Marijuana Prohibition—America’s Most Tragically Failed Social Policy Since Slavery—20-million Arrested, Countless Lives Destroyed

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director February 11, 2009

    Which American political leader has the guts and foresight to become “the William Wilberforce” of the great campaign to end marijuana prohibition?? Your place in history is waiting.

    By George Rohrbacher, NORML Board Member, medical marijuana patient

    The inauguration of President Barack Obama is a historic event; both personal conversations and world media coverage are pregnant with its significance. That our new president came to Congress representing Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, is a sweet and wonderful irony. Abraham Lincoln came up from obscurity and poverty by the full employment of his wits and ambition. Revered throughout the world, Lincoln personified America is at its core, America is at its best; a meritocracy passionate about the welfare of its people.

    The world has heard the term “historic” applied to the Obama Inauguration so often over these last few months, it is easy to lose sight just what “historic” means in this case: 150 years ago this half-black man would not been feted in Washington DC and sworn in to occupy the most important job on planet Earth; but no, Barack Obama could have been bought and sold like cattle just six miles down the road in Alexandria, Virginia. For more than the first 200 years of America’s history, slavery was defended from both the pulpit and the state house. The South saw the Emancipation Proclamation as “fiendish”, a “triumph of fanaticism.” Lincoln saw it as “the one thing that will make people remember I ever lived.”

    An Englishman blazed the long torturous path that ran through Abraham Lincoln on to the end of slavery in America. William Wilberforce, as a Member of Parliament, devoted his life, his entire political career and personal fortune to righting one awful wrong: to ending slavery and the abominable slave trade. Wilberforce started his anti-slavery campaign in 1789 with a 4-hour speech to introduce the very first bill ever heard in Parliament that would outlaw the hugely profitable slave trade. This speech is still revered today, 220 years later.

    Wilberforce’s slave trade bill did not pass that year, nor the next…nor the next. For 18 years, he continued to re-introduce bills to abolish the vile slave trade before final passage came in 1807. This was humanity’s first real step toward ending slavery, an evil “social institution” that has been with man since the dawn of recorded history. Wilberforce’s revolutionary change in English law threw the full weight of the British Navy against the slave trade on the high seas, and, for perhaps the first time in human political history, social and ethical issues out-ranked economic ones. The British Government eventually paid 20-million pounds sterling to free slaves on British soil. America, instead, paid in blood during the Civil War for its nearly 3,000,000 slaves, whose value, in 1850 dollars, stood at $1.2 billion.

    Before the War, an inflamed Georgia State Legislature went so far as to offer a $5,000 reward to any bounty hunter willing to bring a Boston anti-slavery agitator back to trial in Georgia. Imagine the full power of legitimate government in America behind something as wrong as that—you have just imagined marijuana prohibition.

    Looking backward, we know unequivocally today that Wilberforce and Lincoln were on the right side of history. Looking forward, we know just as surely marijuana legalization is on the right side of history, as well—and NORML has the facts to prove it. If President Obama would appoint one, a Shafer Commission 2.0 would make that very clear to all the rest of America.

    “Drug prohibition is America’s most tragically failed social policy since slavery,” was an observation made by my fellow NORML board member, Jeffery Steinborn, a Yale-educated lawyer who has practiced criminal defense law for over 40-years in Seattle. The insight Jeff shared with me, he said, had originated with Norm Stamper, former Seattle Chief of Police and former Assistant Chief of Police of San Diego. Ever since then, I’ve been wrestling with the pull of Norm’s awful truth. To call slavery a “social policy” is thoroughly correct in this context—yes, America had the choice as a society whether, or not, to allow slavery, just like today we have the choice to end marijuana prohibition. Economic interests of the slaveholders trumped the ideals that founded our country, just as today entrenched interests against marijuana legalization continue to trash those very same founding ideals (try on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, for starters).

    The degradation of our freedoms, the corruption of our police and legal system and the open disregard of law by the general public are a few of the institutional costs of this prohibition. The human costs, the personal costs to the 20-million Americans who have been arrested on marijuana charges, those costs are so high they are near impossible to calculate. Adding to that carnage, America’s patients, denied safe access to medical marijuana, pay the cost in pain and suffering that could be relieved by, “marijuana, the safest therapeutically active substance known to man”. 17,000 scientific studies have been published on the effects of this ancient herb and the human body’s endocannabinoid systems that respond to it. Science falls on deaf ears when it comes to our Congressional “don’t try to confuse me with the facts” marijuana prohibitionists. norml_remember_prohibition_.jpg

    All branches of government, state and federal, are in a world of budgetary hurt in the opening days of the Obama Administration; and, this problem is going to get dramatically worse in the coming years. County, city and state governments have reported huge declines in revenues in the fourth quarter of 2008. Sales taxes collections were down 6.5%, corporate income taxes have fallen 22%, and even formerly recession-proof lottery ticket sales are down, from more than 4% in Texas, to down 10% in California. Unlike the federal government who can just grease the presses at Treasury and start printing money, many state governments have a balanced budget as a requirement of their state constitutions. Revenues and expenses have to balance; they must either raise revenues or cut programs—it is just that simple. All 50 states are engaged in a ‘ten-alarm budget fire drill’ at this very moment. Every single fee, tax and expenditure is being re-examined. An example: ten states are currently eyeing a hike in the alcohol sales tax, something that will spread nationwide as the municipal budget disaster deepens. How much longer can American government ignore the $35-billion tax revenue gusher of marijuana legalization?

