Pubdate: Mon, 11 Feb 2008
Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Burlington Free Press
Author: Matt Ryan
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


ESSEX JUNCTION -- More than two dozen people -- teens, police 
officers, educators and legislators -- braved Thursday night's wintry 
weather to discuss how a law to decriminalize marijuana could affect 
Essex's youth.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 last week to lessen 
penalties for those caught with an ounce or less of the drug. Such 
offenders would be eligible for court diversion, a process by which 
their criminal record could be erased.

Essex CHIPS director Ray Coffey showed a series of slides depicting 
the possible dangers of marijuana. The adults in the room echoed 
similar warnings and stressed that decriminalization was not 
legalization.  Eventually, Essex Junction Rep. Tim Jerman, a 
Democrat, opened up the floor to the kids.

"I'm really interested in hearing what you have to say," Jerman said.

High school students in the room said marijuana was easier to get 
than alcohol. Leo Wermer, 16, suggested a new law would change little 
in youth culture.

"Pot is a social thing," Wermer said.

"Decriminalization wouldn't make it any easier for me to get it."

Essex Police Cpl. Kurt Miglinas contended decriminalizing pot would 
encourage more of its use, which would create more problems for police.

Alcohol "is a legal drug, and we can't control that one," Miglinas 
said. "If we have another one, we're going to have a drug problem 
running parallel to the problem with alcohol."

Essex Police Lt. Brad LaRose added pot would lead to harder drugs. 
Wermer again disagreed with the officers, saying although people who 
use cocaine or heroine might have started with pot, not everyone who 
uses pot moves onto cocaine and heroine.

Adults and teens agreed for the most partthat anti-marijuana 
campaigns, in and out of the classroom, lacked the punch of 
anti-cigarette and alcohol campaigns.

"The only commercial I saw for marijuana was of a guy who was still 
living in his mom's basement," Cali Cornacchia, 17, said. "It was 
funny, but it doesn't have the same impact for me as seeing a kid 
talk about how he saw his mom die of lung cancer from smoking cigarettes."

Educators should direct the lessons at eighth graders and freshmen in 
high school, the teens said, because most students who use drugs 
begin smoking pot when they move into the high school.

Coffey suggested the days of "just say no" may be at an end. Westford 
Rep. Martha Heath, a Democrat, agreed.

"If you don't tell kids why, I don't think it works," Heath said. 
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