Sunday, June 15, 2008

Will we decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts?

This November, Massachusetts voters will have a chance to vote on a proposal to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, turning it instead into a civil offense punishable by a fine.

If our state mirrors the national average, then probably a third of Massachusetts residents have smoked marijuana. Nationally, 97 million Americans admit to have tried it. I myself have smoked with a number of people whose names would be well-known in the region. Of course, this was in the late 70's and early 80's, before the War on Drugs had reached the extreme proportions that it has now.

The number of people who are being incarcerated for drug offenses in this country continues to rise. 43.9 percent of the nearly two million arrests for drug abuse violations in 2006 were for marijuana offenses. Of these, 738,916 people were arrested for possession alone.

Besides the impact of incarceration on those incarcerated, the War on Drugs costs an astounding amount of money and is responsible for many deaths. In 1999, the combined local, state and federal expenditures to fight this War on Drugs exceeded $30 billion. The U.S. is getting ready to send at least $350 billion to Mexico to help its Drug War efforts.

And look how well it's working!

People may agree or disagree on the harm marijuana does, yet I can't imagine anyone making a sensible case for marijuana's doing more harm than two legal substances, alcohol and tobacco. Florida, in fact, just did a study on the lethality of legal prescription drugs compared to illegal drugs (alcohol and tobacco not included) that showed that deaths caused by misuse of legally prescribed drugs was three times as great as deaths from illegal drugs. By the way, the study could find no deaths linked to marijuana use.

If the Massachusetts ballot initiative is passed, the state will save about $30 million next year-- the current cost of low-level marijuana possession arrests and proseecution. It will also:
  • Amend the current criminal statutes so that adults possessing an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use would be charged with a civil infraction and fined.
  • Remove the threat of a CORI report for minor marijuana possession charges.
  • Maintain current penalties for selling, growing, and trafficking marijuana, as well as the prohibition against driving under the influence of marijuana. Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy.
I hope there will be forums and opportunities to talk about this referendum proposal as we head toward fall elections. If, for some reason, you're unsure about the wisdom of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, please take the time to educate yourself. But I already know how I'm voting. In both human and financial costs, we just can't afford to go on the way we're going.

1 comment:

Mark T. Alamed said...

I signed the petition to put the question on the ballot. I hope it passes, although I think folks should be allowed to grow the stuff they use in order to eliminate the wholesalers and middlemen. You know, the folks the government is making rich by banning marijuana.

Prohibition is a silly human concoction.