    What kind of a message do we send to our children when we close their libraries and parks due to lack of tax revenue?

    Are we too stupid to collect taxes on America’s multi-billion dollar marijuana business?? Our government has listed marijuana as one America’s most valuable agricultural crops every year for over the last quarter of a century—as marijuana will be again, next year. So, when is America going to WAKE UP AND TAX IT!!!??

    Marijuana re-legalization must come from Congress, before our states can properly do their job. Otherwise, we get the crazy-quilt of regulations we have today with 13 states and their ‘quasi-legal’ medical marijuana.

    While at the same time as creating new tax revenue for state and local governments, marijuana legalization would strike a huge blow for FREEDOM and LIBERTY in America and would significantly reduce CRIME:

    *By ending marijuana prohibition, not only would we create new tax revenue streams, but our communities would be able to redirect the $10-15 billion dollars of criminal justice resources annually wasted chasing, arresting and jailing marijuana users and re-dedicate those precious dollars to finding lost children, tracking sex offenders or to catching and convicting rapists and murderers.

    *The re-legalization of marijuana in America would prevent the arrest of at least 900,000 people next year from their adding to the more than 20-million already arrested for pot since 1965.

    *The re-legalization of cannabis would also allow America’s farmers to grow industrial hemp so that Detroit’s bail-out cars could be produced with domestically grown hemp fibers in their door panels, not foreign-grown, and that goes double for all the hemp in the hundreds of beauty and health food products that line the shelves of our nation’s stores.

    It will take great leadership in Congress to put us on the right course and make marijuana legal in America, again. But, the American People are already way out ahead of most politicians on this issue, just take look at the landslide marijuana votes in Massachusetts and Michigan this past November! So—who will be the “William Wilberforce” of the great campaign to end marijuana prohibition?? Which political leader has the guts and foresight to step forward and say: “It’s time to tap a North Slope-sized tax revenue gusher, because it’s time to let the American people and their marijuana go free!”??

    Abe Lincoln once said, “Slavery is like having a wolf by the ears, you’re afraid to let it go, and you’re afraid not to.” Today drug prohibition is like having a pitbull by the ears, you’re afraid to let it go, and afraid not to. But ending marijuana prohibition, more than half of all drug arrests, is a very easy thing to do. To re-legalize marijuana all it takes is a simple majority in both House and Senate, and the signature of President Obama… It’s time for a Change!


    The parallels between two American social institutions, marijuana prohibition and slavery, are many: 1.) millions and millions of people end up in bondage; 2.) once in the system, you are a marked for life; 3.) a Draconian police state is required to fully enforce laws of either kind; 4.) in bondage, one loses a citizen’s inalienable rights; 5.) both social institutions, slavery and marijuana prohibition, are thoroughly racist from their inception to their operation; 6.) both the slave trade and the marijuana trade create vast profits for the wrong elements in society; 7.) both social institutions deeply divide and scar America, and pray primarily on people of color, breaking their families apart; 8.) neighboring countries involved with the “trade” become destabilized; 9.) the proponents of slavery and marijuana prohibition attract the lovers of incarceration and coercion, who, while defending their flawed and inhumane views from the pulpit and the state house, vigorously resist any re-examination of their “facts” or reasoning; and 10.) both have disastrous long term outcomes for America.

    *Vested economic interests who prosper under marijuana prohibition

    *Governments overlooking Billions in untapped taxes–
    There is sitting silently, a waiting tax gusher, a North Slope-sized gusher of tax revenue just waiting, with at least $35 billion annually begging to be collected. America could start that flow of tax revenue next month—all we have to do is just legalize cannabis!

    *The Face of Modern American slavery?
    Baltimore, Maryland–60% of the black males aged 18-35 are either incarcerated, under indictment or on parole. (Wall St. Journal)

    People of color are arrested and incarcerated for marijuana at rates hugely disproportionate to those of whites. NORML has updated the world-famous anti-slavery medallion produced in 1787 by Josiah Wedgwood.

    This medallion was the primary visual symbol of the first successful movement working to end slavery in the world. This image was about as famous, in the 18th and 19th centuries, as the peace symbol is today. Wedgwood produced 20,000 of these anti-slavery medallions. In the campaign to change public opinion on slavery, the image became a touchstone.

