Pubdate: Sun, 07 May 2000
Source: Idaho Statesman, The (ID)
Copyright: 2000 The Idaho Statesman
Contact:  Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 40, Boise ID 83707
Fax: (208) 377-6449
Author: Dan Gallagher


Opponents worry that legalization would lead people to harder

Marijuana and hemp should be legalized to clear the nation's prisons
of many nonviolent inmates convicted of drug law violations and
provide an alternative crop for making construction materials and
paper, said supporters at a Statehouse gathering of more than 500.

Speakers at the Saturday citizens rally said the American prison and
jail population passed the 2 million mark in February.

More than half of those imprisoned are nonviolent, and the largest
category of inmates are drug law violators.

"From its inception, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was a racist law;
we can see that today," Boise State University sociology professor
Martin Orr said of the law prohibiting pot.

"African Americans and Hispanics combined are about 20 percent of the
marijuana users, but they comprise 55 percent of the marijuana
offenders sentenced under federal law."

The Legalization of Marijuana Club in April became an official student
organization at North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene.

Its goal is drafting a statewide voter initiative to legalize pot for
personal use under a state-licensing program.

It also supports legalizing industrial hemp as an Idaho crop and
creating a system of state-regulated marijuana stores, like liquor

The rally shared those aims.

"Prohibition of hemp has had a tremendous strain on our state's
economy and environment," Orr said. "In the face of deforestation and
the resultant timber shortage, it's an industry poised to explode. We
can stop making trees into paper and get better paper in the bargain."

Some American farmers support legalizing hemp as a niche crop, saying
it contains a minuscule amount of the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol
narcotic, not enough for a buzz.

But from participants with T-shirts emblazoned with cannabis sativa
leaves, it was evident they supported both hemp and pot.

Ada County Sheriff Vaughn watched the nearby rally.

"There has to be a great debate in terms of factual information," he
said. "From the law enforcement standpoint, my concern is industrial
hemp they grow is the same THC content as the marijuana we smoked 25
years ago. You legalize agricultural hemp and you legalize a gateway
drug leading to other substances."

Chris Chapman of Boise agreed marijuana is a gateway which led her
late son, Lance Michael Chapman, to harder drugs.

He developed heart problems and was in line for a heart transplant,
but took himself off the list of people to receive a new organ out of
regret over drug use, she said.

"He said 'Mom, it's a death sentence. People don't understand
addiction,'" Chapman said.
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