This Friday will be a trippy one for our hippy campus. Popularly known as “4/20,” April 20 is the cannabis counterculture’s international holiday, and Berkeley is one of the focal points of celebration. Fire alarms will echo throughout the dormitories as some amateur freshmen “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Students for Sensible Drug Policy will hold its annual 4/20 Rally and (legally compliant) Brownie Sale on Sproul Plaza. Local street vendor Patches will have his best day of business selling “merchandise” on Telegraph Ave. And, to cap it all off, hundreds of stoners will flock to Memorial Glade donning Bob Marley shirts as the magical minute of 4:20 p.m. approaches.
Certainly our school’s celebration is no match for that of UC Santa Cruz, but that’s all right. Unlike the Banana Slugs down south, we actually have work to do anyway. Besides, Berkeley’s cannabis culture is much more interesting considering our campus’s rich history. Ironically, one of UC Berkeley’s biggest benefactors was a critical player in banning the drug in the United States. The newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (of the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre) launched a yellow journalism campaign in the 1930s, turning popular opinion towards prohibition. So, next time you’re at the Greek, light up to truly stick it to the man!
But while our school may seem like a utopian portal back to the 1960s on 4/20, life is less blissful outside of the Berkeley bubble. Although UCPD is fairly tolerant towards marijuana on campus, the federal government is certainly not, if you walk a few miles down Telegraph.
Just two weeks ago today, the Drug Enforcement Agency raided Oaksterdam University, shutting down the city of Oakland’s celebrated marijuana training school. Tragically, the raid involving hordes of armed federal agents occurred at roughly the same time and just a few miles away from the shooting at Oikos University that left seven dead. Although the officers certainly couldn’t have predicted the massacre or intervened in time, the incident nevertheless stands as a symbolic statement of our government’s perverse priorities. Instead of improving our broken criminal justice system, the federal government has counterproductively concentrated on prosecuting nonviolent “crimes” like cannabis possession for too long.
Unfortunately, the trend is only worsening under President Obama. Despite having promised on the campaign trail not to waste “Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” Obama and his administration have raided more than 100 pot dispensaries. This pace is so incredible that it’s currently poised to exceed President Bush’s previous record.
Now, you may be asking yourself, what’s so terrible about the War on Drugs? Perhaps the propaganda of the past has been a bit over the top (see: “Reefer Madness”), but drugs are still bad, right? We all have that annoying stoner friend who raids our kitchen without permission while high. Perhaps a little drug war would force him to have a more productive life, right?
Wrong. Proponents of prohibition often forget that drugs are already illegal. So, the fact that marijuana is so prevalent today is living proof of the ban’s failure. Indeed, the facts unquestionably prove that prohibition is ineffective. A survey from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, for example, found that pot and prescription pills are more accessible to teens today than beer. And the past is even worse. America’s national alcohol prohibition from 1919 to 1933 only led to higher consumption and crime.
Unfortunately, America has not learned from her history and has only repeated it. Regarding increased consumption, a 2010 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that marijuana use has been on the rise over the past decade. Regarding crime, America’s prohibition has created a black market in which Mexican drug cartels battle each other and their government to smuggle narcotics into the United States.
In the past six years alone, more than 47,000 people have been killed in Mexico because of drug-related violence, according to government estimates. Such are the unintended consequences of our government’s War on Drugs. If drugs were legalized in the United States, on the other hand, customers could buy safer products from legitimate businesses. Instead, drug users today have no choice but to buy products of the Mexican Drug War from back alley dealers.
But, at the end of the day, the question we should all ask ourselves this 4/20 is not one of policy but philosophy. Do we want a government that asserts control over our bodies in regulating what we choose to consume, or do we want a government that respects individual freedom? Smoke a joint, and think it over.