RESULTS OF ‘DRUG WAR’: SINCE THEY MAKE OUR LICENSE PLATES IN HUNTSVILLE, SHOULDN’T THE MOTTO ON THEM BE: ‘TEXAS, THE PRISON STATE’?
For taxpayers, the incentives are in the very act of relegalization: save money and increase public safety. The number of Texas prison inmates rose from 25,635 to 62,049 between 1985 and Dec. 6, 1993, necessitating the nation’s largest new prison construction program. With 62,645 inmates in Texas county jails on Nov. 1, 1993, and 12,128 inmates of federal institutions in the state on Dec. 10,1993, that’s a total (excluding city lock-ups) of ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-SIX THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO incarcerated persons, as the rest of us gave thanks for our freedoms. Davy and Col. Travis would be proud…
It’s fair to note that a lotta Texas turkeys were served, all dried out, on woodpulp plates, to those prisoners, and that’s just the tip of that particular wing. Prison building and supply are big business, and getting bigger with every brick. Hemp-based building materials could help house Texas’ homeless, providing jobs in the process, but that switch will no doubt require incentives, too.
Figures for marijuana offenders are not kept separately from those for other illegal “drugs,”but the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council’s Sentencing Dynamics Study found that drug offenders made up 33.5% of all convictions in Texas in 1991, and 37% of all offenders,of any kind, sentenced to prison. Drug sale, manufacture, and possession cases accounted for about 25% of the total criminal caseload of Texas’ district courts, compared to 14% in 1985. While admissions to Texas prisons for violent crimes and crimes against property increased by 49% between 1985 and 1991, drug-related admissions increased
by 324%. During the some period, there was a 347% increase in early releases, for all offenses, on parole. Revolving-door justice has arisen to meet the crowding crisis, and is the basis of justifiable fears on the part of the law-abiding majority: violent criminals do roam the streets.
Annual operating costs for one Texas prisoner range from $16,000 to $21,500. Maintaining existing prisons costs more than $4 billion every two years (without the massive tax-and-build program now underway). Overcrowded prisons — Texas’ are under continuing federal court scrutiny — brutalize inmates and guards alike, and increase pressure for early releases of violent offenders who may repeat their violence. They also increase acceptance of ineffective “solutions” such as the death penalty, the bloody hand of Gov. Richards’ “New Texas.” The fastest growing job field in the public sector is that of prison guard; the fastest-growing in the private sector is security guard. Is this what we want for our children?
Many police and most defense attorneys favor decriminalization. The “drug war” wastes resources that could be better used against the roots of criminal behavior, and creates a climate for official corruption. Austin’s most decorated police officer, Robert “The Legend” Martinez, nationally known for anti-gang work,opposed consolidating an anti-gang unit into a general narcotics unit, stating that anti-gang officers working with narcotics officers would inevitably focus less on gangs because “police can seize assets in drug cases,” the Austin American-Statesman reported. Martinez said, ‘There’s money in narcotics. Arresting gang members doesn’t get you money.”
Others must be assured that anti-marijuana funds can be reallocated for other police activities; that efforts against harmful drugs such as crack cocaine and methamphetamines can be stepped up, and even find some success, without the protective coloration of marijuana traffic; and be reminded of the prison and court gridlock and its consequences.
BY-PRODUCTS OF RE-LEGALIZATION
Commercial hemp will provide environmental and economic benefits for Texas. Non-toxic, biodegradable fiber (paper, textiles, rope) and fuel products are made from hemp using non-polluting technologies. Delicious hempseed food provides the only two fatty acids (linoleic and lenolenic) required for human nutrition (flaxseed oil, removed from wide use by commercial cooking oils and their need for shelf-life, also has them), as well as edestin, a complete protein, unique among vegetable foods. Marijuana medicine brings relief to sufferers of countless diseases and halts the progress of others. It is safe and proven. Taxes on marijuana use can pay for education programs about dangerous drugs, including legal ones. Four million Texans have tried marijuana at least once, and over 750,000 used it in 1991. Taxed at the same rate as cigarettes, that’s about $I billion per annum.
Texas farmers need this new crop! Hemp is environmentally-friendly, suitable for marginal and crop-depleted soils. It replenishes soil nutrients as it grows. The Platform Committee at the 1992 State Democratic Convention in Houston passed a resolution urging relegalization and the development of a hemp pilot project in Hays County.
Relegalization must include strong tax incentives to plant marginal and depleted farmlands in hemp, to plant chemically-dependent cotton lands in hemp as preparation for “green” (organic) cotton, to develop and use hempseed in animal and poultry feeds, to develop hemp-based foods, to cultivate medical-grade Cannabis sativa, and to use hemp ropes, sails and other gear in commercial fishing operations; and provide Department of Agriculture/County Extension Agent training and support for hemp cultivation; as well as subsidize the purchase of hemp harvesters to be sold at cost, one per operator, to hemp farmers.
CANNABIS AS MEDICINE
Cannabis helps people with AIDS and those undergoing chemotherapy by stimulating appetite and digestion. It is the most effective medicine known for glaucoma, and many other medical conditions. Hemp has been used for thousands of years by human beings as medicine and for religious and sacramental purposes. No one has ever died from using Cannabis. The American Medical Association opposed making Cannabis illegal in 1939. Doctors lost that battle to the pharmaceutical concerns. Now losing faith in synthetic “wonder drugs,” they are ready for change. As the AIDS crisis overwhelms community resources, San Francisco’s Proposition P is only one of successful local initiatives to protect use of medical marijuana.
Relegalization must include recognition of and provision for medical-grade Cannabis. It is safer to use than aspirin; safer than crossing the street.
That, of course, is the fallacy the “War on Drugs” comes back to: we are to imagine that our streets are dangerous because drugs are creating criminals; rather than seeing that criminal laws are endangering humans. We are to think that ‘no one goes to jail for marijuana anymore’ while the facts tell a different story. We are to believe that the drug war aims at violent crackusers, while crack and other, weirder, highs overflow the niche once benignly filled by Reefer: when the People ain’t got nothin’; they got nothin’ to lose.
Environmentalists, entrepreneurs, civil libertarians, party Libertarians, and one million Texans who use marijuana are “already there” for relegalization. Where will the Left be when the petrochemical-spewing, timber-slaying dragon of ‘Pot’hibition is cut down to size? Too many still snurl up their lips at ending the drug war by restoring personal choice, saying, “Oh but that would be self-indulgent. Everyone to the right of Molly Ivins condemned US. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders’ remarks favoring a study of drug legalization. It brings me full circle, to the fear of guilt by association which the vicious drug war has inspired. The net result: a visible-tip-of-the-iceberg hemp movement, dismissively stereo-tie-dyed rather than evaluated on the merits; allowing legislators to pass the buck to a supposedly drug-free constituency. If we don’t speak, they can’t listen.
That is changing, however, as pro-hemp forces recruit from all of the groups suggested above and more. Higher visibility for marijuana’s medical uses attracts supporters among physicians and patients’ families. Rural residents increasingly favor trying hemp as a cash crop. An opportunity exists for seasoned progressives to reach groups, which may have been beyond their grasp, on environmental and social justice issues. A need exists in the hemp movement for people who can find a meeting place, put out a newsletter, organize a rally, or are willing to host information and fund-raising events. Work with us to relegalize hemp by the year 2000, and let’s see if it doesn’t move us all a few steps closer to the dream: Liberty and Justice for all!