Today is April 20th, a holiday for marijuana enthusiasts with seeming origins in California, based on the time of day (4:20 pm) when a group of people would smoke weed together.
Though the holiday has gone mainstream with millions of people celebrating their love for marijuana today, the recreational use of the drug remains illegal in most of the United States.
Four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use, while more states have decriminalized marijuana or allowed its use for medical purposes.
Despite widespread use and cultural acceptance, federal, state, and local governments continue the war on pot. The “war” includes arresting users, dealers, and growers of the plant with costs running in the millions, and is aided and abetted by the alcohol and prescription opioid industries, which see marijuana’s promotion as a safer alternative as a threat to their business.
According to Weed Weekly, a recent report shows that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) spent $18 million in 2015 to destroy cannabis plants. The money was reportedly given to 128 state and local governments as part of the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program.
But while destroying relatively easily replaceable cannabis plants is a lamentable waste of taxpayer money, the real tragedy are those whose lives and careers are ruined from the consequences of drug arrests and imprisonment.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), marijuana arrests account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. The ACLU calculates that of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply possessing marijuana.
They also note, unsurprisingly, that there is an obvious racial bias in enforcement, as blacks are 3.73 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses. There is no evidence blacks use pot or any other drug more than whites. In fact, some studies have indicated the opposite.
Among those who could have been arrested and imprisoned, but were not, are admitted marijuana users President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush. President Bill Clinton claims to have smoked pot and never inhaled, though the late Christopher Hitchens claims to have witnessed Clinton eating marijuana-laced brownies in college.
Though it is undeniably amusing to think of all the presidents who have illegally used marijuana before leading the branch of government that includes the FBI, DEA, and Department of Justice, less-funny is the reality of the carnage of the War on Drugs, which has destroyed countless lives and wasted hundreds of billions of dollars—all in vain.
So by all means, toke up today if you wish, but when the haze clears, think about what needs to be done so everyone can chose to celebrate 420 without fear of facing destruction.