Pubdate: Sat, 21 Mar 2009
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2009 Bellingham Herald
Author: David A. Nichols Note: David A. Nichols was a Whatcom County 
superior court judge for 20 years, retiring in 2004.
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A recent letter to the editor argued against reforming marijuana 
laws, missing the mark entirely in my opinion. After serving as a 
Whatcom County superior court judge for 20 years, I can assure you 
that the prohibition of marijuana has been a colossal failure. 
Arresting, prosecuting, and jailing people are an expensive and 
ineffective way to address a public health issue.

We should take a lesson from recent anti-tobacco public education 
campaigns targeted at youth. Youth initiation rates of cigarette 
smoking have plummeted in recent years, both in Washington and 
nationwide. We did not have to arrest a single cigarette smoker to 
accomplish these successes.

It is time we take a hard look at the irrefutable fact that marijuana 
prohibition is causing more harm than good. I think we can do better. 
That is why I support Senate Bill 5615, which has been introduced in 
the Washington state Legislature. This bill would make adult 
possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction instead 
of a misdemeanor crime. The state estimates that the bill would save 
Washington taxpayers over $16 million each year, and the experience 
of the 12 other states who have already taken this step demonstrates 
no negative impact to their communities.

It is my fervent belief that this state and nation must come to 
recognize that continuing to treat drug users as criminals 
perpetuates an evil that rewards the drug sellers and corrupts our 
society. Until we honestly and appropriately deal with the entire 
drug issue as a health problem analogous to tobacco or liquor, and 
not as a "war" we cannot win, we will continue to reap the whirlwind 
of huge world-wide illegal drug profits which are costing us 
billions, threatening the stability of nations, causing soaring crime 
rates and diverting money which is sorely needed elsewhere.

The pending legislation in Olympia is a first step toward a rational 
approach to the drug problem and deserves to be supported by all of us.

With the exception of a few brave souls willing to stake their 
careers on speaking out, the nation and world are mystifyingly deaf 
and mute to the reality that the "war on drugs" not only is not 
working; it is having the opposite effect of escalating the problem 

The present generation has forgotten that emotions also ran rampant 
in the years leading up to Prohibition. Convinced that alcohol was 
evil and that society would be ruined if it were not outlawed, 
Congress was persuaded to pass legislation which had the inevitable 
result of encouraging the black market to flourish, allowing 
organized crime to gain a foothold which it has never relinquished, 
to seize control and enjoy huge profits, requiring the creation of 
colossal state and federal police forces to combat the crime and 
wasting millions of dollars, only to be repealed when enough people 
realized that the efforts were availing nothing. We now sensibly have 
liquor under state control, and treat addiction as a health problem.

We have also been smart enough to treat tobacco use the same way. 
Cigarettes are regulated but not proscribed. We have left it to the 
culture to censure cigarette smoking, which has been far more 
effective than if we criminalized their use.

Why cannot we understand that, even though alcohol and nicotine abuse 
cause far more damage and loss of productivity to our society than do 
drugs, by not criminalizing their use but treating their misuse as a 
health problem instead of a crime has allowed us to avoid all the 
problems that now beset us as we wage the "war on drugs?"

If we ever want to stop the craziness and futility of our present 
anti-drug approach, we must de-criminalize possession and use of all 
drugs. Education, addiction treatment and state regulation need to 
replace arrests, trials, jail sentences, growth of cartels and drug 
gangs, corrupt government institutions, and the mindless head-bashing 
against brick walls that characterize what we are doing now.

It will never work. It didn't work in the past. If we would only 
study the past, maybe we would not be condemned to repeat it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom