The Russ Belville Show

Here at The Russ Belville Show, we read reports on the War on (Certain American Citizens Using Non-Pharmaceutical, Non-Alcoholic, Tobacco-Free) Drugs every day.  While all aspects of the Prohibition War are tragic and absurd, here are six ways that the criminalization of marijuana defies all reason and logic.

Besides putting comedians in prison for selling decorative glass on the internet?

1. Using marijuana is worse than raping a child.

Drugs are so reviled in our society that using them is considered worse than any other crime.  If you commit violent crimes – arson or rape, for instance – a judge will determine all the facts of the case and consider your criminal record, if any, in sentencing you to prison or not.  But if you are caught selling or growing marijuana, there are mandatory minimum sentences involved at the federal and most state levels that take the power of sentencing out of a judge’s hands and turns it into a Chinese take-out menu – a marijuana plant from Column A, within 1000 feet of a school from Column B, that’ll be 10 years with no parole, please.

Hey, what’s this mandatory minimum doing in my order of pot stickers?  And why does the Chinese restaurant mess up my order seven times more often than white guys’ orders?

Still don’t believe drug use is considered worse than violent crime?  Then why does our federal government pay a bounty for drug arrests, but no other arrests?  These monies are called Byrne Grants and they are awarded to local police department for the express purpose of fighting drug crime.  In actuality, they incentivize police to go after low-level drug offenders for the easy stat-padding drug arrest, rather than the tougher-to-catch-and-prosecute drug kingpins or the actual violent criminals out there.

Still not convinced?  Then explain how the Supreme Court could find the death penalty unconstitutional to punish the raping of a child, but there still exists on the books a federal death penalty for growing 60,000 marijuana plants?  Or how a serial raping arsonist in Montana gets less time than a guy who merely rented space to a medical marijuana dispensary?  Or how a guy who pleads no contest to sodomizing a four-year-old in Oklahoma gets a year behind bars but a college student with a keif box could get life in prison.  Or why there are more arrests for marijuana possession almost every year than for all violent crimes combined?

2. Your God may have specified a holy sacrament that’s too popular among non-believers.

Even an American educated in one of our fine public schools knows our Constitution recognizes our freedom of religion. You can be Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, or have no religion at all, and that right is so important our Founding Fathers made it part of our First Amendment, just a few pages after the parts about their black people being 60% human.  You may practice your religion any way you choose, so long as you don’t violate other laws. So inquisitionsstoning gays, and plural marriages are out, no matter how strongly your God boldfaced and italicized them in the manual.

Why are you all looking at me?

But even then, our courts have given believers some latitude to violate laws in the name of religion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of drugs as a “holy sacrament”.  A parent allowing their seven-year-old child a gulp of wine at the Olive Garden might earn a visit from Child Protective Services, but the same gulp at the cathedral is acceptable for children when it is the Blood of Christ.  And our Supreme Court has ruled that the use of an illegal Schedule I drug can be allowed for adherents of a South American religion using ayahuasca tea, a powerful hallucinogen that is considered sacrament by believers.  Our Congress even went so far as to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to protect such use when the Supreme Court allowed the State of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to two Native Americans who were fired over sacramental peyote use.

So that’s great news for the sincere Rastafarians and Coptic Christians who consider ganja to be the “tree of life” and “the healing of the nations”, right?  Or, for that matter, any Jew or Christian who believes their creation story’s descriptions of “every herb bearing seed”, right?

Nope.  In this case, their God picked too popular a sacrament.  In passing the RFRA, Congress sought to restore “the Sherbert Test”.  Under Sherbert, Congress can only prevent someone from exercising their religion if it can show a compelling state interest to do so, and has tried to do so in the least burdensome way to the religion.

When they said there would be tests of Lemon and Sherbert, I was expecting something completely different.

In the case of drug laws, the compelling state interest is preventing you from using drugs.  Very few people use ayahuasca tea or peyote, it doesn’t grow everywhere, the religions that find them sacred are well-established in historical tradition, and the sincere adherents are easily identifiable.  So allowing a few native religious believers their powerful psychedelic sacraments isn’t going to seriously hinder any efforts to prevent you from using those drugs.

But your herb stash?  That’s different, because there are 26 million Americans who are toking at least once a year and pot grows like a weed.  Allowing the Rastas to freely use their sacred ganja would mean a huge rise in the number of stinky white kids with bad dreadlocks claiming to be Rastas just to avoid arrest.  Worse, from the prohibitionist point of view, the Spicolis and Slaters of the world would suddenly become prophets of countless Churches of the Holy Bong, and trying to stop anyone from using, buying, growing, or selling pot would become near impossible.

Brother Louv, leader of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, who scared the shit out of America in 1979 when 60 Minutes showed young children of his church puffing joints. Similar shots of Catholics allowing their children to drink communion wine did not offend, because their holy men wear funny hats.

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