Too Many Wars
by Brian C. Bennett

While America is faced with the prospect of becoming engaged on yet another front, it will be hard pressed to gather the necessary resources to apply against any new emerging threats. We simply have ourselves spread too thin to realistically fight all of the wars in which we find ourselves engaged. I believe I can identify a war that we can safely stop fighting, and then redeploy the resources it is currently using to the pressing needs of protecting ourselves from people keenly interested in killing us.

Believe it or not, this specific war has been going on for over 100 years, and surprisingly enough, is one which America is waging on its own citizens. It is a war that is costing well in excess of $40 billion in direct costs every year. If you haven't already realized what this war is, it is commonly referred to as the "War on Drugs." Although this war encompasses all intoxicating substances other than tobacco and alcohol, it is being waged primarily against marijuana and those who use it.

An "anniversary" of a sort related to the drug war occurs every year on Aug 2. On that day in 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act became law and declared every part of the marijuana plant "illegal" to possess within the United States and its various territories. Since that day, the US Government has hammered the citizens of the land with a constant and singularly focused message: marijuana is dangerous and is a serious threat to our children and the people of the land. Judging from the headlines, myopic focus and boogeyman threats seem to have become part of our national character. But we don't really have the luxury of eating our own anymore, as there are pressing needs for the nations' security that simply can not be met while we pursue the people who have made the terrible mistake of smoking the "wrong" plant.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) latest annual "National Survey on Drug Use and Health" (NSDUH), by 2002, some 95 million Americans aged 12 or older had used marijuana at least once in their lives, and nearly 26 million admitted to having done so in the prior year. That same study indicates that the number of people who try marijuana for the first time adds at least another 2.5 million users to that base every year. Consequently, by today, we can accurately say that some 100 million Americans have not been afraid to try something described by its detractors as the very downfall of mankind. If 100 million people have done something despite all the horror stories they've heard about it for their entire lives, then we must seriously ask ourselves how accurate those stories really are, and why they continue to be told.

According to the nations' drug czar, marijuana today is super powerful and causes people to go to the hospital for emergency treatment; and it is so inescapably addictive that the number of people entering drug rehab for marijuana is rising at an alarming rate. We're told that over a five year period, the number of people seeking emergency treatment for marijuana related reasons nearly doubled, while the number of young people entering rehab rose 142 percent. The statistics cited come from the annual Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report also from SAMHSA. What they don't tell us though, is that less than one half of one percent of past year marijuana users are actually going to the emergency room because of their marijuana use. If 99.5 percent of the people who do something, do not have to seek medical treatment for it, then why in the world is this considered a problem?

Similarly, the situation with drug rehab for marijuana use is laughably out of context. Yet another study from SAMHSA, the Treatment Episode Data Sets (TEDS), provides data on drug rehabilitation admissions. While it is true that the total number of people admitted to rehab for marijuana has risen 142 percent, what isn't being said is that less than 2 percent of past year marijuana users are actually in treatment, and perhaps more importantly, that over half of those who enter rehab for marijuana were referred through the criminal justice system. Tough choice: jail or rehab.

Among the 12 to 17 demographic the negative impacts of marijuana use parallel those of their elders, with less than 3 percent of past year users in rehab and just over 1 percent visiting the local emergency room. Interestingly, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that four times as many young people go to the emergency room for gymnastics or cheerleading injuries than for marijuana, and a whopping 13 times as many go for basketball injuries. If we terrorize our children in school at gunpoint to "protect" them from marijuana, to what lengths shall we go to protect them from basketball? I'm thinking tactical nukes should do the trick.

As it turns out, the greatest danger faced by a marijuana smoker is that they may get caught with it and arrested -- but even that isn't very likely. Of past year pot smokers, just under 3 percent of them are arrested in a given year, 88 percent of whom are arrested for simple possession. Although 97 percent of users are not arrested, the ones who are account for over 5 percent of all arrests annually. In other words one twentieth of our police resources are being dedicated to rounding up and arresting people who smoke the wrong plant - all in the name of protecting them from something even less likely to occur. Something is seriously out of kilter.

