The great divide between politicians and the people is showing itself in California where polls show the voters support Proposition 19 and where the mainstream politicians mostly oppose it.
There are not many policies more bankrupt that marijuana policy. In 1970 a national commission recommended that marijuana be decriminalized and non-profit transfers be allowed. President Nixon, rather than listen to the experts, doubled down on the already failed and mistaken policy. The result was 100,000 additional arrests the year after the experts said people should no longer be treated as criminals for marijuana use. And, since the experts said it should not be a crime nearly 15 million Americans have been arrested.
Only four states have populations larger than the number of people arrested for marijuana since the experts said people should not be arrested for marijuana offenses.
Yet, the status quo politicians -- people like Senator Diane Feinstein and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- continue to want to ignore the experts and, more important, they want to ignore the people.
Polls have consistently shown Proposition 19 to be 7 to 11 points ahead of those who oppose the initiative. Nationally polls show large pluralities and even a majority of Americans oppose keeping marijuana illegal. How can police continue to enforce laws that half the people oppose? What kind of legitimacy does enforcement of such laws have? Won't enforcing illegitimate laws undermine police relations with communities?
That is why smart, experienced police officers like Neil Franklin, a 33- year law enforcement veteran at both the state and city level supports Proposition 19. Officer Franklin sees Prop. 19 as a step toward healing the division between the people and the police. He recognizes that marijuana prohibition undermines the relationship between police and the people they serve because when they come into their neighborhoods it is to search homes, cars and people. It creates distrust and undermines effective community policing.
So, this November the people have an opportunity to tell the professional politicians -- we want to end policies that do not work and undermine law enforcement. The war on marijuana has been a destructive failure. It seems obvious to most of the people but the politicians don't get it.
If I were a politician that supported marijuana being illegal throughout my career, I would not want admitting I was wrong. Hard to say "sorry we arrested you and ruined your life for something that should not have been illegal." It is hard to admit an error so large and so destructive of millions of lives.
In 1970 the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommended ending the illegality of marijuana in the United States, the Dutch also had a national commission that reached the same conclusions. The difference was the Dutch listened to their experts and President Nixon and other American politicians ignored our experts. Well the results are in -- the experts were right and the politicians were wrong. According to surveys conducted by both governments; in the United States 41% of Americans have used marijuana, compared to 22.6% in Holland.
In 2001, based on recommendations from a national commission, Portugal went further than Holland and abolished all criminal penalties for possession of marijuana and other drugs. The result - reduced use, reduced costs and reduced damage from marijuana to peoples lives. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the European Union, a mere 10%. Further, Portugal reports that use dropped among teens: rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined.
TIME Magazine reports that the instincts of Officer Neil Franklin are right. Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugual's "drug czar" and president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, told TIME that police are now able to re-focus on more serious crimes.
In fact, the experience in the United States is the same. In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences issues a report entitled "An Analysis of Marijuana Policy." It recommended going beyond decriminalization and beginning to regulate the sale of marijuana. In making this recommendation they looked at states that had decriminalized marijuana possession and found the reform had "not led to appreciably higher levels of marijuana use than would have existed if use were also prohibited."
The NAS also reported that there were savings in tax dollars by ending criminal enforcement against marijuana possession noting that states that decriminalized "have led to substantial savings in states that have repealed laws that prohibit use." And, as Officer Franklin noted, the NAS found "Alienation from the rule of law in democratic society may be the most serious cost of current marijuana laws."
In fact such savings are also predicted if California passes Prop. 19. The California Legislative Analyst says it would enable California to put police priorities where they belong saying it "could result in savings to the state and local governments by reducing the number of marijuana offenders incarcerated in state prisons and county jails, as well as the number placed under county probation or state parole supervision. These savings could reach several tens of millions of dollars annually. The county jail savings would be offset to the extent that jail beds no longer needed for marijuana offenders were used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space."
The findings of the experts are consistent - criminal laws are not the effective way to control marijuana. Removing criminal penalties does not lead to increased use, but leads to law enforcement savings and better relations between community and police.
Now that a majority of Americans oppose continuing the criminal prohibition of marijuana for adults, it is time for voters to send a clear message to politicians -- end these ineffective and expensive marijuana laws. It is time to stop repeating the mistakes of the past and develop policies for the future that will actually work. Voters should vote Yes on Proposition 19 so the politicians get the message: Time for real change.
Kevin Zeese is president of Common Sense for Drug Policy.