Pubdate: Fri, 10 Feb 2006
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Copyright: 2006 The Daily Iowan
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek deserves more support than he 
is likely to receive for his recent appearance before the Iowa 
Legislature. At a time when legislators are considering still-tougher 
penalties for marijuana possession, Pulkrabek presented a more 
nuanced - and sensible - approach to alcohol and drug policy.

His stand shows a responsible dedication to policies that are both 
fair and practically feasible, and it is to legislators' discredit 
that they seem disinclined to listen.

Pulkrabek made seven recommendations to the Legislature on Wednesday, 
two of which have grabbed particular attention.

Instead of facing a $145 fine and jail time, publicly drunk 
individuals not causing harm would be taken to a detox center 
overnight, and they would be issed a warning in the morning.

Currently, a first public-intoxication conviction results in the 
aforementioned penalties.

Similarly, possession of small amounts of marijuana would result in 
less-severe penalties under Pulkrabek's proposal.

Currently, first-offense possession of any amount of marijuana can be 
punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Iowa City police arrested 424 students for public intoxication during 
the 2004-05 school year. It is impossible to tell how many of those 
were being violent or causing damage, but such offenses would be 
covered by other statutes, anyway.

If they wanted, officers could make 1,000 public-intoxication arrests 
every weekend, given the prevalence of public drunkenness downtown.

Imposing harsh penalties after largely arbitrary arrests is ridiculous.

Pulkrabek's stance on marijuana should be equally applauded. 
Marijuana possession arrests can cause severe damage to a students' 
life. Financial aid can be stripped, and a serious misdemeanor on a 
criminal record can cause immense difficulties in future career 
searches. Given the relative nature of the substances, possession of 
small amounts of marijuana is not inherently worthy of a harsher 
penalty than underage possession of a comparable amount of alcohol.

There is also little wisdom in detaining hundreds of college students 
for minor infractions, because of budget constraints and overcrowded 
jails. Police officers have more pressing issues at hand than 
arresting random drunks and worrying about tiny amounts of marijuana. 
Currently, Johnson County ships approximately 10 inmates per day to 
the Linn County Correctional Facility, at a daily cost of $65 per 
head. County officials are considering building a new jail, and one 
is badly needed.

Pulkrabek's ideas, however, would ease the problem considerably.

UI students will invariably engage in activities that violate the 
law, and it is right that laws be enforced.

However, authorities must use discretion in their enforcement 
procedures. Handing out overly harsh penalties for relatively common 
incidents is absolutely pointless. Pulkrabek's statement that 
"students come here to get educated, but a large percentage leave 
with a degree and a criminal record" is entirely correct and shows a 
proper willingness to review unfair penalties for behavior that, for 
better or worse, is not atypical for collegians here or elsewhere in 
the country - a pragmatic wisdom that should be encouraged.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman