Pubdate: Fri, 22 Feb 2002
Source: Daily Camera (CO)
Copyright: 2002 The Daily Camera.
Author: Robert Sharpe


Clay Evans' thoughtful Feb. 17 Insight column on the tendency of youth to 
take risks no doubt raised some eyebrows.

The "let's do nothing" approach is decidedly at odds with today's zero 
tolerance environment in schools.

Still, there is something to be said for Evans' appeal for tolerance.

Most people outgrow their youthful indiscretions, some even going so far as 
to become President of the United States. A criminal conviction and record, 
on the other hand, can be life shattering.

After admitting to smoking pot (but not inhaling), Bill Clinton opened 
himself up to "soft on drugs" criticism.

And thousands of Americans have paid the price in the form of shattered lives.

More Americans went to prison or jail during the Clinton administration 
than during any past administration. Nearly 60 percent of those sentenced 
to federal prison under Clinton are there for drug offenses. As an admitted 
former problem drinker and alleged illicit drug user, President George W. 
Bush is also politically vulnerable when it comes to drugs.

While youthful indiscretions obviously did not stop Clinton or Bush from 
assuming leadership positions, an arrest surely would have. The health 
effects of a relatively harmless drug like marijuana are inconsequential 
compared to the long-term effects of criminal records.

There is no evidence whatsoever that zero tolerance has done anything other 
than give rise to a massive prison-industrial complex.

Based on findings that criminal records do more harm than marijuana, a 
majority of European Union countries have decriminalized pot. Despite harsh 
penalties and perhaps because of forbidden fruit appeal, lifetime use of 
marijuana is higher in the U.S. than any European country.


Program Officer Drug Policy Alliance, Washington, D.C.
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