The Medical Marijuana Magazine


Isn't the move toward legalizing marijuana just an elitist cop-out that disregards the impact that this would have on the poor in the inner cities?

Two young reporters who had returned from a week at a conference on "journalism and drugs," to which only one anti-prohibitionist speaker was invited, recently asked me this question. To their credit they said that they saw through most of the week's prohibitionist propaganda, but they were concerned by that question.

Similarly, whenever William F. Buckley, Jr. writes a column criticizing marijuana prohibition, a retired DEA propaganda officer writes every paper that carries his column and accuses him of "elitism."

It is tempting to simply dismiss such an argument as ad hominem, which it is. After all there are poor people and people of color who oppose marijuana prohibition. Are they somehow crypto-elitists? It is also a bit ironic, in that the origins of marijuana prohibition were so blatantly racist. The laws that were passed as attacks on blacks and Mexican migrants are now defended as protecting them from themselves.

However, the substantive point remains that the poorest and least educated members of any society are the most vulnerable to whatever hazards there may be in marijuana, or anything else. This point would seem to lend support at least to the view that legalizing marijuana would hurt the most vulnerable, if one grants the premise that marijuana is somehow particularly dangerous.

However, what this line of argument overlooks is that the poor and uneducated are also most vulnerable to both the intended and unintended consequences of marijuana prohibition. Poor people, and especially racial minorities, are less able to defend their rights when they are arrested. They are also most vulnerable to the violence associated with the contraband markets of prohibition. They also suffer from higher rates of addiction to alcohol and other drugs that have far worse social and health consequences than marijuana.

The suppression of marijuana in the 1980's, undertaken in response to the middle class anti-marijuana constituencies supported by the DEA and its front groups, was immediately followed by the crack epidemic in the inner cities. This suggests marijuana prohibition is actually the "elitist" policy that hurts the poor.

The medical marijuana issue may also seem to be an "elitist" issue, but the fact is that, given America's lack of public health insurance, the poor have the greatest need for medical marijuana. The elderly poor and chronically ill who do not have insurance to pay for expensive pharmaceuticals need medical marijuana far more than those in the middle class, and certainly far more than doctors, who know that they can get whatever they or their families need. Yes, the poor have problems coping with freedom, but they have even greater problems coping without it.