On their respective programs both Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow took a light hearted look at the Barney Frank and Ron Paul proposed legislation to federally decriminalize marijuana.
Maddow provided some history of the federal war on pot:
Olbermann went more for jokes of the Reefer Madness, Easy Rider, and Cheech and Chong variety:
Olbermann devoted more time to the bill than Maddow did, but they really didn’t discuss the issue behind the easy jokes. According to drugwarfacts.org, “Although the intent of a ‘War on Drugs’ may have been to target drug smugglers and ‘King Pins,’ over half (51.6%) of the 1,663,582 total 2009 arrests for drug abuse violations were for marijuana — a calculated total of 858,408. Of those, an estimated 758,593 people (45.6%) were arrested for marijuana possession alone. By contrast in 2000, a total of 734,497 Americans were arrested for marijuana offenses, of which 646,042 were for possession alone.”
Think about that. More people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2009 than were arrested for all types of marijuana offenses in 2000. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, New York City leads the nation in marijuana possession arrests. Fifteen percent of all arrests in the city are for marijuana possession. A majority of the 140 people arrested a day are Black and Latino.
A 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that 12.7% of state prisoners, and 12.4% of federal prisoners were incarcerated for marijuana related offenses. With the number of arrests skyrocketing in the last 5 years, 2007’s estimated $1 billion price tag for keeping these prisoners in jail is surely outdated now.
The reason why the Frank-Paul bill is not being taken seriously is because it has zero chance of passing. Too many Republican and Democratic lawmakers are terrified of being labeled soft on drugs in their next reelection campaign to ever go on the record with a vote supporting this bill.
It may cost a billion dollars or more to house marijuana offenders in jail, but states easily make more than that from arrests for possession. (A rational person would argue that states could generate even more revenue by legalizing and taxing consumption, but any legalization effort would come at the political cost of looking soft on drugs. For this reason, logic and reason get tossed aside).
The mentality of the 40 year old drug war has become entrenched in our politics that even though most Americans see the war on pot as a waste of time and resources, mainstream political leaders refuse to seriously discuss the issue of legalization.
As all levels of government are facing crushing budget deficits, legalization makes sense. Liberals and Libertarians agree. The problem is that Democrats and Republicans refuse to exhibit the political courage needed to break through the rhetoric and have an honest discussion about the merits of legalizing marijuana.
The mainstream media won’t take the issue seriously until a bill comes along that has a chance to pass. Barney Frank and Ron Paul’s bill is dead on arrival in the House. It has a less than zero chance of passage, which is why it was not taken very seriously by Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.
If political attitudes change, the media’s coverage will follow. As long as tough talk on marijuana wins elections, legalization will remain a pipe dream.