10/16/97 / Lawrence Journal-World / to the editor: Marijuana policy
October 1997 marks the 60-year anniversary of the enactment of marijuana prohibition and represents a golden opportunity to reevaluate this controversial public policy. Marijuana remains the third most popular recreational drug in the United States despite six decades of prohibition. According to government figures, nearly 71 million Americans have smoked marijuana. Of these, 18.5 million have smoked marijuana within the past year, and 10 million are regular marijuana smokers.
Many successful business, professional and political leaders admit they have used marijuana. The vast majority of manjuana smokers are no different from their non-using peers. Like most Americans, they are otherwise law-abiding responsible citizens who work hard, raise families, contribute to their communities, pay taxes and want a safe, crime-free neighborhood in which to live. The biggest harm to people using marijuana is not from the drug itself but from society's approach to it, criminalizing hundreds of thousands of mdividuals each year. Every 49 seconds an American marijuana smoker is arrested and subjected to the possibility of a lengthy jail term. Even those who avoid incarceration are subject to additional punishments, including submitting and paying for drug testing, probation meetings, drug counseling, legal fees, court
costs, fines, community service, lab fees, limitations on travel, curfews, loss of occupational and driver's license, loss of child custody. Further, through civil forfeiture proceedings, often prior to criminal charges even being filed, many suspected marijuana offenders lose their cars, cash, boats, land, business equipment, home furnishings and houses.
To continue to spend/waste state and federal time and money, seeking out, arresting, prosecuting, supervising and incarcerating these individuals is a misapplication of the criminal sanction which undermines respect for the law in general and extends government into private areas of our life that are inappropriate. The inevitable result of current marijuana policy is the waste of tax dollars, ruined lives and crushed families, a frustrating impact on daily court proceedings and useless and unnecessary prison over-crowding. After 60 years of an ineffective and destructive policy, it is time to once and for all end marijuana prohibition.