While we Tolerate Alcohol, Which Caused More Harm, Why Do We Ban Marijuana?
By Frank Parlato Jr,
Special to the News
June 18, 1997 , Wednesday, CITY EDITION
The Buffalo News reported last month that federal law-enforcement officials
wanted to confiscate the Wheatfield home of Richard and Laurie Brothers
because Richard allegedly sold marijuana from his house, making it a"distribution center" for marijuana since 1989.
As an ethnographer, I have been inside crack houses. I was the first to
publish the deeds of the Goodyear crew (before 39 members or associates
were indicted). In a crack house chaos occurs because of the volatile
nature of crack.
I have also interviewed over 100 marijuana users and dealers. I have found
that marijuana dealers operate in a different pattern from what occurs at a
Marijuana "distribution centers" are usually someone's home. Typically,
marijuana is purchased by the pound and sold on a small scale, an ounce or
less at a time, usually to adults. During visits to a dealer, marijuana
purchasers generally avoid contact with neighbors. They rarely shout, blow
horns or call attention to themselves.
Marijuana does not, typically, incite violent or aggressive behavior.
In the case of Richard and Laurie Brothers, did neighbors know there was a "problem"? Was Brothers selling to consenting adults? Was everyone (or
anyone) causing a definable nuisance? Were the police ever called to the
scene? Were Mr. Brothers' house "guests" intimidating to neighbors?
It seems eminently fair to consult the neighbors. Do they want Mr.
Brothers' house taken away? His family evicted?
The argument that society as a whole is the victim of Mr. Brothers' alleged
marijuana sales, because marijuana users potentially can cause harm to
others, I reject. Its invalidity is shown by the inconsistency of its
Alcohol, as empirical evidence clearly shows, is more dangerous than
marijuana, causing more death, crime and accidents. At a tavern, as at a
crack house, there is the danger of chaos because of the volatile nature of
the drug. To be consistent, we would need to confiscate "alcohol
distribution centers," too.
That, of course, the majority is unwilling to do. Herein lies the secret of
why alcohol is legal and marijuana is not. With 100 million users in the
United States, alcohol is consumed by the majority of American adults. Only
a minority of adults use marijuana, an estimated 25 million.
Has Mr. Brothers' alleged marijuana distribution center caused as much harm
as any busy alcohol distribution center which will, maybe even tonight,
serve alcohol to someone who will, under the influence of alcohol, drive a
car and kill someone, as nearly 20,000 people do every year?
Our Mr. Brothers might argue: "150,000 people die annually because of
alcohol; half the 20,000 U.S. homicides are committed by people under the
influence of alcohol. Half-a-million accidents a year are alcohol-related.
Next to Alzheimer's, alcohol is the leading cause of mental deterioration
in adults. Everybody knows someone who has been killed by alcohol. Show us
one statistic -- even one -- that shows marijuana use is as dangerous."
But it wouldn't matter. Alcohol is our drug, and we are the majority.
I have lived as a homeless person to try to get a "worm's eye view" not
only of racism but of the war on drugs.
I sponsored and moderated a 1993 debate on drug decriminalization and
legalization where Dennis Vacco, now state attorney general, squared off
against Peter Christ, formerly of the Town of Tonawanda Police Department.
I do not wish to be construed as supporting or endorsing marijuana use
-which I consider to be a vice. However, I am willing to consider that it
might be a gross act of ethnocentricity on my part to label other people's
use of it as a vice. Neolithic cultures like the Yang Shao of China used it
as medicine and as food; the Shaivit monks of the Gangetic Plain have and
sometimes still do use it as a sacrament.
Over 400,000 people are arrested per year on marijuana offenses. Sixty
thousand are in prison right now for simple marijuana possession. Many have
lost their homes and their freedom, and millions have learned to distrust,
fear and hate the U.S. government because of its marijuana laws and
enforcement. Over 12 million people (5 percent of the U.S. population) have
been arrested since 1970.
There is no evidence that all of this has decreased the consumption of
marijuana. In fact, I will venture that by making Americans cynical and
resentful, it has done the reverse. The proliferation of marijuana use in
this country, I believe, is based primarily on its prohibition.
FRANK PARLATO is a Buffalo-area real estate developer.
Contact Frank Parlato Jr.