A Critical Look at the American
War on Drugs
By Ron Ridenour, Prisonersolidarity.org
April 24, 2006
am Ron Ridenour, a 55-year-old Flathead County and Canyon resident
of Montana. I stood before a federal judge on June 25th, 2004, the
most critical reckoning day I had encountered in my lifetime. In
order to reduce a 5 to 20 year prison term and a two million dollar
fine to a livable amount, I was advised to plead guilty to a federal
charge of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
prison term was 23 months in addition to the seizure of nearly half
a million dollars by the Whitefish Police Department and the Northwest
Montana Drug Task Force. Seized items included my home, a collection
of automobiles, a motorcycle, a ski boat and some firearms. To initiate
my arrest, a girlfriend with momentary objections to our personal
situation dialed 911 and I walked away from the life I knew in handcuffs.
The purchase of this property was made possible because of 35 years
of employment in the railroad industry, construction trades, employment
within my family's business and with legitimate entrepreneurial
endeavors. The money made from sales of marijuana paled by comparison
but task force warriors rushed to seize nearly all assets of value.
marijuana, I humbly appeal to all who judged me then, and who judge
other people and me now, to consider what I have learned through
personal inquiry, observation and experience:
sativa/marijuana/pot/hemp originated early in the history of the
world. It was a product of evolution, intelligent design, or a compilation
of both. The plant has existed and has been utilized by people and
cultures for a long time. The oldest piece of fabric known to man
was made from hemp-cannabis sativa-and dates to 8,000 years before
some point early in the history of man, the plant was discovered
for its mood-altering and medicinal effects. Ancient China and India
provide the earliest records of its use. At the turn of the 20th
century, as many as two thirds of the world's cultures used marijuana
for pain relief and its euphoric qualities.
1937, the U.S. legislated marijuana to be illegal with the passing
of the Marijuana Tax Bill. Although doctors had been prescribing
cannabis for a hundred years, the bill was rushed through Congress
with no testimony by the American Medical Association. A clique
of wealthy individuals and corporations employing and controlling
the influence of newspaper and banking interests, along with friends
and relatives in high levels of government, were able to manipulate
the views of the American public. This scheming would reap billions
in personal and corporate income for the parties involved, because
there would be no competition from the hemp plant.
I was in my teens and going to school in Columbia Falls, alcohol
was the drug of choice for the community and area, as it is today.
It was only natural that consumption would find its way into the
social scene of the youth. Binge drinking has probably been inherent
with alcohol use since fermentation was discovered. My first contact
with marijuana occurred when I was 18. Older friends returning from
Vietnam brought their observations of war and they told me about
the enjoyable and relaxing effects of marijuana.
brought samples smuggled in their duty-free stereos. We were compatriots
in life, and in breaking another taboo. I tried the stuff and liked
it. It didn't make me ill. I wasn't obnoxious when using it, and
my friends and I weren't drunkenly racing our cars and forgetting
what we had done on previous evenings.
history warriors have been returning to their homelands with different
ideas and, with plunder. The introduction of cannabis to western
civilization is believed to have occurred when Napoleon's troops
invaded Egypt. This is the way of people. This is the way of the
primary argument for marijuana's illegal status is the belief that
it provides a gateway to more harmful drugs. It is a gateway. Alcohol
andtobacco are also gateways and have killed millions of people.
Which gateways are most harmful and which are less harmful? And,
if in living, we walk through a gate into a dangerous situation
but can find our way back to the relative safety of the gate-are
we always to be condemned?
in a dark area, well beyond this "gate," is a frightfully
addictive drug called methamphetamine. If the increasing use of
meth, a poison made from poisons, could be reduced by offering the
de-criminalized, and in this light, medical use of marijuana, wouldn't
we benefit from the experiment? If the hemp plant could help our
society decrease its dependence on foreign oil and forests of timber
while providing farmers a durable, fast growing, drought resistant
crop and offering industry a widely useable product, wouldn't we
benefit from the experiment?
reason most people move from alcohol to marijuana is because an
herb gives them a safer and more interesting experience than booze.
Marijuana doesn't put its user over a toilet in the morning vomiting
their guts out with a headache. Most people find marijuana more
pleasurable than alcohol and easier on their lives. While under
the influence of marijuana, an individual rarely loses control of
his or her actions, or becomes obnoxious, mean or violent.
undesirable behaviors are common with the consumption of alcohol
or methamphetamine. The reason people move from alcohol or marijuana
to methamphetamine is because meth has more kick than either and
is more readily accessible. It can be made from easily obtainable
ingredients in the basement. The methamphetamine users I interviewed
while incarcerated said that a big reason for their use of meth
was because a product they preferred, marijuana, was more difficult
to obtain. Many people who try meth would be delighted if they could
legally return to the relative safety of marijuana use. The reason
the government of the United States continues to wage a war on marijuana
is shrouded in hypocrisy, deception and lies.
the issue. A good place to start is a book by Jack Herrer called
The Emperor Wears No Clothes. It tells the tragic story of
how a few greedy, self-serving individuals, managed to outlaw a
plant that threatened their foreseeable wealth and their personal
"moral values." A plant that had beenprescribed by doctors
for years, utilized by our nation and the world for paper, fabric
and food, was demonized. William Randolph Hearst ran the smear with
yellow journalism in his newspapers. The Dupont Corporation discovered
how to make a resilient plastic fiber and fabric with petroleum.
