busted: america's war on marijuana


I wish I felt comfortable supplying a name, address and email, but with the current hysteria, I really am not, not even in this purportedly unbiased forum. It was no surprise to me that the preponderance of opinions were against the current system and wasteful government witch hunt. Informed, thoughtful people watch PBS, but the political class and news organizations profess surprise we abandoned hope in our political process. I can't find a candidate to vote for that would have any voice if they could be found on privacy or civil liberties issues. Hatch, quoted in the show, is a product of his Mormon religion which proscribes any perceived "pollutant" and predominates in his lightly populated state. He also profited much in the Eighties from championing Reagan era puritanism; other aspects of which are widely, and justifiably ridiculed today. Not much can be expected from him, and like many Reaganites, he will eventually age and fade away. It is a shame, however, that younger, better informed legislators at state and federal level cannot be found to see the illogic of neo-fascist dependence on property seizures, mandatory sentences, searches without probable cause, intrusive urine testing, jail-packing and building; and the rest of the government-fattening impedimentia stemming from the war on the people. Perhaps programs like yours, and a recent ABC show focusing on widespread rural cultivation of marijuana, with further government-sponsored tragedies will assist Clinton, Hatch and the political class in the state governments that they are clueless on this issue.

Mark Scherba


I found your program tonight "Busted" to be a well-balanced overview of the debate going on in the national consciousness between those favoring continued prohibition and those arguing for reducing or even eliminating criminality for marijuana use. I have long felt that the producers of _Frontline_ have done an admirable job of presenting the facts which obviously include the opinions of people from all sides of an issue in an even-handed manner, and your current episode was no different. If I have any complaint about tonight's program, it was the need for a longer show, to go into more depth on this important issue.

Personally, I favor complete decriminalization; when children have ready access to far more damaging drugs nicotene, caffeine, alcohol, NSAIDs, etc., the government's continuation of their war on a large segment of their citizens is ludicrous. The _real_ reason behind the "war on drugs" or at least _some_ drugs has become nothing more than job security for all the so-called drug counselors who are really nothing more than propogandists, drug enforcement officers who have been given far more power than ANYone in a free society should ever wield and the others involved in spending the $10B per year in this "war". Sure, the current drug laws frequently arose out of genuine concerns although frequently espoused by others with their own private agenda, but if all of the soldiers in the war on drugs were truly serious about protecting us from these "dangerous" substances, why do they say and do nothing about nicotene which many have called the most addictive substance known to man or alcohol which claims so many lives each year or all the toxins that are in our processed foods or even our drinking water? The arbitrary nature of the list of "dangerous drugs" is proof that protecting society has little to do with the efforts of the anti-drug gestapo.

Granted, smoking marijuana is dangerous. Putting something in your mouth and setting it on fire and purposely breathing the smoke is obviously a bad thing. But so is breathing the air in our cities; so is drinking the tap water in many communities.

The real danger in the "war on drugs" is not the drugs, or those individuals who engage in criminal activity to support "their habit", or that our children will consume dangerous chemicals; the real danger, the real terror of this war is the government's continuing usurpation of our personal rights, liberties, privileges, and even our responsibilities. "That government is best that governs least." The "war on drugs" is, in the long-run, the war for our country.

As an aside and recognizing full well that it is only more anecdotal evidence, I have been smoking marijuana regularly since 1971, at the age of 6 which I obviously do _not_ endorse!, and have suffered no deleterious effects; on the contrary, I perform better at work when "stoned", and I attribute many of my best qualities to marijuana use, either directly or indirectly.

Thank you again for an excellent summary, for the high-quality information available at your web-site, and for this opportunity to sound off.

John Davis
Blaine, WA


If anyone wants to understand the underlying basis for our government's steadfast opposition to the legalization of marijuana one must first understand the profit motive behind their campaign "against" this substance. Simply stated there is far more money to be made by keeping it illegal and holding it's users hostage in jail, stealing their property under the guise of RICO statutes, etc. Were marijuana legal to posess and grow by adult individuals it would be impossible for the government agencies involved to control and "tax" it as is being done now. Unlike tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is very simple to produce in large quantities at home. It is simply more profitable for "Uncle Scam" to keep it illegal and reap his rewards that way.

