Pubdate: Sun, 24 Jun 2012
Source: Charleston Gazette (WV)
Copyright: 2012 Charleston Gazette


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a potential Democratic candidate for
president in 2016, wants to reduce penalties for simple marijuana 

Long ago, New York's Legislature decreed that private possession of
less than 25 grams of pot is a mere "violation" -- less than a
misdemeanor -- subject to just a ticket and fine. Like a parking
ticket, it creates no criminal record. However, police stop-and-frisk
tactics used chiefly against black and Hispanic youths force them to
empty their pockets, displaying bags of pot in public view, which
raises the offense to misdemeanor level.

Cuomo wants to halt such misdemeanor arrests and merely issue tickets
to stopped pot-users. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other
leaders applaud Cuomo's plan. Various New York newspapers endorse it.
But Republicans in the state Senate have raised opposition.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel likewise wants to reduce simple
pot possession to traffic-ticket status. And candidates advocating at
least partial legalization recently won lopsided election victories in
Oregon and Texas.

America's culture slowly is easing its disapproval of pot-puffers. The
latest Gallup poll found that half of Americans now think the mild
drug should be legal. In 1969, only 12 percent held that view. So far,
14 states have lowered marijuana penalties, and 16 states have
legalized it for medical use as a painkiller.

We don't think pot-smoking is desirable or wise. Sucking smoke into
one's lungs causes cancer and other horrible diseases, as tobacco has
proven. But government-enforced prohibition doesn't really stamp out
taboo behavior. America's historic prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s
was a classic flop.

Millions of police hours are wasted in petty pot pursuit, along with
court time, prosecutor time and jail time. Millions of young Americans
are branded with criminal records, damaging their opportunity to hold
good careers.

Writing in USA Today, Jill Harris of the Drug Policy Alliance said
that lowering penalties to traffic-ticket level would mean that such
youths "would no longer face life-altering, dream-killing criminal
charges for conduct that more than 40 percent of Americans have
engaged in at one point in their lives."

Pot-puffing is a social nuisance, like binge-drinking, cigarette
smoking and the like. But America is big enough to endure social
nuisances, without marking so many young people as criminals.
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