On Thursday last week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed a room full of reporters in the White House. The briefing went largely according to the traditions of the past six weeks, in which the press pool either asks reasonable questions and gets maniacal answers, or is narrowed down to Breitbart and Tin-Foil Hat bloggers. Past questions in this administration have ranged from standard inquiries into the procedural competency of those in power, to requests for the Press Sec to address the deranged tweets of the President. But this presser was a little different. Spicer was asked via Skype blogger about the administration’s views on cannabis legalization. Spicer responded in his usual round-about way that leaves open the possibility for the President to say literally anything about the war on drugs at a later date. But he was steadfast in acknowledging that there would be increased enforcement of federal laws which prohibit both recreational and medicinal cannabis use.
Are we really going to revisit this issue? We have nearly five decades worth of evidence that enforcing draconian drugs laws is much more harmful to society than the drug use itself. Spicer’s exact quote was that he, “Does believe you will see greater enforcement of it”, in reference to the Dept. of Justice cracking down on states with legalization in place. This exchange took place only days before a new report was released that shows the legal Cannabis industry in the U.S. will create over a quarter of a million new jobs in the next three years. Another way to think about it, is that it will create 25x as many jobs as Trump’s factory deals, and cost much less.
Hard data and concrete reasoning don’t appear to weigh heavily on the decision making process of Trump and his team. They do however, appear to give considerable thought to the question, “How are authoritarians handling this across the globe?” In this instance, they’ll look to Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who has been conducting a genocide in his own country under the cover of stopping drug dealers. Duterte has set up a system that enables citizens to, and financially rewards them for, killing suspected drug dealers and drug users. In only five months, Philippine citizens have killed over 4,500 of their own who were suspected of using or selling drugs. In a phone call shortly after Trump’s election, Duterte claims that Trump applauded him for the way he was solving the drug problem in his country.
Trump almost certainly won’t implement a system like Duterte’s, but at this point it’s difficult to predict exactly how they will handle the issue. Only minutes before being asked about the cannabis issue, Spicer addressed the President’s move to revoke measures put in place to protect trans-gendered students. In response to that question, Spicer was adamant that the administration viewed those protections as a “states’ rights issue”. So why don’t they view cannabis legalization the same way?
Legalization is quickly becoming one of the most unanimously agreed upon issues across the aisle. Nearly everyone favors medicinal use (which is somehow different from recreational use ¯\_(ツ)_/), and nearly two thirds of Americans now favor legalization across the board. This administration has made a habit of opposing the majority, but it’s becoming harder and harder for them to justify this position. Let’s look at just a few pieces of evidence that show what a disaster this has been.
From 1987 to 2013, the number of drug arrests as a percentage of total arrests nearly doubled, with the vast majority of the increase coming from simple possession arrests, while sale/production arrests have remained flat. This seems to suggest that enforcing federal drug laws for minor offenses would actually increase spending.
The War on Drugs costs the U.S. $51 billion each year not including the opportunity cost of taxing legal drugs, which the libertarian Cato Institute estimates would be over $400 billion per year. For how much the GOP talks about cutting spending and balancing the budget, they sure seem to not actually give a fuck about doing it.
Maybe the dollars don’t add up, but what about the societal impact? After all, the Trump campaign’s backbone is protecting Americans from dangerous immigrants. If this were really their goal, then perhaps they would take under consideration the fact that 95% of cocaine in the U.S. comes through Mexico. Trump loves to paint immigrants as “bad hombres”, but in reality, the only bad hombres are the ones bringing drugs in. In many circumstances, these are non-violent people who are working with the cartels out of fear for their families. A novel idea: Creating a free-but-regulated market for drugs eliminates the black market, which eliminates cartels, and makes everyone safer.
So the drug war costs a ton of money and doesn’t actually do what it’s supposed to. But maybe there’s something else behind this motive…
The Drug War is Unapologetically Racist
I can already see the replies piling up: “Libtards think everything is racist”, “What about racism against whites?!”. But this isn’t even really up for debate. A Nixon aide allegedly confirmed suspicions that the drug war was created as a guise for targeting two of Nixon’s biggest opponents – blacks and anti-war protestors. Since its implementation, it has disproportionately affected people of color, despite usage rates among most racial groups being similar.
Normally it would be astonishing that the people tasked to lead the country would allow such a disgusting system to persist. However, this administration is led, and largely influenced by, a group of men who have publicly said and done brazenly racist things in the past. Jeff Sessions, who was denied a position as a Judge for being a racist. Steve Bannon, who ran a website with a category titled “Black Crime”. Donald Trump, who took out a full-page ad in the Daily News calling for a return of the death penalty in New York after he heard about the Central Park Five, a group of non-white teenagers accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. The teenagers were later exonerated by DNA findings, but Trump continues to publicly express his unchanged opinion on the matter.
In 1971 the President could get away with setting up a sweeping policy that was intended to target minorities without much pushback. In 2017, social attitudes and the infinite availability of information prevent this from happening. The drug war however, has decades of momentum behind it, making it much easier to sustain than if the Trump administration were to try and start it fresh. They’ve taken a Law & Order stance since day one, and unfortunately, there are enough people in the U.S. who haven’t changed their opinion on drugs since Nancy Reagan spoke about them 35 years ago.
This is a more disheartening possibility, mostly because there is a mountain of evidence that the people in charge actually agree with Nixon’s classification of black and brown people as enemies. Luckily, the GOP is the party of free markets and capitalism and entrepreneurship and job creation, so they’ll recognize this as an opportunity.
How Trump and his team handle the War on Drugs remains to be seen. The appointment of Jeff Session to Attorney General certainly doesn’t help the case for those seeking outright legalization. The administration’s attitude towards non-white people also suggests that a major crackdown is looming. But if nothing else, the three things people kept saying about Trump on the campaign trail were that he’s a populist, he’s a great businessman, and he wants to shake up things that aren’t working in Washington. All of those narratives, however fragile they are, may be the only hope for ending a disastrous policy that has ruined lived for nearly fifty years.