Pubdate: Sat, 04 May 2013
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2013 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Jamie Haase
Note: Jamie Haase, a former special agent with U.S. Immigration and 
Customs Enforcement, is a member of Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition, a group of more than 5,000 police, prosecutors, judges 
and other law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs.


Efforts to legalize marijuana have been in overdrive since November, 
when a majority of residents in Colorado and Washington deemed that 
the plant's consumption should be legally on par with alcohol.

Now, several other states have followed suit in considering similar 
proposals, and Alabama is among them with House Bill 550.

The bill is modeled after Colorado's regulatory model, and its 
introduction in Montgomery earlier this year signals that genuine 
debate over marijuana reform has finally arrived in the buckle of the 
Bible Belt. This is great news for Alabamians, since responsible 
marijuana policy will bring the state enhanced public safety, an 
alternative natural medicine and a potential fortune from both 
industry and tax revenues alike.

As a former special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs 
Enforcement who worked on the Mexican border, I know firsthand that 
regulating marijuana would make the United States a more secure 
place. Our border with Mexico is 2,000 miles long and impossible to 
fully safeguard.

Considering Mexico's drug war is approaching its seventh year with no 
signs of slowing down, there's no telling how many criminals have 
fled that country and sought refuge here in the United States. What 
is certain, though, is the fact that revenues from marijuana 
trafficking account for the majority of profits earned by Mexican 
cartels. These criminal organizations have been responsible for more 
than 60,000 deaths since 2006, many of them taking place right on our 
doorstep and involving gruesome torture, hangings and decapitations.

There's no doubt that using the criminal justice system to try to 
reduce marijuana use is a drain on Alabama's already limited law 
enforcement resources.

A clear illustration of this was the raid on Feb. 19 that netted 74 
arrests at the University of Alabama. Rather than making Tuscaloosa a 
safer place to live by investigating robberies and murders, officers 
instead devoted two months to an investigation that only served to 
wreak havoc on the lives of otherwise innocent college students.

These students, if convicted, may face jail time as well as barriers 
to financial aid, employment, housing and many other benefits for the 
rest of their lives.

Are we any better off for it?

Alabama jails are overflowing and the state's Department of 
Corrections is housing more than 190 percent of its intended 
capacity. Meanwhile, marijuana arrests contribute to the overcrowding 
as they make up more than 50 percent of the state's drug arrests. 
This alone should show Alabamians that marijuana regulation is a 
smart economic decision when it comes to the fiscal future of the state.

As for the potential revenues that could be gained by regulating 
marijuana, Alabama spends nearly $50 million annually on marijuana 
enforcement, according to a study by the Cato Institute. They also 
estimate that legalization would yield $8.7 billion in taxes 
nationwide. The illegal market created by marijuana is a 
multi-billion dollar industry, so with a smart taxation scheme, 
Alabama would make tons of money off the plant's regulation.

With a brand new poll from the Pew Research Center showing that 52 
percent of Americans now want marijuana regulated like alcohol, it's 
clear that the issue isn't going away anytime soon - in Alabama or 
elsewhere. It's inevitable that legalization will eventually make its 
way to the South. The question is whether Alabama can be the first 
state down here to make that happen.

Or will another one of the South's fertile states lead the way, 
making the safe, compassionate and fiscally sound decision to reform 
their marijuana laws?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom