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Who’s going to prison for getting high?

A little exchange over at the reality-based community

Brett: As long as Obama is putting people in prison for getting high, he is, unavoidably, an evil drug warrior. [...]
Mark: Of course, “putting people in prison for getting high” is utter fantasy. But I suppose that doesn’t matter to you…

I see what Mark’s doing here, of course. The same thing the drug czar does all the time. It’s about downplaying the seriousness and destructiveness of prohibition, because they still want to use prohibition.

You often hear the drug czar say that nobody is (or very few are) in prison for possession of marijuana, usually as a way of claiming that legalizing marijuana wouldn’t make much of a dent in the prison population, so therefore that particular argument by legalizers isn’t a strong one. That’s a common shady debate trick – attacking just one of many arguments by the opposition and downplaying it, then using that to claim that the opponent’s position is weak.

Interestingly, the other commenters at the site stood up for Brett. It was clear to pretty much anyone reading Brett’s statement that it wasn’t so much a literal statement (as Mark was interpreting it), but a general statement about actively prosecuting marijuana laws.

You can’t separate the act of “getting high” from the rest of what goes on in this misguided drug war as if that is an activity that is somehow exempt from drug warrior extremes. You can’t just “get high.” First, you have to get marijuana. And unless you happen to stumble across some ditch weed on public lands, then something else has to happen — and that connects you to the world of people going to prison. Grow your own? That’s a felony. Buy from someone? They can go to prison for you getting high. Share some with friends? You’re a trafficker. Possess more than some arbitrary small amount? Intent to distribute. Pass a joint within 1000 feet of a day care center while discussing building a tunnel from Mexico? Don’t drop the soap.

Perhaps Brett should have worded it: “As long as Obama is putting people in prison because someone is getting high, he is, unavoidably, an evil drug warrior.” But we knew what he meant.

And people are going to prison. All of us know about people who absolutely shouldn’t be going to prison, and yet are.

And then, of course, don’t forget the “unintended consequences.” Remember Daniel Chong? 5 days locked up in a DEA cell without food or water, merely because he went to a house to “get high” and it was being raided by the DEA.

Marijuana prohibition and legalization are not about the single individual sitting in a room by himself getting high on some weed that he dialed up on his Star Trek replicator. It is a massive enterprise of prohibition activities and criminal activities that needs to stop. And we won’t be deterred by someone pointing at a pot smoker and noting that she isn’t in prison.

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