This November, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will all decide whether to join ranks with states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington and legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Meanwhile, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and Missouri will decide whether to legalize the prescription use of the drug for medical purposes. New York passed marijuana-use legislation in 2014 with the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized medical marijuana.
One activist at the forefront of marijuana legislation is the former Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura. He joins us to discuss his book, Marijuana Manifesto, and makes the case for legalizing cannabis.
And see below to read the second chapter of Marijuana Manifesto.
2 –How to Win the War on Drugs
I believe there is a way to win the war against the drug cartels: America and Mexico would have to legalize all drugs that have the potential for substance abuse, just like we do with tobacco and alcohol. Legalizing marijuana alone isn’t enough.
Even if we just decriminalized all drugs, we could significantly help addicts get the care they need in clinics and hospitals. Drug addiction should be treated medically because addiction is a medical condition. Putting drug addicts into jail doesn’t solve the root cause of the problem.
As the famous quote goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” This type of insanity describes the so- called War on Drugs perfectly. We continue to treat drug addiction criminally. However, if we treat it as a medical condition, I think you’d see our incarceration rates drop dramatically due to the fact that we are not putting these people in jail but in hospitals and rehab facilities. I think you’d see the drug war death tolls drop dramatically too.
In 2009, Mexico did decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all major narcotics, from marijuana, to cocaine, to heroin, to ecstasy, to crystal meth.1 Instead of arresting people caught with drugs, the police advised them to get clean and even gave them the addresses to the nearest rehab clinics. When I say small amounts of drugs, however, I mean really small amounts, what I would consider a nearly insignificant amount of drugs: cocaine was set at 0.5 g, heroin at 50 mg, methamphetamines at 40 mg, and marijuana at 5 g.
These amounts are all considered acceptable “personal use” amounts—meaning if a person is caught with this amount, it is clear that person isn’t intending to sell it (which is still illegal) but that the person is intending to use it. I’d like to know, however, how the courts arrived at these particular quantities as the exact amount for “personal use.” For instance, in Washington state and Colorado, it is legal to have up to 28 g (about 1 oz.) of marijuana on you, and that is considered “personal use”.2 See what I mean by 5 g of marijuana being an insignificant amount? In any case, this decriminalization law has yet to lower arrest rates because officers rarely arrested people caught with those small amounts of drugs in the first place. They typically used the opportunity to get a bribe out of someone. Again, it still remains illegal to sell drugs in any capacity, so clearly that isn’t stopping anyone from buying them.
Unfortunately, the law didn’t achieve very much because the police wanted the drug dealers all along, not the small quantity buyers. Case in point: 60 per- cent of the 254,108 people in Mexico’s prison system are incarcerated due to drug- related crimes.3 In Mexico, there is also a huge disparity between the sentences for small-time drug dealers and violent criminals. For example, a 2012 Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) study revealed a drug dealer can receive a maximum of twenty-five years in jail, but the maximum for armed robbery is fifteen years, and it’s just fourteen years for a convicted rapist.4 Does that sound like justice to you? A rapist could be out of jail and on the streets eleven years earlier than a drug dealer!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am well aware of the drug-war death tolls and the strong arm of the Mexican cartels. I understand that a drug dealer could also be a violent criminal. Six months out of the year, I live completely off the grid in Mexico on the Baja peninsula. I live in a solar-paneled house. I’m about an hour from paved roads and any building powered by Mexico’s electrical grid. I can’t speak much Spanish (and the Spanish I can speak, I admittedly don’t speak very well), but I can get across what I need to say through pantomiming.
If you ask a local down there, you might be surprised to know that the majority of Mexicans think it’s shameful to admit to or be accused of drug use. Being called a marijuano (pronounced “marihuano”) or pot head is actually considered an insult. That’s part of their culture, probably because if you’re a Mexican citizen caught with too much of any illegal drug, including marijuana, you could be subject to prosecution, heavy fines, and even jail time. And probably because the drug trade and the cartels have done such horrible things to the Mexican people that no Mexican would want to be associated with them in any way.
Consider these facts: In July 2015, the Mexican government released data showing that between 2007 and 2014, more than 164,000 people were victims of homicide due to the drug war5 and in 2007 alone, 2,837 people were killed.6 To put those numbers into perspective, let’s compare War on Drugs casualties to casualties from two other American wars that were being fought between 2007 and 2014, also on foreign soil. The United Nations and the Iraq Body Count website estimate that there were 103,000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq over that same seven-year time period.7 That means there were approximately 61,000 more civilians who died in Mexico due to the War on Drugs in comparison to the War on Terror.
Also worth considering are the fatalities of our troops in the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars: 2,379 US soldiers died in the Afghanistan War (from 2001 to January 2016). In the Iraq War, 4,495 US soldiers died from 2003 to 2015.8 That means more people died in Mexico in 2007—in one year—compared to the amount of US troops that died throughout the entire span of the Afghanistan war. And when it comes to the 4,495 US soldiers who died throughout the entire span of the Iraq war?
In 2008 alone, the Mexican government reported there were 6,844 people killed in Mexico’s drug war. In 2009, there were 9,635 people who died due to the drug war. Again, that means more people died in one year in Mexico than the number of service men and women in the entire span of the Iraq war (and the entire span of the Afghanistan war, for that matter). Go ahead, reread that and let it sink in a little.
The War on Drugs has also resulted in thousands of people being kid- napped. Over twenty-six thousand people have gone missing in Mexico between 2006 and 2012.9 Hundreds of villages have been devastated, and families have been forced to abandon their homes out of fear for their lives. That is the tragic cost of the War on Drugs. As long as we continue this war, the death toll will continue to climb. As I’ve said before, just because you make something illegal, that doesn’t mean it goes away.
That just means criminals now run it. And as long as drugs are illegal, the cartels will stay in business, and they’re doing quite well for themselves too, if I might add. According to a bi-national study conducted by our government agencies and Mexican government agencies (including Homeland Security’s Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mexico Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Publico, and Unidad De Inteligencia Financiera), the Mexican drug cartels reap between $19 billion and $29 billion, approximately, in profits from US drug sales each year.10 So will legalizing marijuana in Mexico put a dent in the cartels’ profits? I think the greater question is: Why does America insist on fighting wars it can- not win?
When it comes to marijuana in particular, the United States has—to put it lightly—a very sensitive relationship with Mexico. Our government is constantly putting the blame on our southern neighbors when it comes to our illegal drug problem. Our politicians say Mexico is lax in confiscating illegal drugs that are produced in the country and then shipped into the United States. We’re also constantly pointing out the corruption within the Mexican government (because there’s zero corruption in DC, right?) and claiming there are back-channel bribery deals between Mexican politicians, law enforcement, and Mexico’s drug cartels. We claim the drug war will never go away because the Mexican drug cartels are part of the Mexican economic infrastructure. Talk about a conspiracy theory!
Meanwhile, Mexico is quick to respond to these accusations with the obvious: there would be no illegal drug problem between our borders if the demand from American drug users didn’t create this lucrative market in the first place. And I agree. This is about supply and demand. If American drug users didn’t want Mexican drugs, they wouldn’t buy them. Again, just because you prohibit something, that doesn’t mean it goes away. People will always find a way to get what they want, if they want it badly enough.
To further this point, when marijuana was “legalized” in the United States, demand for illegal Mexican weed actually decreased and is continuing to decrease. The Drug Policy Research Center at the RAND Corporation states that in 2008, Mexico was responsible for as much as two-thirds of the marijuana consumed in America each year, 11 but because it is now legal for people to grow pot in the United States, Mexican marijuana accounts for less than a third of the total amount consumed in the United States today. Less than a third! Like I said, supply and demand. If I can purchase weed legally from a store, why on earth would I risk get- ting arrested to purchase it illegally from another country? We’re not putting the cartels out of business yet, but as Bob Dylan said, “the times, they are a-changin’!”