So what about the latest scary characteristic of marijuana - today's modern super weed. Apparently, it is supposed to be scary and dangerous because it is claimed to be up to 30 times more powerful than the weed smoked back in the 70's. The first thing I have to wonder about such a statement is exactly what it is supposed to mean. Since alcohol (not to mention a wide variety of other pharmaceutical drugs) is available in a wide variety of potencies, some of which are indeed much more potent than others, then how does potency or purity of a product become something we need to fear? Worse, given that synthetic THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana's principle active ingredient) is available as a prescription medicine in 100 percent pure form, why should I become alarmed about stronger marijuana? If 100 percent THC is safe enough to be declared medicine, then it seems strange that seriously less potent natural marijuana poses much of a "threat" to anyone - especially those who don't use it.

Stronger product means less is required to do the job. The only real danger in stronger pot is an unknowing consumer using what he or she regards as a typical dose then being surprised by the result. It is easy to imagine that someone drinking scotch when they think they are drinking beer may lead to unexpected results - the same principle applies to all drugs. A minuscule number of people going to the hospital after using pot that's stronger than they thought can hardly justify hunting down the 99 percent of marijuana users who don't seem to have any immediate medical problems caused by high potency smoke.

Police departments throughout the US receive annual payments to fight the war against the marijuana plant directly, and are busy during the late summer and early fall each year seeking out and destroying them. According to the drug czar's office, this spending led to the eradication of some 570 million marijuana plants in 2001, a huge increase over the 139 million total plants destroyed the year before. With such a high level of "success", you'd think no one would have any marijuana to smoke. You knew it was coming - over 99 percent of the plants eradicated every year are actually wild hemp, containing very little or no THC. In other words, no one would smoke it. So over 99 percent of the money spent annually on marijuana eradication may as well just be lit on fire directly -- and smoking it would get you just as high.

To briefly recap the situation: our government sees fit to wage a war against its own citizens for the truly heinous crime of lighting a plant on fire and inhaling the ensuing smoke to intoxicate themselves. The justification we are given for the war is that these people end up in the hospital, or need drug rehab and are a tremendous burden to our society. The naked truth reveals that hardly any marijuana users ever have problems with it and that, by far, the most likely negative consequence of marijuana use is being caught and arrested.

While we continue the war against the demon weed, we find ourselves lacking the resources to defend ourselves against external threats from people genuinely interested in killing us. Pot smokers simply want to be left alone. What they do is light a plant on fire and intoxicate themselves. Why are tobacco plants (or poison ivy plants for that matter) legal to light on fire and inhale and why is it legal to intoxicate yourself with the liquid called alcohol, but considered a major threat to civilization to light and inhale a plant to become intoxicated? If neither the act of inhaling plant smoke, nor the act of intoxicating oneself is the rightful concern of law, then what sort of alchemy makes it illegal to combine those two acts into one?

We have a Presidential election in front of us in which we are to decide which man is the better leader to help keep America free, strong and secure. Until we stop the war on our own people, I'm afraid it just doesn't really matter. We simply can't continue to wage war on ourselves - especially for such a tragically minuscule problem as using the 'wrong' intoxicants. Which of the candidates will rise to the occasion and demonstrate the leadership required to correct this horrendous mistake? Neither of them appear to have any reason to do so, as the voters themselves don't seem to care. Or perhaps, given the literal century of misinformation concerning intoxicants other than alcohol, the citizens just don't know what is really going on. Our national security is threatened, but it isn't pot smokers that we need to be concerned with. Enough is enough. Continuing the war on those who use the 'wrong' intoxicants isn't just wasteful, heinous and unnecessary - in light of how it directly robs us of the precious resources we need to defend ourselves, it is arguably downright treasonous that it be allowed to continue. Mr. Bush? Mr. Kerry? Citizens?

Written Aug 23, 2004

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