Pubdate: Sun, 22 Jun 2014
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Page: A2


WEIRTON, W. Va. - As marijuana use grows - the number of smokers
jumped 20 percent between 2007 and 2010 - enforcement of laws against
the drug is diminishing in most places.

But there are exceptions. In West Virginia's northern panhandle,
marijuana possession arrests soared by more than 2,000 percent in the
first decade of this century. It was the biggest jump in arrest rate
of any locality in the nation, although in a county of just 30,000
residents, that amounts to only a few dozen cases.

Another exception is Virginia's Fairfax County, where arrests more
than doubled between 2000 and 2013.

Some police see marijuana as a path to addictive prescription pills,
heroin and cocaine. A pot crackdown will cut the supply and use of
harder drugs, they say.

In West Virginia, Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher says that
although "heroin is our new problem drug, it all starts with marijuana."

Marijuana, argues Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr., has
become more of a gateway drug as it's been refined to be far stronger.
Weed, he says, is a growing source of problems with impaired driving.
"My mission is to fight crime, and drug offenses are crimes."

In addition, some police believe marijuana possession arrests provide
a unique opportunity to capture dealers whose sales of heroin and meth
are ravaging many U. S. communities.

Fletcher argues that pot possession arrests lead police up the crime

"The young person with just a couple buds says, ' I can't afford to go
to jail and lose my job,'" Fletcher says. "He says, ' It's just grass!
Johnny down the street's selling OxyContin!' And you say, ' Okay,
well, can you buy some from Johnny for us?' And there we go."

Another factor is the federal government has pumped more than $ 4
billion into a crime-fighting grant program.

Federal officials say many police chiefs and sheriffs believe racking
up arrests bolsters their case for money they have come to depend on.
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