There isn’t much reliable data right now to determine how much marijuana is being produced in Mexico—or rather how much less weed is being produced— due to the limited legalization of marijuana in America. But we do know that the amount of weed that is being confiscated at the US border has decreased. So has the amount of weed that has been found and destroyed in fields by the Mexican government.
According to the Mexican attorney general’s office, in 2015, the Mexican government eradicated about twelve thousand acres of illegal marijuana, which is down from more than forty-four thousand acres in 2010.12 And although drug seizures at the border only represent a tiny fraction of what actually gets imported into the United States, the US Customs and Border Protection seized about 1,085 tons of marijuana at the border in 2014, which is less than the previous four years with 1,500 tons confiscated each year.13 And when it comes to arrests, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is seeing declining numbers as well.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the number of US arrests by DEA agents involving foreign-grown marijuana dropped from 4,519 in 2010 to 2,367 in 2014.14 I suspect that these numbers will continue to decrease as Americans continue to buy homegrown, legal marijuana.
Also interesting to note is that the price of Mexican marijuana has decreased dramatically, which again follows the typical economic principles of supply and demand. Within the last four years, since there hasn’t been as much of a demand for Mexican marijuana, the amount that Mexican farmers receive per kilogram has fallen from $100 to $30!15 Stay with me here, people. I’m proving to you that by legalizing drugs we will loosen the grip of the cartels!
There’s one more thing that no one seemed to anticipate when weed was legalized in certain parts of the United States: quality of product. US and Mexican growers now compete not only on price, but also on quality. My good friend Dan Skye, the editor-in-chief of High Times magazine, would be able to vouch for me on this statistic: Mexican weed is without a doubt the bottom of the barrel when it comes to quality.
First of all, it’s not as fresh as what you’d get in your local smoke shop. Secondly, it’s typically pressed tightly together due to the way it’s transported—and it’s full of seeds. When you’re looking for quality weed, look no further than cannabis grown in the USA because our legal weed distributors take great pride in their products! Legalization has also created demand for unique strains of weed, not to mention more specialized strains with higher concentrations of THC.
Think of American marijuana like craft beer: When it comes to beer, there’s always Budweiser, which will do the trick, but there are also local microbreweries that specialize in various flavors and higher alcohol contents. If you drink beer, what are you going to go with if you have a choice? Something in a can, that’s been sitting on a shelf for months—and before it got there, it went through several forms of refrigeration, and at some point wasn’t even refrigerated—or something fresh from the tap that was brewed with great emphasis on the quality, flavor, and brewing technique? Sure, Budweiser might be cheaper, but they also skimp on flavor and the freshness of ingredients.
So, back to our hypothetical scenario from Chapter 1: If Mexico and America legalized marijuana, would it make the Mexican cartels go the way of the dodo bird? Well, if Mexicans are allowed to grow it in their own backyards and Americans are allowed to do the same, then who needs to purchase pot illegally? If I can go to a store and buy it legally, why would I take the risk to get it on the black market, especially since I don’t know exactly what I’m get- ting?
Now that marijuana is being regulated in the states where it is legal, it is being inspected and tested for pesticides and other harmful chemicals, just like any other consumer good. In December 2015, marijuana products from over one hundred thousand plants in Colorado were recalled when independent lab testing by the Denver Post showed that they contained high levels of banned pesticides.16 Luckily, no one reported any illness from partaking in pot grown with pesticide treatment, but that raises a very interesting question: Would you trust a Mexican drug lord to be up front with how the plant was grown?
How would you even verify that information? I know people cringe when I say legalize all drugs, but when something is legalized, you take the power away from the criminals, and you know the purity of the substance because it’s being regulated. If people no longer have to rely on Mexican drug cartels for their weed, then there will be one less illegal substance responsible for all the death and destruction the drug trade has caused. It’s as simple as that.”