It may be time to end our modern-day prohibition

For many years I had in my possession four medical prescriptions, issued in 1926, for different patients with various ailments.
No matter what the “illness,” the doctors’ prescribed remedy printed on the official government form was the same: Whiskey.
This was during “prohibition,” that 13-year period in American history when the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” was forbidden under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment, ratified in 1919, went into effect in 1920.
Under the National Prohibition Act of 1919 (also known as the Volstead Act), there were a couple of exceptions. Alcohol could be obtained for medical reasons with a physician’s prescription, and the clergy were allowed to secure wine for the sacrament.
So, in addition to a lot of people becoming ill during this period, there was a significant rise in the number of preachers who were administering communion to a growing number of worshippers.
Hallelujah, and pass the holy wine.
I recently was reminded of my 84-year-old whiskey prescriptions as I heard reports on National Public Radio about how individual states are dealing with medical-marijuana laws.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws that permit, to varying degrees, the sale and use of the long-outlawed drug to treat various medical problems. California, which became the first state to adopt such legislation in 1996, has the most liberal rules, while New Mexico – requiring marijuana dispensaries to be nonprofit – has the most restrictive, according to NPR.
There is a November ballot initiative in California calling for the full legalization of marijuana, which, if passed, would put a halt to some local governments trying to crack down on the proliferation of dispensaries.
I don’t know whether we should legalize marijuana, but it is time for this country to begin a serious discussion on the subject.
In the last 30 years, we’ve made significant progress in decriminalizing the drug. With the increase in prohibition-like subterfuge of medically prescribing it for real or fake illnesses, this country should deal with the matter straight-up. Just stop the games and the yearly legislative maneuverings.
Understand, I’m not a drug user, so this isn’t about me except as a taxpayer who realizes the billions of dollars spent on the unrealistic attempts to police those who do partake of the herb. The toll on our treasuries, law enforcement and individuals seems too great.
I vividly remember the 1972 case of a 19-year-old Fort Worth college student who was given a 25-year-sentence for the possession of one marijuana cigarette, which he maintained was given to him by an undercover police officer who also persuaded him to “try it.”
That’s a long time in the joint for possessing one “joint.” Imagine the cost to the state and to the young man and his family.
Yes, we’ve come a ways since then. In fact, just three years ago the Texas Legislature passed a law allowing local police to issue a citation for possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana rather than arrest, jail and prosecute the offender. At that time, the director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., estimated that major cities in Texas would save a $1 million a year, as each marijuana arrest cost state taxpayers $2,000.
In a country that repealed prohibition 76 years ago, and one that has never seriously considered banning the sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products, it seems ridiculous to continue the charade of enforcing outdated marijuana laws. Many experts say alcohol and tobacco are far more harmful.
I really don’t know, which is why I think it’s time to do more study and have much more discussion.
On the surface, though, it seems more reasonable – and a lot less expensive – if we simply legalize the drug, regulate it and tax it.
Let’s stop wasting time and money, y’all, and start talking.
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via e-mail at bobray@star-telegram.com.

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