Pubdate: Sun, 07 Apr 2013
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2013 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Leonard Frieling


In the history of the city of Lafayette, Colo., my resignation
probably went down as one of the more memorable. I left my position as
a municipal court judge in protest of a proposal to increase the
penalties for marijuana possession in the city. Some people agreed
with my stance, some disagreed, but I suspect the majority of people
probably found it frivolous: Did this guy really give up such a
powerful position just so he could smoke a doobie in the afternoon?

Six years later, those folks are no longer laughing. In fact, most of
them probably voted "yes" on the initiative to legalize marijuana in
Colorado that passed with a wide margin this past November.

That's because voters in Colorado (and in Washington state, which also
voted to legalize marijuana) finally had a long-overdue, serious
conversation about the harms the prohibition of marijuana has had on
this country. Sure, for some people, their vote was about preferring
marijuana over other drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, that kill
millions each year but remain perfectly legal. But for the vast
majority of folks - the Democrats and Republicans and cops and
teachers and grandmothers who supported this legislation - it wasn't
about that.

It was about collapsing budgets, overcrowded prisons, misspent law
enforcement resources and gang violence in our streets. It was about
funding organized crime when we should be funding schools. And it's
about important questions about the kind of society we all want to
live in.

For my own part, I quit my job as a judge because, working within the
court system, along with my private criminal defense practice, I saw
just how much court and police time was spent on such matters, how
little this did to stop the supply of marijuana and how much it did to
promote violence in the community. Not only does marijuana finance our
street gangs and the deadly cartels who've killed an estimated 60,000
people in Mexico in the past seven years, but prohibition is often the
direct cause of this violence. For every time police arrest a dealer,
they create a vacancy in the extremely lucrative drug marketplace. The
scramble to fill this vacancy is certain, swift and often bloody.

The law enforcement approach doesn't work. The drug war has lasted
more than four decades,cost more than $2 trillion nationwide, yet
addiction rates remain about the same. The difference is that, because
sellers are unlicensed, they willingly market to children. Because
drugs are unregulated, users don't know what they're putting into
their bodies nor what constitutes a dangerous dose. And because they
can be prosecuted, they're less likely to seek help if they overdose.

Why are we ruining so many people's lives for something that even the
president has admitted is a problem of public health rather than a
matter for law enforcement?

For 40 years, the gloves have been off when it came to prosecuting
drug crimes. Largely because of the drug war, we not only have the
highest rate of incarceration, we have the highest number of people
incarcerated in the world - more than half a million people more than
China, our nearest competitor, even though they have more than four
times our population. That's not a sustainable way to run an economy,
nor a desirable way to run a democracy.

Maine has a strong tradition of political independence and innovation.
In honor of that tradition, it's time we realize that the direction of
our current drug policies is leading the herd over the cliff. In honor
of that tradition, it's time to forge a new path and seriously discuss
the failure of drug policy in America today.

Leonard Frieling is a former municipal court judge for the city of
Lafayette, Colo., and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,
a group of cops, judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement
professionals calling for an end to the prohibition of marijuana. He
has practiced criminal defense for 37 years.
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