John Stossel Gets the Drug War

I went to a great event last week put on by the Marijuana Policy Project. The event was celebrating progress toward getting medical marijuana legislation passed in New York State. Montel Williams was probably the best overall speaker. He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, and says that medical marijuana is the best treatment he has found for him. This is a common refrain in the movement, and of course it makes plenty of sense to me. Why would governments want to prevent people who are suffering from using what works best for them?

You can see some discussion of this on their site: Montel Williams and Rob Kampia on Fox Business News.

For me, the best speaker was really John Stossel. He’s been a critic of the drug war for some time now – see his 2006 article: John Stossel – Rethinking the Drug War for an example.

Stossel got up on stage and attacked the theme of the whole event. I think he said we were celebrating mediocrity. Medical marijuana is the tiniest wedge of an issue in the overall drug war. The real problem is that prohibitions don’t work. It didn’t work for alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s. It didn’t work for cotton in France from 1686-1759. And it isn’t working with today’s drug war either.

Movements like this are prone to factionalization. Look back at the suffrage movement and you’ll see those who were perceived as extremists while others tried to be moderate and work incremental change through the system. There were other fringes as well. The fights within the movement were often more bitter than the battles with their opponents.

Today’s drug policy reform movement covers some vast terrain. My friends at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition fit with Stossel in the extremist camp, while MPP is in the moderates. There are a variety of groups pushing for incremental change in different areas. Needle exchange advocates are another example. Stossel’s speech was an example of the infighting that one sees in these movements. Fortunately, no one took offense. Maybe everyone was too busy smoking? Well, I didn’t see anyone smoking, but a couple of us did notice a scent. We were drinking a little.

My fear with the marijuana movement parallels what I saw in the suffrage movement. Around 1870 some perceived an opportunity to get suffrage for blacks. The extremists wanted to push for women and blacks to get suffrage together, while te moderates felt that it would be easier to get black suffrage first, and the women would be next. The moderates won, and the women waited 50 years.

I see marijuana activism in the same way. I agree that marijuana prohibition is bad policy. But I fear that once marijuana reform happens, the rest of the drug war will get left behind, and all those poor black and hispanic males will rot in prison on cocaine, heroin, and other drug charges for another 50 years or more before we finally get it all figured out.

Now if only we could get John Stossel to run for office. The guy’s fantastic!

3 comments to John Stossel Gets the Drug War

  • Warren wrote: Why would governments want to prevent people who are suffering from using what works best for them?

    Perhaps they would prefer people only use cures provided by ,their large campaign contributors known as, the pharmaceutical industry.

  • I don’t think it’s the pharmaceutical industry. They’d probably love the opportunity to research new medications based on marijuana. I put this on a combination of the police-prosecutor-prison-industrial complex, bureaucratic inertia, and voter apathy.

  • Ray

    The pharmaceutical industry already has medications based on marijuana, not that most people are aware of it.
    Marinol for one which is synthetic THC has been available for years. More recently Sativex which is made by Bayer is the first non-synthetic medication made from the cannabis plant,containing THC and cannabidiol(CBD. Of course it’s not available yet in the US thanks to the FDA.
    Meanwhile regardless of the success of treating many diseases with marijuana the “police-prosecutor-prison-industrial complex” headed by the DEA seems to be suffering from “memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving” which are some of the effects that they claim marijuana causes.
    The fact is that the DEA which sticks to its patent lie that “marijuana is an addictive drug” is itself addicted to the largess of the drug war.