Sen. Joe Biden said something interesting in his debate the other night-- that whether he agreed with people or not, he had learned never to question their motives.
I wish I could be like that, but....when I see the local district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs gathered in opposition to decriminalizing an ounce or less of marijuana, the focus of Massachusett's Question Two, I have to ask myself....how important to their job security is it that no cracks appear in the wall of drug prohibition?
Arguments against Question Two, which would turn a possession of small amounts of marijuana from a criminal offense into a civil one, only make sense if you ignore history, common sense and the facts.
The U.S. already has an excellent example of what happens when a substance that should be a matter of personal choice is criminalized. The thirteen years of alcohol prohibition in the U.S. during the early part of the twentieth century created a huge black market and allowed organized crime to become the American institution that it is today.. Prohibition led to the corruption of many law enforcement officials. Stronger alcohol was developed so that a little went further. The U.S. government lost $500 million a year in tax revenue.
Worst of all, prohibition turned millions of ordinary citizens into lawbreakers.
At today's press conference, Berkshire County District Attorney David F. Capeless, said that a first offense by someone 17 or older would lead to an automatic six month continuance, and that the case would be dismissed if someone stayed out of trouble for six months.
What he didn't say is that one single arrest for possession of marijuana leads to a criminal record that will affect housing, employment, benefits and military service.
Hampden County District Attorney Bill Bennett said that Question Two is " is a green light to drug dealers to target young children, especially high school students, to buy and use drugs." Mr. Bennett seems not to know how wothe minds of high schoolers work very well. And if this is so, shouldn't we recriminalize alcohol? How about cigarettes? How many lawbreakers do you think we'd have in Massachusetts if we did?
I have family members and friends who intend to vote against Question Two. They take a "Just say no" approach-- if you don't want to get arrested, don't break the law. They've never smoked, never will, and aren't missing a thing except, fortunately for them, the tar that smokers drag into their lungs. Far be it from me to say that non-smokers are missing out on anything. Marijuana. is not a necessity of life . It is simply one of life's pleasures.
When prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, organized crime took a huge loss in profits. We won't see that in Massachusetts if Question Two passes because decriminalization is not the same as legalization. By keeping marijuana illegal we lose potential tax revenue and lose out on the opportunity for regulation. At this point in time however, I would be satisfied just to see marijuana smokers be able to live without fear of arrest.
PS. Not all law enforcement officials think drug prohibition is a good idea; I wrote about it here. If you want to see what ABC's John Stossel thinks, go here.
PPS: Twelve states have already decriminalized marijuana and if there were any great upsurge in drug use or violent crime in those states, the DAs would have made sure we know about it. More than 71,000 Massachusetts residents were arrested for simple possession of marijuana from 1995-2002. Consider the personal cost as well as the financial cost and vote Yes on Question Two.