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End prohibition: Mencken, marijuana, and me

August 30, 2013


Yesterday, the Justice Department finally announced that it would not prosecute individuals in states that have legalized marijuana or sue the states to reverse their laws. During Maryland’s last largely successful legislative term, where gay marriage and the Dream act were passed and the death penalty repealed, our officials let us down on marijuana policy. We passed the most restrictive medical marijuana bill in the country and failed to vote on bills that would either reduce possession of small amounts to a merely ticketable offense and another, introduced by Delegate Curt Anderson, that would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Now that the federal government has removed the most obvious excuse not to legalize, we must call things as they are and say that, if the Maryland legislature fails to end prohibition, it is as a result either of cowardice or sadism, as H.L. Mencken, the freest mind in the Free State, put it of the last Prohibition (I will quote him at length).

“The more obvious the failure [of Prohibition] becomes, the more shamelessly they exhibit their genuine motives. In plain words, what moves them is the psychological aberration called sadism. They lust to inflict inconvenience, discomfort, and, whenever possible, disgrace upon the persons they hate — which is to say, upon everyone who is free from their barbarous theological superstitions, and is having a better time in the world than they are. They cannot stop the use of alcohol, nor even appreciably diminish it, but they can badger and annoy everyone who seeks to use it decently, and they can fill the jails with men taken for purely artificial offences, and they can get satisfaction thereby for the Puritan yearning to browbeat and injure, to torture and terrorize, to punish and humiliate all who show any sign of being happy. And all this they can do with a safe line of policemen and judges in front of them; always they can do it without personal risk.”

I was first arrested for smoking weed at the age of 17, in the extremely puritanical state of South Carolina, where I was arrested twice more for possession. I was pulled over weekly and called a hippy and a fag because I had long hair. Since then, I have earned a PhD, taught college, taught high school, published a book, run two political campaigns, and worked at this newspaper. And yet I have remained an outlaw. I have not trusted my government nor its officials. No one who ever smoked pot was shocked when it was discovered that the NSA was surveilling U.S. citizens: we always assumed we were being watched, listened to, and monitored.

But the fact is, though I remained an outlaw, I was able to do the things listed above, largely, because I was white. Had I been black and arrested three times for weed, I could be in a far worse situation today. In fact, the ACLU released a study this year that ranked Baltimore fifth among large jurisdictions for marijuana possession arrests–and over 90 percent of those arrested were African American. The arrest rates for blacks had increased by 20 percent while the arrest rate of white tokers had decreased by the same amount. The Sun rightly calls it “Maryland’s New Jim Crow.“  In light of this evidence, and without a Federal excuse, it would be criminal for Maryland’s legislature not to vote on a bill to decriminalize weed.

Of course, it is not only African Americans that suffer because of this insane and unjustified prohibition–when injustice is perpetrated in our name, we all suffer. Our state cannot call itself the Free State with a straight face while men and women are imprisoned because they ingest an herb that affects their consciousness. Mencken would be disgusted, and so should we be.

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  • Trent

    Read about the Sonar guy who got thrown in prison to be led here. This nation has not been quote “free” for a very long time and it is to the point where it disgusts me to see fake patriotism at every turn. I am someone from Louisiana who enjoys a stated guaranteed freedom a hell of lot more than draconian Maryland (gun laws) but at the same time watches my state throw people under the jail for something like seeds.People cannot even travel anymore without undergoing a rectal exam because that where we all hide contraband..LOL with sarcasm…With the district of criminals right around the corner over there it would have come from hell or high water before I would have compliantly went to the corrupt systems jails..
    All of it is what happens when we, and a hell of lot of fake patriots before my time on earth,,allowed a constitutional republican form of government to disappear to have our liberties stripped like we lived in the USSR..Fake terror, illegal wars, systematic counterfeiting (quantitative easing) and on and on. This is becoming a sick joke..Cannot believe a single word on the mainstream news anymore. The local news that calls itself,,ironically, The Independent,,is nothing more than a regurgitation of corporate news with some local schmuck changing a few words here or there to take ownership of whatever fake story said schmuck chooses. I am able to attend deathfest every year with my work schedule but refuse to bow down like a dog in training at the airport to catch a flight in the CUSA.