Pubdate: Sun, 20 Mar 2011
Source: Columbia Missourian (MO)
Copyright: 2011 Columbia Missourian
Author: Margaux Henquinet
Bookmark: (NORML)
Bookmark: (Missouri)


COLUMBIA --An MU law professor challenged the war on drugs and 
current criminal codes during a speech Saturday at a conference 
advocating marijuana law reform.

"We warehouse, we incarcerate, that's what we do," MU associate law 
professor S. David Mitchell said. "We don't treat."

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws conference was 
held in MU's Arts and Sciences Building on Friday and Saturday.

Mitchell is not involved with the organization, but Dan Viets, the 
coordinator of the organization's Missouri chapter, invited him to 
speak after seeing a comment he made on a newspaper story about 
Missouri Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr.

The story quoted a statement Price made about the over-incarceration 
of nonviolent offenders. Mitchell, who often looks at felon 
disenfranchisement in his work, responded by mentioning the 
over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders convicted for drug-related crimes.

In his comment, which he mentioned during the speech, Mitchell said 
overcrowding in jails is caused by treating all drug users the same, 
giving jail sentences for both possession and trafficking. He said 
the country's war on drugs is a problem because it addresses drug 
abuse with jail time, not treatment.

Mitchell's speech, which lasted for about 30 minutes, included an 
overview of the history of marijuana laws, tracking the drug's 
progress from legal to illegal.

He also presented information about the various legal consequences of 
felony convictions, which may include drug convictions, in place 
today: lifetime denial of welfare, eviction from public housing, loss 
of federal financial aid for education and more.

"At the end of the day, when we take a war on drugs, we are taking on 
the symptom, not the cause," he said. He advocated taking a look at 
treatment options and looking for a rational, reasonable way to 
address the issue.

After the speech, Mitchell took questions from the audience. The 30 
to 40 people in attendance asked him questions but also addressed 
each other, making the period more of a discussion of policies and rights.

After the speech, Mitchell said he had heard interesting things at 
the conference, such as testimonies from people whose doctors look 
the other way while they take marijuana for medical relief. Medical 
marijuana patients spoke on a panel earlier in the day.

Mitchell said while he didn't know enough about the issue to say if 
the drug should be legal or not, policymakers should look at how to 
regulate the drug, when to regulate it, and other related issues. 
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