One answer to Appalachian poverty, the legalization of marijuana

One answer to Appalachian poverty, the legalization of marijuana

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Appalachian Mountains
Remote area of Kentucky where marijuana flourishes

WYTHE CO., Va., March 10, 2014 — In 2008 alone, Appalachia grew four billion dollars worth of marijuana.  As the economy weakens and jobs become even scarcer in an already impoverished region, more Appalachians have resorted to 21st century bootlegging. In short, white lightning has been replaced by green lightning.

The mountain people have finally arrived on a renewable natural resource that does not leave their land raped and ruined as a result. Despite the formidable efforts by law enforcement to curb production, marijuana produced annually is at an all time high in the region.

READ ALSO: Up in Smoke: The case against pot legalization

In the top three marijuana producing states of the region, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky, there has been a substantial increase in plants eradicated by authorities.

In the “marijuana belt,” a 65 county region in these three states where the growing and trafficking of marijuana has been targeted and fought with substantial federal resources, the median income has yet to reach $8,000 per year.

The choices for people here are so few. It should not come as a shock that the people in this remote region have resorted to growing marijuana to feed their families. Given the limited options and the huge monetary benefits, who can really blame them?

It is safe to say the prohibition of marijuana has been as big a failure as our earlier attempts to prohibit alcohol. Currently, 17.4 million Americans admit to using it regularly. In 2010 6.9% of the population reported using marijuana, up from 5.8% in 2007.

Keep in mind this is the most conservative number to be found. The possibility that millions more regularly use marijuana is probable.

In 2009, 858,408 people were arrested for marijuana violations, a new record. Of these, 89% were charged with simple possession. An American is arrested for violating marijuana laws every 30 seconds.

Are we really so threatened by marijuana use that we can be comfortable with these ridiculous statistics?
It is impossible to overdose on marijuana. In contrast, legal prescription drugs are responsible for more accidental deaths than automobile fatalities.

Alcohol, a legal and taxed drug in America, causes nearly 4% of deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence, according to the World Health Organization. Approximately 2.5 million people in the world die from alcohol related causes each year. If we can ignore this fact year after year, that legal drugs are so much more damaging than marijuana, why is it such a stretch to legalize a drug with so many benefits?

More medical applications for marijuana are discovered each year; this is but a short list of known medical benefits.
Marijuana has been proven to be effective in the treatment of alcohol abuse, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, collagen-induced arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disorder, colorectal cancer, HIV-Associated Sensory Neuropath, depression, dystonia, epilepsy, digestive diseases, gliomas, hepatitis C, Huntington’s disease, leukemia, skin tumors, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, Parkinson’s disease, pruritus, posttraumatic stress disorder, psoriasis, sickle-cell disease, sleep apnea, and anorexia nervosa.

Rather than fight a war that the majority of Americans think should be abandoned, the argument grows stronger for legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Why not take the money from the underground crime economy and put it in the public purse? Imagine the benefits of the expanded tax base in impoverished Appalachia alone. Imagine the effect of the $42 billion, spent or wasted annually on the war on marijuana, added instead to local, state, and federal budgets.

READ ALSO: Interview with Dave Tabler: Appalachian historian and creator

Regardless of personal opinions about marijuana, it will continue to be produced and used by Americans in great numbers. Whatever deterrent the war on drugs has envisioned, it has failed, at least when it comes to marijuana.
We need to remember the lesson we learned trying to prohibit the use of alcohol. The only effect it had was to put the money in the hands of criminals. Organized crime grew up on prohibition profits, it is just that simple. To continue to give the money to the lawless fringe of society is pure lunacy.

With so many Americans suffering, the huge amount of money spent fighting the use of marijuana each year is no longer justifiable. With our huge national debt and crumbling infrastructure, a costly and unwinnable war against weed just does not make sense.

Legalize and tax it. End of discussion. Move on, America. Why are we still having this conversation?

This article was originally published on July 17, 2012.

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Lisa King
I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter. I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town. I’ve been to forty nine of the fifty states, as well as many other countries. Traveling will always be a passion I indulge, and something I’ll call upon often in my writing. I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present. In short my perspective will reflect the pride and familiarity I have of my Appalachian heritage. My stories will be a reflection of the values I believe we hold dearest here, all embellished with a healthy dose of Southern Appalachian flare.