Introduction: Additional Social and Economic Costs of Prohibition

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The legislative history of the Controlled Substances Act establishes rationale criteria by which “scope, duration and significance of abuse” are considered.

“In evaluating existing abuse, not only must the Attorney General know the pattern of abuse, but he must know whether the abuse is widespread. He must also know whether it is a passing fad, or whether it is a significant chronic abuse problem like heroin addiction. In reaching his decision, the Attorney General should consider the economics of regulation and enforcement attendant to such a decision. In addition, he should be aware of the social significance and impact of such a decision upon those people, especially the young, that would be affected by it.”(1)

This clearly defines a cost/benefit analysis of the ramifications of scheduling decisions.

As demonstrated by the Monitoring the Future survey data discussed above in section 3, the current, prohibitive scheduling of marijuana has failed to create a closed system of distribution. Obviously, one impact of DEA’s decision to maintain marijuana in schedule I has been the continued illegal and unregulated availability of marijuana in the nation’s public and private high schools.

The social significance and impact of such a phenomenon is employed to justify continuation of prohibition, as discussed in section 4, however the legislative history insists that any possible benefits of prohibition (even moral benefits) be weighed against it social and economic costs.

This section will engage in a wider examination of a question raised in section 4: are the social costs correlated with marijuana use an indication of widespread abuse or an indication of policy failure? Section 4 introduced three areas of social and economic costs–ready access to marijuana for school-age youths, a spiraling co-dependency between law enforcement and black market entrepreneurs, and an erosion of credibility for the nation’s law enforcement and public health officials.

This section introduces six more areas of social and economic costs which the Controlled Substances Act mandates be reconciled with any possible benefits resultant from marijuana’s schedule I status. These areas are as follows.

1) The absolute yet unenforceable schedule I prohibition contributes to an unfavorable set and setting accompanying school-age access and exposure to marijuana.

2) Adherence to the polarized and unscientific ‘use = abuse’ model obstructs the development of effective research based policy and drug-abuse prevention programs.

3) The absolute yet unenforceable schedule I prohibition creates tremendous ethical problems for physicians and health-care-providers, professionals well-aware of the widening gap between existing governmental policies and the developing support for marijuana’s therapeutic potential in scientific and medical literature, and professionals who are seemingly instructed by law to discourage their patients from using marijuana even if such use has obvious therapeutic benefits.

4) The failure of the Department of Health and Human Services, and of the National Institute on Drug Abuse specifically, to address this widening breach between recent research about marijuana and the findings required to sustain marijuana’s schedule I status unfairly and inappropriately makes our federal law enforcement officials, particularly officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration, appear to be heartless, self-serving and idiotic.

5) The federal failure to reconcile marijuana’s schedule I status with contemporary medical and scientific evidence places an unfair and expensive burden on state criminal justice agencies and their limited budgets.

6) Marijuana’s schedule I status and the high priority it places on domestic and international marijuana eradication has the unintended effect of transforming domestic law enforcement activity into a massive market and price support mechanism for entrepreneurs here and abroad.