Pubdate: Tue, 14 Oct 2008
Source: Daily News Tribune (Waltham, MA)
Copyright: 2008 The Daily News Tribune
Author: Rick Holmes, Local columnist
Cited: Question 2
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Regulation)


Not much has changed since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 
1971, including the rhetoric being used this year against Question 2, 
a referendum on the November ballot that would change possession of 
small amounts of marijuana from a criminal charge to a civil 
infraction and a $100 fine.

Marijuana is more addictive and more potent than ever, opponents 
repeat with "Reefer Madness" alarm. It's a "gateway drug," they are 
still saying, with the same faulty logic: Almost every heroin user 
started by smoking pot, therefore a single puff starts you on the 
road to the hard stuff. Reducing the penalty for marijuana possession 
would "send the wrong message" to children, as if kids pay close 
attention to the actions of legislators and read the fine print in 
the drug statutes.

For 37 years, people have been ignoring these arguments and the laws 
they support. One study estimates that 100 million Americans have 
tried marijuana at least once. A federal agency reported a few years 
ago that 12 percent of Boston area residents had smoked pot within 
the last month.

Their real-life experiences have been undercutting war-on-drugs 
rhetoric for generations now, as have some obvious facts: For all the 
billions of dollars spent and millions of arrests made, drugs today 
are as available, as affordable and as potent as ever. No wonder a 
Zogby poll released this month found that three out of four U.S. 
voters believe the drug war is failing.

But the war goes on, perpetuated by politicians who live in fear of 
being called "soft on drugs," and promoted by police and prosecutors 
with mixed motivations: the sincere desire to protect people from 
dangerous substances, as well as the ability to use a pot bust to 
crack a more serious crime or to bargain for a stiffer sentence.

One recent study found that in New York City, where arrests for 
simple possession of marijuana increased tenfold, to 353,000 over a 
10-year period, officers use busts to score productivity points in 
community policing stats, and score overtime pay for court appearances.

Not in Massachusetts, say the district attorneys leading the 
opposition to Question 2. Nobody goes to jail for simple marijuana 
possession alone, and their records are sealed if they stay out of 
trouble for six months.

Proponents argue that they are punished nonetheless. A marijuana 
arrest can get you kicked out of public housing and can keep you from 
receiving federal college grants and loans for a lifetime. Even the 
details of a sealed criminal record is visible on a CORI check, and 
provide reason enough for an employer to toss your application. Then 
there's the legal expense, the embarrassment and anxiety an arrest 
can bring, whether you actually serve time or not.

Some police and prosecutors have vowed to be drug warriors no more. 
Norm Stamper spent decades fighting crime in San Diego and retired as 
Seattle police chief in 2000. Now he works with Law Enforcement 
Against Prohibition, making the case that drug laws help no one but 
organized crime.

The people are way ahead of the politicians when it comes to drug 
policy, Stamper says, even in the most conservative parts of the 
country. After he retired as chief, voters in Seattle took a dramatic 
step in approving Initiative 75, which instructed city police to make 
enforcement of laws prohibiting possession of marijuana by adults the 
"lowest law enforcement priority."

"That means lower than jaywalking," he told me.

Initiative 75 created an 11-member panel to study the new policy's 
effects over three years. That group disbanded early this year after 
its final report indicated I-75 had performed exactly as intended: 
Arrests for pot possession were dramatically reduced, keeping adults 
out of the criminal justice system, but there was no evidence of 
increased marijuana use among youth, no increase in crime, and no 
adverse impact on public health.

The people behind Question 2 expect similar results in Massachusetts. 
Laws covering drug trafficking and driving under the influence 
wouldn't be changed, and offenders under 18 would face fines, 
community service and mandatory drug awareness classes.

They have good reason to believe decriminalization wouldn't result in 
increased drug use: 11 other states already have similar laws, and 
their rates of drug use are no different.

Question 2 wouldn't legalize drugs, and it wouldn't force a truce in 
the war on drugs. It might reduce the casualties and restore some 
sanity in a small corner of that insane battlefield, which is reason 
enough to vote yes. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake