It's time to ease law on marijuana
Published Wednesday, June 8, 2011
On June 4, the Connecticut State Senate passed, by a 19-18 vote, a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill was then approved in the Connecticut House of Representatives and will be sent to the governor for signature. Gov. Dannel Malloy is in support of the bill.
According to a Harvard economist, Connecticut spends more than $130 million every year in enforcing marijuana prohibition laws. This is real money that can be better spent in Connecticut.
Before I go any further, let me define decriminalization versus regulation or legalization: Decriminalization is not regulation or legalization.
Basically, decriminalization means that possession of a small quantity of marijuana would not be a crime punishable by incarceration. A person found in possession of the amount in question would be issued an infraction — similar to a traffic ticket. Subsequent offenses would yield increased fines.
Regulation or legalization would be similar to the way we regulate, say, alcohol, with strict controls on who can produce, distribute and sell. Of course, taxing regulated marijuana enterprises would create new, and significant, revenue streams to the state.
It is important to understand that while many arguments can be made to support regulating marijuana, the current bill is not regulation. It is about decriminalization.
Now, why would anyone advocate for decriminalizing marijuana use when drug use and, more importantly, abuse, including abuse of legal prescription drugs, is a serious problem in our society?
No one can argue that the effect on individuals, families, the workplace, judicial and penal systems, and taxes is causing a strain on society that is arguably one of the most serious concerns facing our state and our nation.
Indeed, we need an honest public conversation about our national “war on drugs.” We need to recognize its failures and we need to change course from the path we are on.
Marijuana, while a part of the overall conversation regarding drugs, merits separate treatment. In fact, 13 states, including our neighbors in Massachusetts and New York, have recognized this and decriminalized marijuana. As a side note, 16 states and the District of Columbia permit marijuana for medical use.
Recent statistics provided by the federal government state that almost 100 million Americans admit to having smoked marijuana. Of these, 20 million America ns smoked marijuana during the past year — and these are the people that admitted using marijuana. We must face the reality that a large percentage of hard-working, tax-paying Americans are marijuana users. Connecticut ought to recognize this reality and decriminalize and, ultimately, regulate marijuana use.
The parallels of marijuana prohibition and alcohol prohibition are pretty clear. Alcohol prohibition was a huge failure that gave rise to organized crime in this country. Simply put, marijuana prohibition is not working.
Study after study demonstrates that, generally speaking, marijuana is safe and there is no credible evidence to suggest the use of marijuana leads to using other drugs (the so-called “gateway” argument). In a society that regulates alcohol and prescription drugs, the prohibition on marijuana is illogical.
Worse yet, our current policy of prohibition encourages a disrespect of the law. In a country where more than 100 million people admit to using marijuana, we know that there are many more who do not admit to using it and, in many cases, they are all willfully violating the law. Recent statistics show that more than 800,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges last year (almost 10,000 in Connecticut). More than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the past decade. Almost 90 percent of these arrests were for simple possession, not trafficking or sale (in Connecticut more than 75 percent were for possession of less than a half-ounce).
A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows that Connecticut voters support decriminalizing marijuana by a 65-32 margin.
These same people also favor legalizing medical marijuana for those with doctors’ recommendations — another idea supported by Governor Malloy — by a whopping margin of 79-17.
Importantly, both proposals have majority support across political parties and among all age groups.
The time has come for Connecticut to join the other states in decriminalizing marijuana.
The House has passed this decriminalization legislation, and the governor should sign it to be enacted into law.
Jim Miron, a lawyer, is the former mayor of Stratford.