Until then, the country and military were reliant upon hemp for
durable rope and fabric.
The oil-based process was patented and called nylon.
combined effort of several key players organized the blacklisting
and outlawing of marijuana and hemp. There was Hearst's media smear
along with the racially motivated ranting of Harry Anslinger, basically
our nation's first drug czar. Anslinger had been appointed to head
the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
by Andrew Mellon. Mellon was Herbert Hoover's Secretary of the Treasury
and the Mellon Bank was the banking choice for the Dupont family.
This self-serving pack of opportunists presented their information
to Congress and convinced the government to outlaw marijuana and
hemp. They all profited immensely.
illuminating book about marijuana and its effects was the result
ofa study commissioned by Richard Nixon and his administration.
They got a group of scientists and doctors together to realistically
analyze the entire spectrum of information and fact surrounding
the marijuana issue that had emerged in the 60's. The book from
this study is Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding, likely
the most comprehensive study of the plant and its effects in history.
The 1972 report summarized, "The evils of marihuana,"
(they spelled it with the harsher "h"), "are the
result of 30 years of instilled fear," and that the plant was
"incorrectly classified as a narcotic and should have fallen
into the same category as alcohol and tobacco." One simple
but poignant comment from the study said that a reason people experiment
with drugs is because America's social system "no longer inspires
in people a feeling of purpose and meaningfulness." They concluded
that the plant was not a significant problem and that the government
should consider regulating the product like alcohol and to re-evaluate
the process of criminalizing people and destroying lives because
of its use. Nixon and his group didn't like what they heard and
the study never made the light of day.
A follow-up report was also overlooked. He believed that Americans
weren't going to vote for a politician promoting decriminalization
of a drug, and that the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical interests
wouldn't donate to political war chests if their profits were challenged.
Nixon got caught because of his Watergate burglars and resigned.
Jimmy Carter was elected. When the idea of decriminalizing marijuana
came before Carter's administration, the fear-based hysteria again
They realized that America couldn't be seen as "soft"
on drugs. The economy was driven into failure and America elected
an optimistic actor. Incarceration was Ronald Reagan's answer to
the drug problem. He ushered in the seizure of assets for drug offenders
and the process of sentencing guidelines resulting in rampant prison
growth. Central Intelligent Agency spawned George Bush wasn't soft
on drugs either. With his zero tolerance policy, asset seizure and
prison population growth continued. Bill Clinton said that he had
smoked marijuana but that he "didn't inhale." Bill couldn't
be soft either, though, and an affair with an intern diminished
whatever chance he might have had for addressing progressive political
issues. Prison construction prevailed once again. Five to six federal
joints a year-every year throughout the 90's along with countless
state and local holds. Locking people up was providing America's
most significant growth in jobs and revenue. George Bush Junior
beat Al Gore with a Supreme Court ruling and four years later he
beat John Kerry with a mandate. The raging smear against marijuana
and drugs goes on. Junior sent soldiers into harm's way to counter
terrorism and secure America's supply of sweet crude oil. This unfortunate
phenomenon might not have occurred in the world, or in our country,
if we had been growing the hemp plant and deriving a significant
amount of our needs-food, fabric, oil, fuel and biomass-from hemp.
Declaration of Independence is written on paper made from hemp.
George Washington advised farmers to grow the plant. He and Thomas
Jefferson, Ben Franklin and their perceptive cohorts might have
taken some puffs from the mentally stimulating herb while contemplating
a Declaration, Bill of Rights and Constitution for a great nation.
Wouldn't that have been a hoot?
As moneyed interests and their bought off politicians write the
law, America nevertheless sprouts a few little seeds of hope. More
and more states are voting for medical marijuana privileges. Cities
are voting to allow medical use and to decriminalize, or reduce,
marijuana regulation to the lowest priority.
some law enforcement officers realize America's prohibition on drugs
is a failed policy. One such group is called Law Enforcement Against
Prohibition. The following is an excerpt from their web site: "After
nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs
with over half-a-trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive
policies, our prisoner population has quadrupled over a 20 year
period making building prisons this nation's fastest growing industry.
More than 2.2 million citizens are currently incarcerated and every
year we arrest an additional 1.6 million for nonviolent drug offenses-more
per capita than any country in the world.
United States has 4.6 percent of the population of the world but
22.5 percent of the world's prisoners. Every year we choose to continue
this war will cost U.S. taxpayers another 69 billion dollars. Despite
all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill spent,
illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and far easier to get than
they were 35 years ago at the beginning of the war on drugs. Meanwhile,
people continue dying in our streets while drug barons and terrorists
continue to grow richer than ever before. We would suggest that
this scenario must be the very definition of a failed public policy.