Polititians and law enforcement agencies always hide behind the tired old argument about protecting our children. If they were really serious about ridding this country of drugs they would put their collective feet down on corrupt governments like Mexico and Columbia stopping the flow in weeks not decades. Sadly it is much easier to control the American people than it is to reign in Latin American "allies". Besides, one can only speculate about how many billions of dollars these corrupt countries pour into our equally corrupt government so that they will turn a blind eye when the truckloads come rolling across our borders! Just look at the recent revelations about payoffs to US Customs agents at the border if you doubt my position. And the graft always floats upwards!

Alex Campau


I am an American living abroad,and have first hand experience with legalized cannabis. Although it may work in other countries, it will never work in the U.S. America does not have the social capacity to deal with cannabis usage on a daily basis, which would ultimately occur in the U.S., as it does in the Netherlands. Until Americans can solve the problems they have with more pressing issues, Cannabis should not be legalized.

Michael Morrisson
Antwerp , Belgium


I was disappointed by "Busted". Though I

appreciate your intent, presenting the

war on cannabis from a third point of

view, I felt that you deliberately avoided many of the most important questions concerning cannabis prohibition.

You allowed Orrin Hatch to use the

word "pusher" without asking him to

define it. You quoted Gen. McCaffrey

using the word "abuse", without mentioning

that less than 5% of cannabis users

are regular daily users.

In Canada, two judges have recently ruled

as a matter of fact that cannabis is "relatively harmess", non-addicting, non-crimogenic and not a "gateway" to

harder drugs.

The dangers of cannabis are beside the point. Even if cannabis were as deadly as tobacco,

it still would not make sense to abdicate

cannabis distribution to an unregulated

black market that sells the herb it is

not a drug on commission to anyone of any age, anytime anywhere. Cannabis should be taxed and regulated.

Matthew Elrod
Victoria, B.C.


As taxpayers, we are paying for the growth in the prison industrial complex. Washington State's prison population is doubling in the 1990s, from 6,000 in 1990 to 12,000 in the year 2000. In 1990, we had 5,000 felons in prison for crimes like homicide, rape, robbery & burglary and 1,000 for drug offenses. In 2000, we will have 6,000 drug offenders and 6,000 felons in prison for all other crimes. This is similar to the federal statistics cited on your show: 70% drug offenders; 17% marijuana offenders.

We spend $30,000 to 40,000 a year to incarcerate these people. We could send them to public universities or drug treatment programs for a fraction of that cost.

We need to get smart. Drug dealers who threaten public safety deserve to go to prison. Drug offenders who do not pose that threat should be treated, instead.

Orrin Hatch may find it satisfactory that one marijauna strike can lead to life in prison, when it takes three strikes to land you there for violent crimes. The rest of us should have better sense.

Fred Diamondstone
Seattle, WA


It should show you by reading the comments on this page at the time I read them, they were all on the side of relaxing the laws or complete decriminalization...not one pro current government penalties that the opinions of the majority is at odds currently with our that of our legislators who need to examine their own skeletons in their closets before they begin judging simple marijuana users so harshly....I guess I really should vote more often.

Phoenix, AZ


What came across rather plainly in your recent program was that a significant portion of our population are criminals caught or no according to folks like Sen. Hatch. Is this right? Is this what I served my country for? So that a few could decide that the choices of the many are criminal and morally wrong?

When you tell children that their friends and their family and the people they know and respect are the enemy - do you think those children will ever listen to you again. I heard what those DARE officers had to say and it sounded suspiciously akin to the spiel the Brown Shirts used to train the Wunderkind.

How dare they teach us the principles of freedom only to squash the expression of it at every turn!

M Jones
Portland, OR


To lump Marijuana in the same category as physically addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine is quite frankly, ludicrous.

The fact that this is being done by the same folks who are in tow by the nicotinecoke's cousin lobby seems ironic.

With our laws, we push pot into the gutter along with the rest of the bunch and then express shock over seeing it there.

We label it a 'gateway drug' but again, our laws virtualy assure that it will be sold mainly by the same crazies who deal the other drugs too. Talk about your one stop shopping!

