Prohibition is ending. One can feel it in the air. The elections in Colorado and Washington show that “the cork is starting to move.” In the metaphor from the ending of our earlier Prohibition of alcohol, the champagne bottle’s cork is slowly but steadily getting ready to pop. Soon we will be looking back at our current policies with the same level of disbelief, as we do with the witch hunts of the Middle Ages.
This breath of fresh air, so long in coming, gives hope that our society can rise above the desire for scapegoats, the need for politicians who pander to our most hateful instincts, and our urge to use force and violence against those we disagree with — for that is what we authorize when we make something a matter of criminal law.
Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” which began as a thinly-veiled assault on political adversaries, has now resulted in over 30,000,000 arrests for marijuana, over 40,000,000 arrests if you include all “controlled substances.” At any given time, as many black men are — largely for marijuana — under the control of the Criminal Justice Industry — prison, parole, and probation — as were slaves at the time of the Civil War.
Our federal government is in the same position vis-a-vis the states as it was with the Fugitive Slave Act. Colorado, Washington, and the 18 medical marijuana states are in direct confrontation with the Feds over fundamental principles of Liberty.
How repressive will the Feds be in this? What is Mr. Obama planning to do? His record last year was terrible, an acquiescence in policies designed to create enormous human misery. But he is faced with a unique opportunity to change his ways. It’s a new day, and the leadership role on this issue is sitting there, open for his use.
The most hopeful thing he could do, would be to expend some political capital, and work with Congress to bring a complete end to Prohibition. Short of that however, there is one thing he can do today with a stroke of his pen. Mr. Obama can issue pardons to those in federal prison, and to those previously convicted whose lives have been so negatively impacted by their criminal record.
It is true that his clemency powers cover only the federal system, while many of this War’s victims suffer at the state level. Here too though, his leadership can be effective, setting an example for governors, encouraging them to follow the right path. On January 1st, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. January 1st, this year, marked the sesquicentennial. What finer tribute, and show of decency could there be, than to act now?
Free the drug prisoners, Mr. President.