Obviously, Marijuana laws are a big issue on this forum, and with good reason. However, I think alot of people have overlooked a very big speed bump on the issue, and that's Religious faith. Personally, I'm an atheist, but I have respect for anyone who see's things in a different light. That's your choice, so go for it. Thats not my place. That being said, I think faith may be an overlooked issue regarding drug policys, especially in the US. It all has to do with private pleasure. While Marijuana laws may have been enacted in another harmful belief (that is, racism and xenophobia), I believe it may be the religious factor that is keeping it illegal. Like most costly examples of irrationality, in which human happiness has been blindly subverted for genberations, the role of religion here is both explicit and foundational. To see what our laws against "vice" have actually nothing to do with keeping people from coming to physical or psychological harm, and everything to do with not angering God, we need only consider that oral or anal sex between consenting adults remains a ciminal offense in 13 states. Four of the states (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri) prohibit these acts between same-sex couples and, therefore, effectively prohibit homosexuality. As a fun, albeit scary fact, Texas was trying to pass a law against Homosexuality while repealing laws on beastiality. This means if an officer see's you having sex with a cow.. thats totally okay, given the cow is female. The same thing can be applied to Marijuana, as well as most other drug policys. The influence of faith on our criminal laws comes at a remarkable price. As it happens, there are many substances, many of them naturally occurring, the consumption of which leads to transient states of inordinate pleasure. Occasionally, it is true, they lead to transient states of misery as well, but there is no doubt that pleasure is the norm, otherwise human beings would not have felt the continual desire to take such substances for millennia. Of course, pleasure is precisely the problem with these substances, since pleasure and piety have always had an uneasy relationship. When one looks at our drug laws - indeed at our vice laws altogether - the only organizing principle that appears to make sense of them is that anything which might radically eclipse prayer or procreative sexuality as a source of pleasure has been outlawed. In particular, any drug (LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, MDMA, Marijuana, etc) to which spiritual or religious significance has been ascribed by its users has been prohibited. Concerns about the health of our citizens, or about their productivity, are red herrings in this debate, as the legality of alcohol and cigarettes attest. The fact that people are being prosecuted and imprisoned for using marijuana, while alcohol remains a staple commodity, is surely the reduco ad absurdum of any notion that our drug laws are designed to keep people from harming themselves or others. Alcohol is by any measure the more dangerous substance. It has no approved medical use, and its lethal dose is rather easily achieved. Its role in causing automobile accidents is beyond dispute. The manner in which alcohol relieves people of their inhibition contribes to human violence, personal injury, unplanned pregnancy, and the spread of STDs. Alcohol is also well known to be addictive. When consumed in large quantities over many years, it can lead to devastating neurological impairments, to cirrhosis of the liver, and to death. In the United States alone, more than 100,000 people annually die from its use. It is also more toxic to a developing fetus than any other drug of abuse. (Indeed, "crack babies" appear to have been really suffering from fetal-alcohol syndrome.) None of these charges can be leveled at Marijuana. As a drug, marijauan is nearly unique in having several medical applications and no known lethal dosage. While adverse reactions to drugs like aspiriin and ibuprofen account for an estimated 7,600 deaths (and about 75,000 hospitalizations) each year in the US alone, Marijuana kills no one. It's role as a "gateway drug" now seems less plausible than ever, and it was never plausible. In fact, nearly everything human beings do - driving cars, flying planes, hitting golf balls - is more dangerous than smoking marijuana in the privacy of one's own home. Anyone who would seriously attempt to argue that marijuana is worthy of prohibition because of the risk it poses to human beings will find that the powers of the human brain are simply insufficient for the job. And yet, we are so far from the shady groves of reason now that people are still receiving life sentences without the possibility of parole for growing, selling, possessing, or buying what is, in fact, a naturally occurring plant. Cancer patients and paraplegics have been sentenced to decades in prison for marijuana possession. Owners of garden-supply stores have received similiar sentences because some of their customers were caught growing marijuana. What explains this astonishing wastage of human life and material resources? The only explanation is that our discourse on this subject has never been obliged to function within the bounds of rationality. Under our current laws, it is safe to say, if a drug were invented that posed no risk of physical harm or addiction to its user but produced a brief feeling of spiritual bliss and epiphany in 100% of those who tried it, it's use would surely be illegal, and people would be punished for its use. Only anxiety about the biblical crime of idolatry would appear to make sense of this retributive impulse. Because we are a people of faith, taught to concern ourselves with the sinfulness of our neighbors, we