Legalizing marijuana would help responsible users

The number of individuals incarcerated for marijuana law violations-more than 734,000 people nationwide-must be reduced. The United States has the highest prison population in the world, and these fringe criminals – most of whom are

The number of individuals incarcerated for marijuana law violations-more than 734,000 people nationwide-must be reduced. The United States has the highest prison population in the world, and these fringe criminals – most of whom are guilty of nothing more than casually (and privately) using marijuana – should not be grouped with murderers and rapists.
The punishment does not fit the crime. There simply is no victim. Yet by jailing the marijuana smoker, victims are created. Families are torn apart, children are removed from homes and financial burdens are forced upon violators in the form of hefty fines – all because our government wants to tell us what drugs we can and cannot take.
In their futile attempts to explain the difference between marijuana and legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine, the government calls marijuana a “gateway drug.” They say that marijuana use perpetuates the use of harder, more dangerous drugs. This is backward thinking. It is the fact that marijuana is illegal – that it must be obtained through criminal means – that causes the consumer to come in contact with these other drugs. Furthermore, drug dealers often lace their product with other drugs, in hopes of addicting their customer to something more profitable.
These serious issues, coupled with the fact that smoking marijuana is by all accounts safer than alcohol and cigarettes, should be more than adequate reasons to decriminalize and eventually legalize marijuana.
Some states, particularly on the West Coast, have recognized this and have begun the decriminalization process, which simply involves the elimination of jail time for first and second-time possession offenders. That means people who possess reasonable amounts of marijuana and have no intentions of selling or distributing it will not face the prospect of incarceration. Instead, they will pay small fines, similar to traffic violations. In other states, jail terms have been replaced with probation sentences. Also, in many states, marijuana is now legal for medical purposes.
Decriminalization and medical marijuana laws are important first steps in the process of legalization. But in many more conservative states, popular opinion is still against marijuana. The anti-drug propaganda that has permeated conservative heads via their television sets has worked. No law can be a success without first garnering public support for it. And with legalizing marijuana, decriminalization is the first step.
Once casual smokers stop being treated like felons, they will stop being viewed as criminals in their communities. And, just as the death penalty has proven not to be a deterrent to killers, there is no evidence that jail time and hefty fines stop people from using marijuana.
After the decriminalization process has been adopted, drug policy agencies should undertake an aggressive advertising campaign that does not laud marijuana, but groups it with alcohol as harmless in moderation. This should come at the same time that marijuana is legalized, so as to minimize protest.
It is important to understand that any legalization should not mean deregulation. State governments should have complete control over the sale of marijuana. Only state stores, much like liquor stores in Pennsylvania, should be allowed to sell it. Any illegal means of acquiring marijuana should be severely punished to discourage the formation of a black market. The use of marijuana should be legalized. Drug dealing should not.
Today, 35 percent of all marijuana is cultivated in the United States. It is one of the nation’s top ten cash crops. With legalization should come the licensing of marijuana cultivators. Cultivators should be required to meet very strict purity standards enforced presumably by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). They should also be limited as to the amount of their income that is made from marijuana cultivation. No cultivator should be able to sustain a livelihood on marijuana profits alone.
With regards to impairment, standards generally attributed to alcohol should also apply to marijuana. Driving while under the influence of marijuana should be a penalty, just as driving while intoxicated is. The goal of legalization is to help the responsible users, not the irresponsible ones.
Marijuana legalization and regulation will have many positive outcomes. Individuals who find a joint more relaxing than a cup of coffee will no longer be considered criminals. The safety of marijuana users will be ensured, because the product will be strictly tested for purity. And the new revenue, which could easily total in excess of $100 billion, will be extremely beneficial to social and education programs.

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