    The slave trade was finally ended in England in 1807. NOTE: Josiah Wedgwood’s daughter, Susannah, was Charles Darwin’s mother. Born 200 years ago and on the very same day as Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin’s hatred of slavery shaped his views on human evolution.

    Harry J. Anslinger is the person most responsible for the arrest of 20-million people in America on marijuana charges. The first Drug Czar (1930-1962) used racial slurs and manufactured news stories to make marijuana illegal in an unsuspecting United States. Anslinger next used America’s political and economic power in the UN and in international treaties to spread the virus of marijuana prohibition around the globe like the AIDS. President Obama’s half-brother, George, just arrested for marijuana possession in Kenya, has Harry Anslinger, the Great Enslaver, to thank for his manacles.





    49 responses to “Marijuana Prohibition—America’s Most Tragically Failed Social Policy Since Slavery—20-million Arrested, Countless Lives Destroyed”

    1. lori says:

      legalize it, tax it save our economy and stop the raids and arrests, take it out of the dealers hands and out of the hands of the children.

    2. Andrew L says:

      The day I walk with my Brothers N sisters and this great herbs legalized I will be freed, We must stand Up , and stand strong as we have, I feel an awakening and we are a force to be reckon with…My brothers and Sisters Keep pushing b ecause the day its legalized I wanna SMoke one with you …..MUCH LOVE

      ANdrew L.

    3. Mark says:

      Harry Anslinger, American Scumbag.

    4. Ray DiPasquale says:

      Cannabis has always been an easy scapegoat when the word drugs is used in that context to make the correlation. Especially the word marijuana, as its origins and beginnings are from the prohibitionists and moralists of that era using racial overtones to stigmatize and label the Mexican workers and that has carried over today. When someone is arrested with cannabis they are charged with a marijuana crime, guilty by word association. The word marijuana has connotations from that past propaganda.
      It is like when one is arrested and the mugshot is always taken to show the suspect dirty, greasy, and disheveled because it equals guilt unless you are Lindsay or Paris who always look good in their mugshot when they had trouble consuming alcohol.
      Cannabis users are the most discriminated group in the country.All the laws against cannabis are derived from these racial agendas.
      I recently had a conversation with Irv Rosenfeld,www.potluckrx.com, one of the four federally legal patients for medical cannabis, and we have both concurred and agreed not use the word marijuana because of the words origins and hopefully you will agree as well not to use the word marijuana instead we will be using the word cannabis.
      By using the word marijuana we are feeding and giving those negative racist discrimination’s and energies credibility.
      By using the word Cannabis we are using positivity, God and science.
      In fact I am recommending and requesting that NORML lose the word Marijuana from its’ title and substitute with Cannabis as it would be a wonderful start to change and turn this negativity around.
      The National Organization for the Reform of Cannabis Laws. NORCL !

      “The War on Drugs was never, ever about drugs, it’s about bigotry. You can change the law, but changing the prejudice and fear of bigots who hide behind drug war rhetoric is a far more challenging task. It’s time to expose the Drug War and the bigots who promote the ideology of “Zero Tolerance.””

      Steve Kubby


    5. juxtapostle says:

      Another excellent article:

      Obama Must End the War on Drugs
      — or Mexico and Afghanistan Will Collapse

    6. Dro Man says:

      Great article. I hope something happens soon because i’m an underground pot smoker who must hide in the shadows of society afraid of being labeled a criminal which i am not. I work sometimes 6 days a week have a family and mortgage. Everytime I go to resupply I always wonder if today i get pulled over and go to jail, what will happen to my family? It’s complete utter B.S. If anything should be illegal it should be alcohol. Now i too like to enjoy a nice cold glass of Guiness maybe more but i’ve seen people completely ruin their lives from excess drinking that it’s completely disgusting. Please lets Legalize it for the better. Legalize-Tax it-Stimulate economy!

    7. Kuemana says:

      I do support the cause, especially being part of the 20 million. The only this is Obama has been on the record talking for decrimilization, but not legalization. Although decrimilization is a step in the right direction, we are still very far from legalization.

    8. Anonymous says:

      Nice article!

    9. D.E.Berry says:

      Thanks, George, for an impassioned essay. However, is the $35 billion tax estimate based on prices for cannabis in a legal world or is that based on current black market rates? Does it include the vast commercial potential of legal hemp farming?

      There may be no way to know for sure what the economic fallout will be until the plant is legalized and all of its uses come into play. I expect that the price of recreational and medical cannabis will drop dramatically because the plant is so much easier to grow than tobacco. There will no doubt be premium strains, like fine wine, that will fetch a higher price, but still much less than the current outrageous rates. Good pot should cost no more than good tobacco, taxes included.

      However, the $35 billion in tax revenues may actually end up being conservative once the myriad of other cannabis-based products come to the marketplace. It’s a potential so vast that I’m not sure we can even imagine now how much fully legalized cannabis will affect the economy.

    10. gregor says:

      Steller Write Up!!