have grown tolerance of irrational uses of state power. Our prohibition of certain substances has led thousands of otherwise productive and law-abiding men and women to be locked away for decades at a stretch, sometimes for life. Their children have become wards of the state. As if such a cascading horror were not disturbing enough - violent crimicals - murderers, rapists, and child molesters - are regularly paroled to make room for them (in fact, Michigan just release thousands of prisoners from 8 Prisons around the state, and only an estimated 15% of the released were incarcerated for drug charges - meaning 85% of the released were most likely violent criminals, while the drug offenses were left incarcerated). Here we appear to have overstepped the banality of evil and plunged to the absurdity at its depths. The consequence of our irrationality on this front are so egregious that they bear closer examination. Each year, over 1.5 million men and women are arrested in the United States because of our drug laws. At this moment, somewhere on the order of 400,000 men and women languish in US prisons for non-violent drug offenses. One million others are currently on probation. More people are imprisoned for nonviolent drug offense in the United States than are incarcerared, for any reason, in all of Western Europe (which has a larger population). In historical terms, there was every reason to expect that such a policy of prohibition would fail. It is well known, for example, that the experiment with prohibition of alcohol in the United States did little more than precipitate a terrible comedy of increased drinking, organized crime, and police corruption. What is not generally remember is that Prohibition was an explicity religious exercise, being the joint product of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the pious lobbying of certain Protestant missionary societies. The problem with the prohibition of any desirable commodity is money. The United Nations values the drug trade at $400 Billion a year. This exceeds the annual budget for the US Department of Defense. If this figure is correct, the trade in illegal drugs consititues 8% of all international commerce (while the sales of textiles makes up 7.5% and motor vehicles just 5.3%). And yet, prohibition itself is what makes the manufacture and sale of drugs so extraordinarily profitable. Those who earn their living in this way enjoy a 5,000 to 20,000 percent return on their investment, tax-free. Every relevant indicator of the drug trade - rates of drug use and interdiction, estimates of production, the purity of drugs on the street, etc - shows that the government can do nothing to stop it as long as such profits exist (indeed, these profits are highly corrupting of law enforcement in any case). The crimes of the addict (not speaking of Marijuana, obviously), to finance the stratospheric cost of their lifestyle, and the crimes of the dealer, to protect both his territory and his goods, are likewise the results of prohibition. A final irony, which seems good enough to be the work of Satan himself, is that the market we have created by our drug laws has become a steady source of revenue for terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Shining Path, and others. Even if we acknowledge that stopping drug use is a justifiable social goal, how does the financial cost of our war on drugs appear in light of the other challenges we face? Consider that it would require only a onetime expenditure of $2 Billion to secure our commercial seaports against smuggled nuclear weapons. At present we have allocated a mere $93 million for this purpose. How will our prohibition of marijuana use look (this comes at a cost of $4 Billion annually) if a new sun ever dawns over the port of Los Angeles? Or consider that the US government can afford to spend only ~2.3billion each year on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are now regrouping. Warlords rule the countryside beyond the limits of Kabul. Which is more important to us, reclaiming this part of the world for the forces of civilization, or keeping cancer patients in New York from relieving their nausea with Marijuana? Our present use of government funds suggests an uncanny skewing - we might even say derangement - of our national priorities. Such a bizarre allocation of resources is sure to keep Afghanistan in ruins for many years to come. It will also leave Afghan farmers with no alternative but to grow Opium. Happily for them, our drug laws still render this a highly profitable enterprise. Anyone who believes that God is watching us from beyond the stars will feel that punishing peaceful men and women for their private pleasure is perfectly reasonable. We are now in the twenty-first century. Perhaps we should have better reasons for depriving our neighbors of their liberty at gunpoint. Given the mahnitude of the real problems that confront us - terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the spread of infectious disease, extreme failing infrastructure, lack of adequate funs for education and health care, etc - our war on sin is so outrageously unwise as to almost defy rational comment. How have we grown so blind to our deeper interests is what I would like to know. For those of you whose attention I could hold for my entire rant (A long one, I know, I know) I appreciate it. I know I restated alot of points many here know, and have known for a while, and I apologize for it. It was simply an essay I didn't think should just be used for a classroom. I figured I'd let other blades here check it out and see if it gets my points across, more about how ridiculous our drug policy is than it is about how religious faith ties in. That was basically an after-thought for the class. Thanks.