Pubdate: Tue, 03 Feb 2009
Source: Appalachian, The (NC Edu)
Copyright: 2009 Appalachian State University
Author: Jillian Swords
Cited: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


How the war on drugs will be handled under the new presidential
administration remains hazy, especially with regard to marijuana as
state laws slowly continue to adapt lower penalties for those using it
to get high.

Most recently, a Massachusetts voter-approved law to decriminalize
possession of up to an ounce of marijuana went into effect Jan. 2.

Violators will be issued a citation and must either pay a maximum $100
civil penalty or request a civil hearing before a clerk or judge.

In addition, marijuana law reform bills are pending in almost a dozen
other states.

Boone Police Chief Bill Post outlined North Carolina's laws
surrounding the drug.

While possession of up to an ounce and a half of marijuana is still a
misdemeanor in North Carolina, the state largely decriminalized
charges in the 1970s when the government reexamined the drug's
likelihood to cause dependency and other risks. It was consequently
put into a less dangerous category.

Post said violators never serve jail time for possession of up to an
ounce and a half.

"The jails and prisons are already full," Post said. "When I hear
people talk about how low-level drug dealers fill up American prisons,
[they're wrong.] There are too many violent offenders and criminals
that we have to deal with."

Other states employing various levels of marijuana decriminalization
legislature include Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota,
Mississippi, Nevada, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Oregon.

Matthew B. Robinson, government and justice studies professor at
Appalachian State University said in these states where possession of
small amounts is still a criminal (not civil) charge, city law
enforcement can rate marijuana enforcement as a low priority. Denver,
Colo. recently did this and was able to save enormous amounts of
resources by pursuing it, Robinson said.

Boone, however, is not on this list. University students convicted of
possession also face a number of recriminations from the Office of
Student Conduct, ranging from community service to expulsion.

Various other reservations about the drug have kept countrywide
decriminalization from becoming reality, including worries that
marijuana is a gateway drug. This implies that once a person begins to
use cannabis he or she would branch out and begin experimenting with
other drugs.

The vast majority of marijuana users never go on to use any other
drugs besides tobacco and alcohol-addictive drugs they were, a
majority of the time, using underage before marijuana ever came into
the picture, Robinson said.

Between alcohol and marijuana, the former has decidedly been proven as
the more dangerous, Robinson added.

"If people are using [marijuana] instead of alcohol, that's a net
gain," Robinson said. "Alcohol is much more likely to cause antisocial
behavior and violence. What drug on campus [contributes to] rape?
Alcohol. Multiple studies show that marijuana.reduces violent impulses."

Although complete legalization would involve a number of multi-faceted
issues, like the fact it would probably be irresponsibly marketed
towards young people as tobacco and alcohol have been, "if a person
could go to the store and buy a six-pack of beer and a pack of joints,
you wouldn't see people getting murdered over it like we saw in Boone
several years ago," Robinson said.

Post agreed that further decriminalization of the drug is a complex
topic, where issues like drugged driving must be taken into

North Carolina Driving While Impaired laws leave discretion of whether
someone is impaired by an illegal substance or not up to the testimony
of the police officer, Post said.

"For alcohol impairment, we can set a scientific level of impairment
at .08," he said.

For marijuana, the border is much more subjective.

Senior graphic arts and imaging technology major Andrew T. Markovic
has attended several rallies for The National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and said uses of the drug have its

"I know people that use marijuana for medicinal purposes," he said.
"It brings them a lot of comfort, rather than using a lot of
[oxycodone] and getting hooked on prescription painkillers."

Overall, Markovic said, "I think drugs are bad but I don't think it's
the place of a benevolent social planner to [regulate marijuana usage]."
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