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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Big pharma doesn’t want to legalize

By David Servatius

Allow me to present Exhibit A in the case of Common Sense V. The United States of America.

Somewhere in this country, a man is sitting in a prison cell, wasting away. This man lived a normal middle-class American life up until his incarceration. He had paid his taxes and contributed to his community. He’d worked at a decent job. More than likely, he has a family trying to get by without him for the next 10 to 15 years. There is no chance of an early release for this man.

What did he do? He was found with a small quantity of marijuana in his possession. He wasn’t an addict. He wasn’t selling to children. It wasn’t any sort of problem in his life or in anyone else’s. To this man, a little bit of the bud was no different from a couple of drinks — even better in many ways.

But in one unfortunate moment, he became collateral damage in this country’s misguided and misnamed War on Drugs. His state’s mandatory minimum law required that he spend many years in prison. The judge in the case wasn’t allowed to consider his lack of a criminal record or his exemplary life in sentencing and, by any standard, this man’s life has now been ruined.

What was just described is the common story of millions of inmates, both male and female, crowding our country’s correctional institutions. According to FBI statistics, almost a million of the roughly 1.8 million annual drug arrests in this country are for marijuana. Almost 88 percent of those are for possession alone. In a recent report from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, it is estimated that taxpayers spend between $7.5 and $10 billion a year arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana violations.

Since 1992, a mind-boggling 6 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges — more than the populations of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming combined. That is an immense investment of money, time, energy and human resources into a national project that has never had any demonstrable success.

Worse yet, in order to keep these citizens locked up in prison as required by law, and to comply with court orders to decrease crowding in the facilities, hardened and violent criminals are being paroled early. Other times they are moved to less secure county jails and are then more able to escape.

Doesn’t this seem absurd? Is this little plant that human beings have partaken of for millennia really something so threatening to American life that it justifies this madness? California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a recent British GQ interview that it wasn’t a drug, it was a leaf. He’s right. We have attempted to outlaw nature. Where is the threat? What is the harm?

I don’t think there has ever been a single person who has overdosed and died from smoking pot. I’ve never heard anyone say they smoked so much that they vomited all over their (fill in the blank) and had a headache the next day. You’ll never find a case where someone smoked a joint and then beat his wife or got into a public brawl. I think the worst dangers are probably sore cheek muscles from laughing or a bad case of indigestion from the jar of peanut butter and the brick of Swiss cheese that suddenly tasted so amazing together.

So this all-out assault on marijuana use doesn’t seem to make the least bit of sense, like so many things in modern America. But, also like so many things in modern America, it makes a little more sense if you understand the corrosive influence of corporate money in our legal and political systems.

For example, there is a widely-respected and taxpayer-funded public service organization called the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You might remember their famous “This is your brain on drugs” ad featuring the frying egg. Now, how drug-free do you think the Partnership for a Drug-Free America really wants the country to be, considering that the group is actually a joint venture by the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries? Maybe free of just certain drugs?

The dirty little secret that the big pharmaceutical companies fear most is that marijuana actually helps a lot of people with a lot of things that these companies would rather sell people an expensive pill for. It provides a lot of harmless enjoyment and social lubrication for a lot of people, without the added toxicity of alcohol.

The lives of casual marijuana users are not being destroyed by a war on drugs — they’re being destroyed by an ongoing war on anything that a multi-national corporation can’t control and generate profits from. Like Bill Maher said, if they could figure out a way to put a little Pfizer logo on each leaf, marijuana would be legal tomorrow.

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