Melissa Harris-Perry | December 08, 2012
>>> history was made on thursday as washington state , the state where i was born, became the first state to legalize the adult recreational use of marijuana. now, it is still illegal to smoke in public or drive under its influence. however, that didn't stop people in seattle from lighting up by the city's iconic space needle as smokers celebrated the ground-breaking law after it went into effect. it remains to be seen how the white house and department of justice will react as marijuana remains illegal and cat goegorized as a schedule one law. washington and colorado were among states that had some form of medical marijuana law. with them pushing the envelope, it is possible that many people are fearing this.
>> damn, all you do is smoke weed.
>> that's all right.
>> okay. people may not be fearing that we are about to become a nation of smokies from the movie "friday." we've seen overreaction before. a half century prior to president richard nixon declaring the war on drugs in 1971 , it was alcohol triggering the moral panic leading to prohibition enacted on january 19th , 1920 as a result of the 18th amendment . prohibition intended to raise our collective character as alcohol was seen as the root cause of many societal evils. an $11 billion worth of tax revenue and made criminals out of once law-abiding americans .
>>> as for weeding out the criminals, organized crime thrived. by the time prohibition was repealed, one out of every 40 americans had a criminal record . the government finally decided maybe regulating alcohol was the real ticket to a moral american.
>> how did we get to this level of absurdity gep? from knicks on to the dea and then there was nancy.
>> not long ago in oakland, kra krarks i was asked by a group of children what to do if they were offered drugs. i answered, just say no.
>> yes, mrs. reagan, children should say no to drugs but should responsible, concepting adults continue to be jailed for minor drug infractions? do we ignore the potential benefits taxed marijuana can add to our economy at a time when the country is still recovering from the great recession or do we enter a new era of enterprise that includes fair and measured drug policy at the table. matt welch , editor and chief of "reason" magazine, eugene jirecki, director of the house i live in. doug, i want to come to you first on this. what do you think is this new green resolution that's possible for us?
>> in the county where i followed american canibus farmers. we are looking at at $40 billion industry when the drug war is soon.
>> you pointed out what happens when you look at that with prohibition. an enormous amount of money that goes out of the system and another lesson from prohibition. the other part is about criminalizing something that is sort of an ordinary practice.
>> we still have more than 700,000 people a year coming face to face with the justice system in america over marijuana.
>> that should be an outrage on everybody's conscious. these are people with a criminal record for the rest of their lives. you won't be able to get a job. it disproportionately affects minorities even though they don't smoke it any more than white dudes with beards. it is a shock on our conscious. what we should be focusing on right now at this historic pivot point is pressuring politicians, democrats and republicans and in particularly the president of the united states who has a choice how are you going to change your enforcement policies in the wake of two states succeeding from your policy and also a majority, growing majority of americans who want full legalization.
>> matt, making this point and using the language of cessation, it is the moment that makes me draw up here. i normally sit in this seat and make a pretty strong critique against state's rights and talk about how state's rights have been problematic and how important it is to have a national identity . yet, on this one, when i see the d.e.a., running in to enforce drug policies on states where you have recreational use of adults in consensual activity, it does seem like in this moment maybe i'm a state's rights fan.
>> well, this puts us in a very strange position. they are trying to exert federal measures over the states to say you cannot legalize or pursue drug policies of your own position. compelling states like washington or colorado using the federal government to incarcerate more people. by and large, minorities are targetted and more black people go to jail. don't just do something. stand there.
>> explain. i don't think that people always understand why it is that you end up with a disproportionate share of people of color and young people that are dragneted here.
>> it has to do with the way we police. take crack cocaine . we have historically thought of it as a black drug.
>> it's white.
>> it is white. in use, they said it was a black drug. when i was making my film "the house i live in" i researched the crack history. the majority of it is used by white. 14% of the country is black. that leaves 14% of the country using that. 19% charged with crack offenses are black. i'm a white person that lives in a comfortable area. if you take a young black person that lives in a project, they are swicmming with cops all day long. i can barely find one when i need one.
>> this has been my experience on university campuses that you end up with recreational drug use of various kintdds. nobody thinks it is a good idea to send police in and drag students out of dorm. we assume they are going to have good productive lives on the other side. they are sort of smoking a little weed in college, everything is going to be fine. if you are smoking a little bit of weed at the bus stop in a predominantly black community or on the street corner where you are visible, the policing becomes possible.
>> in eugene's film, which is great, and everyone should watch it, makes this very clear. the history of drug prohibition in the couldn't interest i is a history of cracking down over disfavored ethnic and national minorities period. that's where this all comes from, which should give us great pause as we think about having the federal government try to enforce its own laws over the wishes of states .
>> talk to me, then about the expense, the cost of this drug war to us. is there a claim here, congresswoman, that part of as we're looking at the fiscal lif as to why we should off the drug wars , it has had very little impact on reducing drugs?
>> i usually don't try to attack what is an overall issue on to something that is happening right now, this fiscal cliff. i don't think that's the way to do it. what i will say, it's been pretty obvious that the war on drugs isn't working. we're still at work. we're not getting anywhere with it. just as where we were in iraq and we weren't getting anywhere. let's get out. so there has to be some change. there has to be some change. in california , we voted. of course, you can have a small amount on you and it's just a misdemeanor, like run ning a stop sign . we also put in a law for medicinal marijuana . i was for it. i've been for it. my mother-in-law died of cancer. she could have used it, for example. at the time, i said, it also gives us an opportunity to do the pilot project of how do you do this? do you collect taxes on it? what's the local regulation? how do you sell it, et cetera ? the unfortunate thing of the experience in california is that the federal government has come right in the middle of it. it has gone to landlords and said, listen, if you don't get these additional marijuana places out, we're going to take over your asset. this is a cost on drugs and that's it. i have said to the federal government , to president obama , get out of this. let us take a look at how this works. let us see if we can do it the right way. then, maybe we expand it. certainly, washington has taken it much, much further. but i think it's important that we try new ways in which to handle this, certainly from an economic standpoint. we shouldn't be spending all that. our prisons are full. even in california , we're beginning to let go of these drug users earlier because we can't afford it and because they are least likely to be -- in fact, when we put them in, they become criminals inside because of the systems. i have said to president obama , why don't you let us work this out and see what it can look at.
>> this is the claim of states as laboratories of experiments and policies. we have california with medicinal and the state of washington with recreational. this is the time for them trying to think about how to do it in their state.
>> here is a statistic. california collected $100 million in sales tax from the small medical cannabis , legal, above-ground industry. the vast majority of farmers in california , from following them, are not yet in that above-ground market. so when we're really fully taxing it, we are talking about a significant, significant economic boost for the country nationwide.
>> that is a claim i think a lot of governors would appreciate. we're going to stay on this topic. up next, how vice president, joe biden , might just be part of this problem. we put