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By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

“If you continue to burn up the herbs
we gonna burn down the cane fields.”
~ John Holt, Police in Helicopter

“When den ago realize,
Government them a terrorize,
Corporation dem a capitalize,
While the farmer man nuh beg a little blight.”

~ Collie Buddz, Come Around

Despite resistance from the federal government, states have moved to more sensible and far less costly drug policy, as is their right under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. How out of touch the federal government is compared to the states, at least when it comes to cannabis, is exemplified at a border patrol checkpoint along Interstate 10 in West Texas, just a few dozen miles east of El Paso.

On October 23, I sat alone in a cell at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint, reading graffiti carved into the door that said things like “JESSICA TE AMO,” “LET ME OUT,” and my personal favorite, “FUCK TEXAS POT LAWS.” Snoop Dogg, Fiona Apple, and Willie Nelson all likely shared this cell or one of the adjacent cells when they were detained at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint, for the same reason as me.

I was detained after a Border Patrol dog yipped when smelling four joints of California medicinal marijuana rolled up in my center console. The agents at the checkpoint on I-10 in Texas weren’t interested in looking at the card in my wallet that certified my status as a medical marijuana patient in the state of California. I was cuffed, read my rights, and remained in a cell until a Hudspeth County sheriff’s deputy arrived and issued me a $500 citation for possession of drug paraphernalia. Even though Hudspeth County is $500 richer because I was caught with marijuana, the county is being bankrupted by the U.S. government’s War on Drugs.

In just the last year alone, the Sierra Blanca checkpoint has produced 2,600 drug-related cases for Hudspeth County. Assuming those cases all resulted in $500 fines, that’s $1.3 million in revenue for the county. But the county spends far more than $500 per case in prosecuting and detaining offenders. Roughly 8 out of every 10 people arrested and detained at the Sierra Blanca checkpoint, usually for possessing negligible amounts of marijuana, are U.S. citizens. The federal government used to reimburse Hudspeth County dollar for dollar for cases coming from the Sierra Blanca checkpoint. Now, the Department of Justice will only reimburse the county for prosecution, not detaining. And according to Hudspeth County Sheriff Alvin Brown, that reimbursement is only 48 cents for every dollar spent.

But my arrest was merely one of 700,000 marijuana possession arrests in a given year, at a staggering cost of $3.6 billion every 365 days. And marijuana arrests don’t happen to folks like me, as a white male of privilege, nearly as often as they do to people of color. A recent ACLU study showed that black people are nearly four times (3.73, to be exact) as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white people. That same study showed that just between 2001 and 2008, there were more than 8 million marijuana-related arrests in the United States.

Despite all the money spent enforcing these outdated marijuana laws that were written based on faulty, racially-prejudiced premises, all the war on drugs has done is proliferate higher-potency cannabis to a wider market for a lower price and enrich violent drug cartels. While some of the more prominent Mexican drug gangs will still unfortunately rely on kidnapping, extortion, and other forms of drugs to maintain their stature, legalizing marijuana could cut their funding stream by nearly a third.

Portugal went a step further in the legalization fight, and decriminalized all drugs ten years ago. In Portugal, drug addiction is seen as a health condition that can be rehabilitated, rather than a crime to be prosecuted. Because addicts in Portugal are treated instead of incarcerated, the addiction rate has gone down by half in the ten years since decriminalization passed.

While there may not be enough will among political leaders in the United States to do something as drastic (i.e., sensible) as Portugal, it would at least be a start for the federal government to respect state marijuana laws like full legalization in Colorado and Washington and the city of Portland, Maine, and legalized medicinal use in many other states, from Arizona to New Hampshire. H.R. 1523, introduced in the 113th Congress by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, would do just that.

The sooner we stop wasting tax dollars on locking people up for burning a plant that grows naturally in almost any climate and can cure multiple medical conditions, the better. Congress, which gets a large percentage of campaign contributions from the petrochemical, biochemical, and pharmaceutical giants who don’t want to compete with legalized marijuana or industrial hemp, may not be ready to address the fundamental issue of the high costs of the War on Drugs. But the 10th Amendment grants states the right to take on responsibilities not assigned to the federal government. Marijuana legalization through the states isn’t just our duty, it’s our constitutional right.

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IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.