NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton‘s scapegoat for the increase in murders from last year is marijuana. Said Bratton, “In this city, people are killing each other over marijuana more so than anything that we had to deal with in the 80s and 90s with heroin and cocaine…The seemingly innocent drug that’s been legalized around the country.” Bratton continued to say, “We just see marijuana everywhere when we make these arrests, when we get these guns off the streets.”
Bratton’s statements are woefully misguided. As it turns out, what he is actually explaining are the latent causes of the drug war, thereby showing just how more costly it is to have prohibition in place rather than a free market. While marijuana may appear in murder scenes in locations where it is still banned, this is only because black-listing the substance grants more power to street gangs. Once enough time has passed to correctly study the effects of legalization in states like Colorado, it would not be surprising to observe an area where gangs have had their influence lessened while crime has dropped.
As it stands today, marijuana is banned for recreational purposes in an overwhelming majority of states. The legacy of “Reefer Madness” seems to have lived on 80 years later. The only real reason presented is a general fear of the culture it will produce or the easily refutable myth of marijuana being a “gateway drug.” As it stands now, it is actually prohibition that has been a “gateway”: that is, a gateway to violence, crime and imprisonment.
As of now, millions of Americans (most of them poor and minorities) have been put in jail for marijuana possession. Young men and women who wish to innocently try the drug can find themselves going to the most dangerous areas and associating with the shadiest characters in order to obtain such an experience. If they are caught, they risk having their lives permanently ruined with criminal punishments. Worse yet, the main purpose of prohibition (stopping people from using marijuana) has failed woefully. Marijuana is by far the most commonly used illicit drug, a fact which helps create the false narrative of it as a gateway drug.
It is hotly debated whether marijuana is beneficial to individuals or society at all. However, this should not play any part in the decision of whether or not to legalize the substance. The negatives have far outweighed the positives in the enforcement of the drug war. The US spends billions of dollars catching and imprisoning drug offenders. Legalization or decriminalization would allow those resources to be used more effectively. Additionally, a legal market would allow for billions of dollars more to be pumped back into the economy through the sale of marijuana.
As long as the war on drugs exists, people like Bratton will do their best to fear-monger and scare Americans with imaginary narratives of a US with legal marijuana. However, when these master pontificators are caught in such ludicrous lies, we are able to bring to light just how ridiculous marijuana prohibition has become. Just like alcohol prohibition before it, this overreach by government has taken personal liberty from individuals and made the original problem worse.
It is up to each of us to decide what we put into our bodies. Whether or not it is indeed a smart decision to do so, we as autonomous individuals must live with our decisions. Government intervention which invades our lives and places us in prisons for choices that the state deems to be immoral should not be tolerated. When we give deeper inspection to these falsely-launched crusades based on very few facts, it should be no surprise when the government’s policy rationales go up in smoke.