James Park
El Paso, Texas


Your documentary was decidedly sympathetic to anti-war-on-marijuana forces as opposed to being pro-marijuana. You have a point of view on this subject -- current marijuana laws are unjust -- and you gave an effective presentation of that view, as evidenced by the almost universal agreement of the body of letters in this discussion group. Your documentary is far from even-handed.

That being said, my point of view is that marijuana offenses in this country are punished with excessive harshness, but I maintain that it cannot be any other way. This is a highly poilticized issue, with the disbursement of 15 billion of our tax dollars hanging in the balance, representing nearly 1% of the federal budget. This kind of fiscal clout allows thousands of people devote their livelihoods to the arrest and prosecution of marijuana violators; in the meantime, very few are devoted to the drug's eradication. You may call it a misappropriation of priorities if you like -- I call it a concerted effort to maintain the status quo. There's too much power and control at stake for anybody with any influence on drug enforcement policy to want to change, or even challenge, this system.

Chuck Hildebrandt
Wrigleyville, IL


As a recovered alcoholic I believe I have a good insight into the drug problem in this country. That's why I am convinced that prohibition does not work. It did not work with alcohol, has not worked with drugs and will not work with any commodity for which the public is willing to pay a high price. Therefore I am opposed to the absurd lengths that both state and local governments have gone to make criminals out of large segment of the population. Years from now we'll look back at this period and be apalled at the grotesque lack of judgment exhibited by the so-called leaders of this country. Great work, Frontline.

Alex Yaron
Palm Springs, CA


Although I found your discussion of the issue very thought provoking, I was puzzled by the failure to ask the basic jounalistic questions during the program:

Why would anyone expose their child to such possible hardship?, Why would someone have to grow so much just for "personal use", and finally what percentage of those using it for "medicinal reasons" were using it before they become ill? You need to ask some hard questions occasionally, rather than just accepting self serving comments from individuals at face value.

Roland Skora
Rocklin, CA


I was somewhat pleased with your show on marijuana, but you neglected an important aspect. You compared Canabis to herion and cocaine, but did not compare it to alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. A drug is a drug, and comparing Canabis to the other widely used drugs would have been much more useful to people who have never tried it. Canabis, according to NIDA researcher John E. Henningfield, is less addictive than the other three widely used drugs. It is also far less toxic and dangerous. Alcohol and Tobacco kill over 500,000 people each year, while there is not one single documented death directly from Canabis in over 5,000 years of use. The moderate recreational use of canabis is obviously no more dangerous than these acceptable substances. Anyone who knowing the facts, advocates the arrest of over 600,000 people for Canabis posession alone, while accepting these more addictive and dangerous substances is by definition of the word, a hypocrit. The worst thing that happens to alcohol and tobacco users is death. The worst thing that happens to a Canabis user is prison. What would our hemp growing founding fathers say about this. This is a far cry from freedom. You don,t have to be a marijuana smoker to care about freedom.

Also the only link between Canabis and hard drugs is that they are often provided by the same dealer. By pushing a relatively safe substance into the black market, you are linking millions of people to this market. Marijuana prohibition causes it to become a gateway drug, which in turn fuels more prohibition. Separation of the markets for hard and soft drugs is proven in the Nehterlands to cause decrease in hard drug use and alcohol use. I wonder why the alcohol industry contributes so much to the war.

Eric Butler
College st., TX


Your show was very enlightening. At last we have people in the media who are willing to give the facts. There, of course, will be those who may erroneously accuse Frontline of spreading pot propaganda. I only wish that you had more time to explore the sanctioned industry that feeds from perpetuation of these Draconian laws, and why the DEA is so aptly named. A sequel, please! You are a small, brave voice amid this war against ordinary working citizens and the poor.

Eli Weisman
Bradenton, Florida


It's time for America to grow up! There is no more boogeyman. Drug use is all around us.Only those who are poor and/or ignorant and cannot defend themselves pay the price. It is impossible to force people from making a choice, good or bad. Drug prohibtion does not work, it is a waste of our taxes and resources.It needs to be regulated the same way as our other sometimes abused recreational substances.

Todd Ayers
Evanston, Wyoming


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