Change Course On Pot Laws
DECRIMINALIZE MARIJUANA • Fines, legal medical use both make sense
Are Olympic champion Michael Phelps or Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes going to jail for using small amounts of marijuana? Probably not. In which case, neither should anybody else.
Massachusetts overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure last year making possession or use of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction that carries a $100 fine. In other words, it's not a crime. Two New Haven lawmakers, Sens. Toni Harp and Martin Looney, have proposed a similar law here. They note that the state is facing a major budget crisis and that committing police, court and prison resources is, as Ms. Harp put it, not a good use of the people's money.
A Harvard study found that Massachusetts police spend about $30 million a year on arresting and investigating low-level marijuana users. There is no similar study in Connecticut, so it is hard to draw a parallel, but clearly some significant resources go into marijuana policing, prosecuting and imprisoning.
Also, current laws have a disparate effect on urban offenders because of "enhanced sentencing zones" near schools. Virtually the entire city of Hartford is in enhanced sentencing zones.
Laws have also been introduced this year to allow sick people to obtain marijuana with a doctor's permission. Some cancer patients use the drug for pain control or to alleviate the nausea caused by chemotherapy; AIDS patients use it to battle the "wasting" associated with the disease; and some studies have shown it to be an effective treatment for glaucoma. The General Assembly passed a medical marijuana law in 2007, only to have Gov. M. Jodi Rell veto it.
The idea that patients have to break the law to control their symptoms and suffering is wrong. To date, 13 states have legalized medicinal marijuana use. This is a matter of compassion.
It is time to do something different. The 35-year war on drugs has been prohibitively expensive and largely a failure. The New York Times recently reported that the Mexican marijuana trade is more robust than ever.
Recreational drugs should not be made legal, but it may be time to think of the drug problem in public health terms and focus on treatment, education, safety and harm reduction. If we cannot keep marijuana and other drugs out of the country, as is clearly the case, then we need to find the best way to live with them.
February 23, 2009