are 15 and 16 year old kids supposed to differentiate the facts from the “facts”?

    3. Dave says:

      Thank you Paul! I’ve been writing about the ridiculousness of the “what about the children?” argument for a while on this blog http://theechochamberblog.wordpress.com/author/drandall24/ . It’s so nice to see someone with your credibility making similar arguments.

    4. AJ says:

      As a senior in high school, i can tell you straight up that cops are seen as pure breed assholes in my age group and community. I personally could never understand how someone would want to be out gettting people in trouble. Its like the snitch in pre-school on a larger scale. So me and many others agree FTP

    5. Garrett says:

      I completely agree, as well. I have experienced the consequences of this civil war that our government calls the “drug war”. Law enforcement (which is meant to protect us from danger, right?) is ruining the lives of high-school and college aged kids by busting, and thereby, creating a criminal record for youths who indulge in this plant. Later on, some of these people who have records for possession will be turned down on job applications simply for possessing a plant. We, the youth and future of America, need to become involved and actively show that we will NOT stand for this injustice. Soon enough, our generation will be in positions of political power and influence, and we must restore justice to our country. Let’s restore our country to a condition that the founding fathers first instituted: a country where men and women are free to conduct their lives and actions without the fear of legal repercussions for matters that do not infringe on others’ rights.

    6. Will says:

      As a 19 year old, I have to agree with this article and the comment above me. I honestly can’t stand the concept of modern policing. I have been robbed, but nothing was done to find that criminal. However, day in and day out cops are out arresting kids for getting high in their dorms and playing video games.

      Can someone PLEASE get a national debate going about this! We need to urge every single news outlet day in and day out that they need to be reporting on HR 5842 and HR 5843 and let it be known that we will not stand for being arrested for doing no harm!

    7. Anon says:

      Fuck the pigs. Wake up people, the police and their priorities no longer remotely reflect the will of the people, and we’re the subjects of a largely ineffective military occupation, but an occupation nonetheless. And tell me it isn’t militaristic when they bust down doors unannounced like you’re a fugitive for non-violent crimes with packs of hounds and automatics.

      If you smoke, grow the herb, so long as you can do so practically. The anti-drug creed draws strength from marijuana’s clear association with organized crime, and we must eradicate this excuse for injustice.

    8. kyle says:

      im 16 years old and have got caught smoking my parents twice, my dad who is a cop is soo close minded about the whole situation to where as my mom who is more understanding is more loose about the whole situation. its REDICIOULS to listen to my dad rant about how weed is addictive and ruins your life and a bunch of bullshit about how medical marijuana has no purpose… i have to take random drug test for getting caught, i was first smoking in my room at night not harming anyone and almost got my ass kicked for smoking some reefer… im tired and feed up off all this bullshit… any suggestions? i totally agree with this article though, so many good points. sorry this was my little rant.

    9. John says:

      Agreed.. I hate cops and have never even been busted.. they but when pulled over at a young age I was treated like a criminal and I had not done anything wrong.. he wanted to search my bags for no reason..

      I have been a victim of theft and they don’t seem to care really..

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