Pubdate: Thu, 06 Mar 2003 Source: Oakland Tribune, The (CA) Copyright: 2003 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers Contact: http://www.oaklandtribune.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/314 Author: John Wagers Note: John Wagers is a member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He lives in Oakland. OUR WAR ON DRUGS DOES MORE HARM THAN GOOD THE problems resulting from the enforcement of our punitive drug laws are becoming more unbearable every day. My concern is the effect drug laws are having on the quality of life in California, my city and my neighborhood. I am an 84-year-old chemist and I am not an illicit drug user. Crime and violence plague our cities. Civil rights of citizens are violated. Prisons are exploding and lives wasted. Meanwhile, the ever-increasing cost of the drug war robs funds sorely needed for useful programs. This is one budget item where growth is assured because powerful interests benefit. The politics of the Democratic Party is nearly as bad as the Republican Party on this issue -- a politics of oppression. I still remember my early days in Nebraska when alcohol was prohibited. The Chicago scene of crime and terror was on the front page of the daily. Today, we prohibit cannabis (marijuana) a benign drug, safer than tobacco or alcohol and not conducive to dependence. Many people use it for its therapeutic value and/or mild psychoactive effect. Marijuana was improperly classified by federal law along with hard drugs in Schedule 1 for political reasons alone. It's time to reclassify it in the same schedule as anti-depressants. Why are we not free to smoke pot, or grow cannabis or hemp for its industrial fiber? Our federal government tried and convicted Ed Rosenthal recently for growing marijuana to help sick people tormented with pain. Bryan Epis of Chico was sentenced to 10 years in prison for doing the same, though medical use of marijuana is allowed by California law. This injustice and oppression is an outrageous violation of our personal freedom. Police and criminal justice resources should be focused on serious crimes. Canada, Britain, Switzerland and several other European countries have legalized marijuana or are about to do so. The avoided costs of enforcement and the revenue gained in regulation can help improve their financial welfare. The State's Right to Marijuana Act by Rep. Barney Frank would authorize states to regulate marijuana free from federal interference. It would also allow prescription sale of marijuana through pharmacies as a Schedule 2 controlled substance. We know that much of the violent crime in Oakland is related to the drug trade. This trade and violence will continue as long as it is profitable. Marijuana is the volume leader on the illicit drug market. According to author and journalist Dan Baum, without prohibition of marijuana, the country's drug problem would be minuscule. There are fewer than a million hard-core users of heroin and cocaine nationally. More than 70 million Americans smoke pot. We need a common-sense drug policy that includes legalization and regulation of marijuana with provision for harm reduction education and treatment to prevent misuse of all drugs. This makes more sense than more violence, more cops, more prisons and longer sentences. The drug war is doing more harm than drug abuse itself. It's time to join the new anti-war movement.