This madness must cease!"
yourself. Watch the documentary calledHooked: Illegal Drugs,
which has aired on the History Channel and discusses the reasons
drugs were made illegal. Read The Emperor Wears No Clothes
by Jack Herrer and Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding
by government study and your taxes. The latter is out of print,
but copies can be found. Read Smoke and Mirrors, The War on Drugs
and the Politics of Failure by Dan Baum and America's Longest
War, Rethinking Our Tragic Crusade Against Drugsby Steven B.
Duke and Albert C. Gross. Go online. The address for Law Enforcement
Against Prohibition is www.leap.cc. Discover why an ever-growing
number of lawmen and judges are realizing prohibition has failed
America once again. The truth about America's involvement with drugs
is available. Law enforcement personnel and judges, prosecutors,
voters and the public at large need to know it.
analysis of this information prior to my arrest led me to believe
that a sense of understanding concerning marijuana was beginning
to prevail in our society, and consequently, in the courts and the
minds of jurors. Even Montana's conservative legislature had voted
40 percent for allowing medical use of marijuana. While I was incarcerated,
an initiative referendum to allow medical use was passed when placed
before the voters of Montana. An argument was made that a large
percentage of marijuana use is medical in nature. Mine was for pain
reduction and relief from stress and depression. Some of my customers
were cancer patients. They got good deals on their choice for medicine
broke the law and was arrested. I knew I risked imprisonment and
financial loss if caught selling marijuana. I sold only to adults
and advised my group of customers to do the same. I didn't think
my entire life's income would be at stake. Had I known this would
occur I would not have taken the risk. Because I disobeyed the law
of this land, I've had to accept the seizure of my possessions and
to serve my allotted time in prison.
I apologize to my family, friends and community for the pain, embarrassment
or monetary loss caused by my actions. I hope I can be a valuable
contributor to our country's beneficial existence. I think that
saving 70 billion a year on the drug war would be a good start.
Ceasing to destroy the lives of those arrested would be a good start
is well beyond the time for America to critically analyze the costs
associated with the drug war. A U.S. Department of Justice/Bureau
of Justice Statistics webpage titled "Direct expenditures by
criminal justice function, 1982-2001" lists the amounts of
money the government spent for judicial, police and corrections
between 1982 and 2001. Police expenses went from 19 million to 72.5
million per year, judicial costs rose from 7.7 million to 37.5 million
and the cost of corrections jumped from 9 million to almost 57 million.
The total amount spent for these three departments between 1982
and 2001 was 1.846 trillion dollars. It is common knowledge that
the primary reason for this increase was the drug war.
these figures into the future, to the year 2025, and estimating
that the costs will only increase at the rates they did between
1982 and 2001 (3.78 percent for police, 4.84 percent for judicial
and 6.3 percent for corrections) reveals unbelievable spending patterns.
The 2001 figure of 72.5 million spent for police times 24 years
times the 3.78 percent rate of increase totals 6.57 trillion to
be spent between 2002 and 2025; the 2001 37.57 million spent for
judicial purposes multiplied by 24 and then by 4.84 adds up to 4.364
trillion; and 56.95 million dedicated to corrections in 2001 will
grow by another 8.61 trillion between 2002 and 2025. Add these three
figures up and one comes up with a whopping 19.545 trillion to be
spent arresting, trying and incarcerating America's citizens between
2002 and 2025. And that's if there is no exponential increase exceeding
what occurred between 1982 and 2001.
figures represent the amount of money the U.S. will spend to provide
justice for all offenders-murderers, child molesters, corporate
raiders, thieves, drug users and drug dealers, etc. What percentage
of these people will have been influenced directly or indirectly
by the use or sale of drugs? Educated guesses range from 40 to 60
percent, depending on which professional you ask. Drug offenders
surpassed violent offenders in 1990. If 40 to 60 percent of crime
is either directly or indirectly related to drugs, America will
be spending between 7.8 and 11.7 trillion to arrest, judge and incarcerate
drug offenders between 2002 and 2025.
million, 678 thousand, one hundred and ninety-two people were arrested
in America in 2003 for drugs. I was one of them. It won't be long
before this nation will have fought and lost its hundred-year war
against drugs. As a result of our government's aggressive campaign
to control the lives of its citizens, we have the fastest growing
imprisonment rate in the world. In the last five years we have arrested
9 million people for nonviolent drug offenses-far more per capita
than any country in the world. Financially and morally, the people
of this country, cannot afford the fight. And if America wants its
problem with methamphetamine to decline, it will have to allow its
citizens something more than alcohol to stimulate their lives. If
allowing adults access to marijuana would reduce this country's
methamphetamine habit, and significantly reduce our prison population
and provide farmers a plant that could lessen the nation's demand
on petroleum and wood products, wouldn't our society benefit from
America continue to support this war? Can all of the broken lives
be justified? Is there a better path for the "land of the free"?
Legalize marijuana. Let folks have their pot. Regulate and tax it
like alcohol and cigarettes. Demand responsible use and see what
happens. The experiment couldn't be worse than where we are or where
we're headed. It's time to call a truce in America's longest war-the
war against the people-the drug war and it's time to allow some
amnesty for its millions of casualties.