No ‘Question’ About It

September 25, 2008

Massachusetts — This weekend, thousands of demonstrators from Boston and beyond converged at Boston Common to show their support for “Question 2,” a proposition on the Nov. 4 ballot that would effectively decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Decriminalization of marijuana would certainly free up millions of dollars for a needy law enforcement system. But decriminalization means more to the commonwealth than just freed-up funds and relaxed laws regulating the drug; it means preventing thousands of talented citizens from being from losing career opportunities because of frivolous criminal records.

For nearly a century, the federal government has vilified and outlawed marijuana, and only recently has the practice of anti-marijuana propaganda and prohibition come under individual state scrutiny.

Recreational use of marijuana was brought to the United States by Mexican immigrants in the early 1910s. Then, much like today, Mexican immigration faced prejudice. Marijuana became associated with those who brought it, and politicians acted to stop the encroaching what one PBS documentary called the “marijuana menace.”

Since that time, the drug has faced increasing pressure and political condemnation, and is currently listed as a “Schedule I” – the most severe – substance by federal law, along with such mind-bending substances as LSD and heroin. This headstrong policy history has lead to millions of marijuana-related arrests and billions of tax dollars spent on enforcement.

Currently, a first-time offender of possession of the drug – in any amount – faces up to six months incarceration and/or a $500 fine in Massachusetts. This is more lenient than the federal law, which stipulates up to a year behind bars and a $1000 fine, but laws still provide for imprisonment to those who possess the plant.

Moreover, the commonwealth still has mandatory sentencing laws, all but guaranteeing a trip to jail for otherwise law-abiding, peaceful citizens.

But what may prove most damaging to both the economy and culture of Massachusetts is the long-term effects of the CORI system. The Criminal Offender Record Information system is a streamlined way for potential employers to check the criminal record of any citizen.

Though the system is intended to protect citizens from violent offenders, most companies can access the CORI system for simple background checks through a variety of loopholes and legal methods. Despite growing criticism of the system, companies can — and do — check the record of applicants that were ever convicted of a marijuana offense, no matter the amount of possession.

A simple “background check” may spell disaster for those who have used marijuana. A small-time drug bust decades ago may mean big-time problems for many talented state residents who are looking for honest employment.

With Question 2, Massachusetts aims to become the 13th state to decriminalize marijuana. Decriminalization would reduce the penalty for small amounts of possession to those of minor traffic violations, and would nearly do away with jail time — and costly criminal records — for most users. It’s about time.

Recreational use of marijuana is a victimless crime. Those who choose to get high from the indigenous plant are hurting no one but themselves, if at all. According to the the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, marijuana is not only considered safer than the much-abused tobacco in terms of physical harm, but also in terms of physical dependance. Users don’t deflate into a pile on a couch, and their dogs don’t start talking to them, either.

With all the costs facing a continued battle against the drug, decriminalization is a no-brainer for the commonwealth. Freeing up funds for other more pressing law enforcement programs is reason enough. Let’s breathe the economic and cultural benefits of thousands less “criminals” in the commonwealth as a hit of fresh air.

Source: Daily Free Press

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