While marijuana is more mainstream than ever, legalization still faces backlash from the powers that be.
Fourteen states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes; 13 more have medical marijuana ballot or legislative measures on the horizon. And medical pot has paved the way for all-out legalization; for the first time ever, polls consistently show that a majority of Americans -- albeit a slim one -- believe marijuana should be legalized for adults over 18.
Drug reform observers and activists are excitedly awaiting the results of the Tax Cannabis ballot initiative in California this November. While it is not the first time electorates will vote on marijuana legalization (Nevada and Colorado rejected similar measures in 2006; the city of Breckenridge, Colo. legalized it late last year), experts believe California is the first statewide initiative that stands a fighting chance, as AlterNet has reported.
Yet in spite of the positive trend, there are some ominous harbingers indicating that common-sense drug reform relating to marijuana still has a ways to go. Here are five signs that pot legalization faces government and corporate backlash (which may affect public opinion as well), in no particular order:
1. Federal Government and a Major Corporation Ban Marijuana Literature
This past Super Bowl Sunday, a man in Crozet, Va. who has for years made money selling copies of High Times magazine, a cult periodical dedicated to marijuana culture and industry, discovered his sales listings on eBay had been yanked with no advance warning. The kicker? Fred Carwile, the seller, says two separate eBay customer reps told him his listings were pulled at the request of the federal government.
High Times is sold in all sorts of mainstream brick-and-mortar stores throughout the country, including Barnes & Noble, noted an infuriated Carwile, who told his local paper, "The federal government cannot ban books. They’re pressuring a business to ban books."
EBay says it's always been company policy to prohibit listings that "encourage, promote, facilitate, or instruct others to engage in illegal activities." The auction and marketplace site last made this sort of headline when it prohibited the sale of another genre of items: Nazi memorabilia.
2. DEA Raids on Medical Marijuana Facilities Continue
Soon after President Obama took office, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to end Drug Enforcement Agency raids on legal medical marijuana facilities. The prior administration had a longstanding policy of raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in states where such facilities are legal, so the positive tone from the Attorney General's office was great news to medical marijuana users and the industry that supports them.
But the raids on legal medical marijuana facilities have not ended. The DEA has raided at least a couple such locations in Colorado, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2000.
The DEA continues to employ the same justification for the raids as it did during the Bush era -- that federal law supersedes state law. But as some have pointed out, this may very well contradict the Tenth Amendment, which states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, or prohibited by it to the States, are to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
3. Drug Warrior Holdover Instated as Chief of DEA
Unfortunately, the problems with the DEA don't end with the raids. And why would they? The person heading the agency, Michele Leonhardt, is a holdover from the Bush era, when she was the Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Division. In that position, she effectively enforced the drug warring administration's policy of shutting down medical marijuana entrepreneurs' legal operations and made a habit of arresting medical marijuana patients.
Obama officially nominated her to the DEA chief position this January, signaling that the DEA won't be changing its anti-drug legalization tone during her tenure as head administrator. It also signals that Obama's campaign promises of ending a failed drug war were at best halfhearted.
With drug-fueled violence escalating on the U.S.-Mexico border, we can expect the DEA to remain rigid in its law enforcement tactics there. A clear-cut example of Leonhardt's dogma includes a line she trumpeted last April: drug legalization “would be a failed law enforcement strategy for both the U.S. and Mexico.” Meanwhile, the bloodshed continues, as does our ineffective strategy to quell it.
4. Federal Drug Budget Continues to Favor Criminalization Over Treatment and Prevention
Further continuation of failed Bush policies is evidenced by the so-called federal drug war budget. At first, the drug reform community was hopeful when President Obama named Gil Kerlikowske as his drug czar. Kerlikowske was known to have pursued an incredibly successful treatment-over-incarceration policy during his tenure as Seattle's police chief.
The day his appointment was announced, Kerlikowske said, "The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them. Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering, and as a police officer but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects that drugs can have." (Kerlikowske's stepson has in the past been arrested on drug charges.)
But we were wrong to be so hopeful. Obama's drug budget looks almost exactly like his predecessor's. Despite official statements that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue, the federal budget currently sends almost twice as much money to law enforcement than to treatment and prevention programs.
5. Pro-Marijuana Legalization Talk Censored by Mainstream Media
In an era when so many Americans -- at least a third -- publicly admit to having smoked weed in their lifetimes, and an even larger number believe pot ought to be legalized, one would think the mainstream media would get on that trend train, as they do with most everything else.
In some ways they have. Showtime's "Weeds" is readying for its sixth-season premiere; ladymag Marieclaire marveled at how high-powered women could smoke pot and remain high-functioning, contributing members of society; and mainstream shows such as NBC's "Today Show" have related to their audience that weed is actually a lot safer than any other mood-altering substance, including legal ones like prescription drugs and alcohol.
But when it comes to actually discussing alternatives to the current policy on marijuana, the corporate media isn't quite on board. Just this month, CBS executives axed a paid ad by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) that was to run on CBS' digital billboard in Times Square. The 15-second ad asserts "that taxing and regulating the adult use and sale of marijuana would raise billions of dollars in national revenue."
After working for months on the ad, the media company that manages the billboard for CBS told NORML that CBS would not approve the ad, adding, "If CBS changes their morals we will let you know."
If the mainstream media won't let pro-drug reform organizations get out their message, how can we hope to influence the conversation to the point where large-scale change can be enacted?
By Daniela Perdomo
February 18, 2010