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Growing Pot Arrests
Do you get high? If so, you have a lot of company. Although no country has yet legalized marijuana, almost half of the world’s 147 nations have, to some extent, decriminalized it. In the United States, according to an April 2009 Zogby poll, 52 percent of the population now favors legalization—the largest percentage ever.
Despite marijuana’s growing acceptance, most of our elected officials are still reluctant to advocate for the cause. As Rick Doblin, President of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)—a nonprofit that has advocated on behalf of medical marijuana since the 80s—points out: “Most politicians still won’t come out in favor of medical marijuana because they don’t want to appear pro-legalization. And they’re afraid of appearing pro-legalization, because they’re scared of being accused of wanting to give drugs to children.”
And it’s unlikely things will change anytime soon. Pot’s continued criminalization has been championed, sometimes overtly, often covertly, by powerful groups—among them law enforcement agencies, the alcohol and tobacco industries, pharmaceutical companies and the prison-industrial complex—who have repeatedly shaped laws and public opinion to reflect their views.
So weed remains a crime, albeit a very popular one.
Pot Arrest Statistics
Pot arrests are at a near-record high. According to FBI statistics, in 2009 more than 1.7 million people were brought in on marijuana-related charges—almost half of them (758,593 to be exact) for simply smoking pot (as opposed to growing or dealing it). According to “Lost Revenues and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws,” a report written by Drug Science public policy analyst Jon Gettman, enforcing America’s pot laws costs taxpayers an annual $10.7 billion. Not to mention the overburdening of our criminal justice system and disruption of the lives of those who find themselves with a criminal record for smoking an occasional joint.
“If an arrest leads to a conviction, as it often does,” says American Civil Liberties Union policy advocate Mark Cooke, “it can lead to a lifetime of collateral consequences. These include loss of employment, loss of housing, loss of voting rights, loss of federal financial aid for college, seizure and forfeiture of property, termination of child visitation rights and deportation for legal immigrants. If an arrest results in incarceration, the offender will face lower job prospects and have diminished earning capacity. Even if someone is merely arrested for using marijuana and doesn’t actually get charged, they will still bear the stigma of being labeled a criminal.”
Medical Marijuana as Miracle Drug
Meanwhile, medical marijuana has come to be seen as something of a wonder drug. Researchers have declared it one of the most successful palliatives in the medicine chest—beneficial in the treatment of pain, nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), lack of appetite, migraines, fibromyalgia, cancer, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Lyme disease, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s syndrome and many more. “There’s nothing in our current pharmacopoeia that comes close,” says Michael Backes, owner of the Cornerstone Research Collective, a Los Angeles-based medical marijuana dispensary and research organization.
All this pro-pot sentiment is not new. One of the earliest laws passed in the New World—a 1619 Jamestown colony law—required all settlers to grow cannabis (some of this was for domestic use, but much was at the “request” of our colonial masters who used the plant for everything from rope to medicines). Two hundred years later there were more than 8,000 hemp plantations in the colonies—with nothing less than 2,000 acres counting as a plantation.
So how did we get from hemp being as American as apple pie to U.S. prisons overflowing with marijuana offenders?