Pubdate: Sun, 19 Feb 2006
Source: Milford Daily News, The (MA)
Address: PO Box 160, Milford, MA 01757-0160
Fax: (508) 634-7514
Copyright: 2006 The Milford Daily News
Author:  Rick Holmes
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Save us from politicians sending messages.

They were at it again this week, debating a  bill that would provide 
civil fines, instead of criminal records, for those  caught 
possessing small amounts of marijuana.

"That's the wrong message to send to our  kids," Attorney General Tom 
Reilly said. "We have to keep them out of  drugs."

State Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury,  agreed, saying the bill 
"sends the wrong message."

Let's get real: Politicians don't send  messages, especially to kids, 
who couldn't name their state representative if  their iPods depended 
on it. For 40 years, politicians have been "sending messages" to kids 
about the dangers of pot and for 40 years, the kids have been  ignoring them.

State legislators and attorneys general don't  send messages; they 
pass laws and prosecute people caught breaking them. The law  they 
have now says they can send you to prison for six months and fine you 
$500  for possession of a single joint -- on top of your lawyer's 
fees, of course.

Another law makes anyone convicted of  marijuana possession 
ineligible for federal college loans or grants. Nice  message they 
are sending: Anyone who smokes pot shouldn't be able to go to  college.

Reilly is worried about sending messages to  kids, but the law he 
supports applies to adults as well. A federal study  released last 
year found that 12 percent of adults in the greater Boston area  had 
smoked marijuana in the previous month. Twelve percent broke the law 
by  choosing this relatively benign alternative to a cocktail.

What message are the politicians sending to  millions of adults? That 
they can't decide for themselves which mild intoxicant  to enjoy. 
That their government believes they must be treated like children -- 
or criminals.

The adults aren't listening to the  politicians'message any more than 
the kids are. Some of them have been laughing  at "reefer madness" 
propaganda for 40 years, and the passage of time hasn't made  it any 
more convincing.

In fact, the aging of the baby boomers has  given science its first 
opportunity to measure the impact of long-term drug use.  In a recent 
review of the research, Time magazine reported that, while cocaine 
and heroin are as dangerous as originally thought, "the so-called 
demon weed  turned out to be a lot less devilish than advertised.

"The popular image of the goofy, smoky  slacker notwithstanding, a 
2003 study in the Journal of the International  Neuropsychological 
Society found that even among regular users, there is no  proof that 
pot causes irreversible cognitive damage," Time writes.

Long-term use can affect memory, but those  effects fade if the user 
stops. Marijuana can be addictive for some, says  psychologist Peter 
Provet, president of Odyssey House. "But a lot of people who  use pot 
don't become addicts."

Forty years doesn't seem to have changed the  politics of drug laws. 
State legislators all seem to have this Nixon-era belief  that if 
they support any marijuana reform bill the voters will decide they 
are hippies and the narcs will search their sock drawers.

But the voters are way ahead of them. Over  the last five years, 
voters in 26 Massachusetts districts -- including those  represented 
by Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, Rep. Debby Blumer, D-Framingham 
and Rep. Jim Vallee, D-Franklin -- have been asked in ballot 
questions whether  they support a reform bill similar to the one now 
before the Legislature. In  every case, voters supported the reforms 
by a healthy margin.

Moore, Blumer and Vallee all promptly said  they would ignore the 
wishes of the voters in their districts. Something about  sending a 
message, if I recall. Vallee, who was then chairman of the criminal 
justice committee, said it probably didn't have the votes to pass, so 
he  wouldn't allow his committee to consider it.

But something has changed. Vallee's criminal  justice committee was 
eliminated and a new committee on mental health and  substance abuse 
was created. The new committee is concerned with getting  effective 
treatment to people who are addicted and ill. It approaches substance 
abuse as an issue of public health, not public morality. It's more 
interested in  helping people than in sending messages by locking them up.

That committee this week endorsed the  decriminalization bill, but 
given the wimpishness of the other legislators, it  may go no 
further. Asked about the bill, Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, 
declined  to take a position. "I'm not sure the bill will get to the 
floor," he said hopefully.

Even this bill, which would change the  penalty for possession of 
less than an ounce of marijuana to a $250 fine, is a  weak compromise 
with common sense.

The common sense approach would recognize  that, by almost any 
measure, marijuana is no worse than beer. And the 
legitimate  concerns about pot -- purity, potency and abuse by 
children -- could most easily  be addressed by treating it exactly like beer.

Kids have told me it's easier to get hold of  pot than alcohol. 
There's a reason for that: Alcohol is sold by liquor store  owners 
who face heavy fines and lost business if they are caught selling to 
anyone under 21.

There's also a reason why the jump to hard  drugs is easier for 
pot-smokers than drinkers: The man at the liquor store might  want to 
talk you into a finer wine or fancier brew, but he doesn't stock 
cocaine  or crystal meth. Why not let him put some regulated, taxed 
marijuana in his  humidor along with the cigars?

But common sense and sound public policy go  out the window when 
politicians fall under the sway of reefer madness. They are  too busy 
sending messages no one is listening to and locking up otherwise 
responsible citizens.