MILLION MARIJUANA MARCH

by Julian Heicklen

Philadelphia, PA

May 5, 2001

Marijuana is one of GodŐs greatest gifts to humanity. What have we done with it? We have made it illegal in violation of the U. S. Constitution. The Ninth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution says: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be considered to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control one's own body. As U. S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it: "The right to be left alone." It required a Constitutional amendment to prohibit alcohol. Why doesn't the same apply for marijuana?

In 1972, President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs. We have been fighting that war for 29 years. What are the results? Drugs are just as easy to get today as then. In 1998, 1.4 million people were arrested for non-violent narcotic violations. One-half of these were for marijuana violations, of which 87% were for possession only.

Our incarcerated population has increased from 200,000 in 1972 to over two million today. One out of every three people entering state or federal prison is doing so for a non-violent narcotics violation. About 24% of the inmates in state and county prisons are there for non-violent narcotic violations. Another 16% are in county prisons for theft to feed their drug habit. In federal prisons, the percentage of inmates incarcerated for non-violent narcotics violations is 60%. Keeping these prisoners costs a lot of money, my money. I object to supporting dopeheads in prison, when they should be out working to support me.

In spite of the fact that 10 times as many "criminals" are incarcerated, the rate of homicide in 1998 was nearly identical to that in 1967. Reported robbery has increased from 148.4 per 100,000 in 1969 to 165.2 per 100,000 in 1998, according to the FBI Crime Report.

Today, with 4.6% of the world's population, the United States houses 25% of the world's inmates. We have the highest per capita inmate population of any country. The cost to keep these prisoners is about $50 billion per year. This does not include their lost wages (and taxes) and the reduced standard of living of their dependents. The true cost is closer to $100 billion per year. Add to this the costs of interdiction, police, the courts, and probation and parole.

About 7% of all adult males in the U. S. enter prison or jail each year. Their lives are altered or ruined. Nine percent of all males in the U. S. will be sentenced to at least one year in state or federal prison during their lifetimes. On average, every American male will spend nine months of his life in prison based on current sentencing practice. About 5% of the adult males in the U. S. currently are under supervision of the criminal justice system (prison, jail, probation, or parole).

The enormous inmate population growth has led to overcrowding, which in turn has led to the spread of disease. Epidemics of AIDS and hepatitis C are rampant in our prisons. In California prisons, 39% of the men and 54% of the women have hepatitis C. In Texas, 29%, and in Maryland 40%, of the men have hepatitis C.

In Pennsylvania, at least 20%, and perhaps 40%, of the men have hepatitis C. I have affidavits from 15 inmates reporting that when they were first diagnosed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they were not informed. Two of these inmates were released on parole, and unknowingly infected their loved ones.

On April 18, 2000, I requested from the Department of Corrections (DOC) the percentage of inmates in Pennsylvania state prisons with hepatitis C. The DOC refused to give me that information, so I filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to get that information under the "Right-to-Know" Act. On March 14, 2001, the Court ruled that the information was in the public domain and that the DOC should provide it. However the DOC has defied the Court Order and has not provided that information to me.

Prohibitionists oppose re-legalization of marijuana because they think it will send the wrong message. They are wrong. Keeping marijuana illegal sends the wrong message. It is wrong to trample on the Bill of Rights. It is wrong to lie to our children about the danger of drugs. It is disgusting that the government pushes drugs on minors by fostering a black market. It is against God's commandment for children to inform on their parents. It is unconscionable to torture sick people by denying them medicine. It is immoral to arrest people for owning a vegetable. It is a sin against God to take babies away from their mothers.

We are involved in a struggle for the soul of America. The most fundamental of all human rights is the right to your own body. The issue is not marijuana. Marijuana is the messenger, not the message. The issue is whether we will live in freedom or under tyranny. I say choose freedom. The lighted marijuana weed is the torch of freedom. Now I am going to light that torch.