Measure Opens The Door To More Problems

October 7, 2008

Boston, MA — For the first time in years there is good news on drugs: Marijuana use among Massachusetts teens has declined significantly since 2001.

It’s good news because kids who smoke marijuana are more likely to do poorly in school and engage in violence. It’s good news because drivers who’ve smoked pot are 10 times more likely to be injured, or to injure others, in car crashes. It’s good news because marijuana is more carcinogenic than tobacco, and young people who smoke pot are more likely to use other illegal drugs.

Unfortunately, there is a radical effort underway to undo this progress. Question 2 on November’s ballot will decriminalize marijuana use and turn possession of an ounce or less of marijuana into a fine similar to a traffic violation. For kids under 21, the penalties will be reduced well below penalties for alcohol possession.

A vote for Question 2 will begin a slippery slope resulting in several negative consequences. It will increase addiction to marijuana and other drugs, as we know that pot is a powerful gateway drug. It will result in increased related crimes, and additional taxpayer costs to combat them, as we know that drugs are the root of much of the violence that erodes communities. And it will result in increased instances of impaired driving.

This measure also will result in other unaddressed problems. For instance, there are no regulatory reviews in place to assure that these newly decriminalized drugs are safe, and we know that marijuana is now exponentially more potent than a decade ago. More disturbingly, the measure does not address the fact that if young people want to buy pot, they will still need to buy it from illegal drug dealers. We can not think of many more dangerous, combustible situations than that.

Proponents of Question 2 have two central arguments. First, that existing laws unfairly punish those caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. That is simply untrue. Current law mandates that first-time marijuana offenders receive no more than probation and have their record wiped clean if there are no further violations. In Suffolk and Middlesex counties last year, no defendants were sentenced to jail for a first-time marijuana offense alone.

Their second claim is that enforcement of marijuana laws leads to expansive police costs. That is also false. A survey of our busiest courts revealed that marijuana prosecutions account for only a tiny fraction of cases, and many of those also involved other violent crimes that so frequently accompany drug abuse. To claim that officers are out trolling the streets for marijuana users, at great cost to taxpayers, is not reality.

And despite their best efforts to paint an ounce of marijuana as innocuous, the fact is that one ounce of marijuana is worth about $600 and represents about 60 individual sales.

In communities throughout the state, law enforcement and neighborhood and faith-based organizations work together to improve public safety. Question 2 is a misguided approach that threatens to derail much of that important work.

We cannot afford to take a step back in our efforts to combat drug addiction and reduce violence in our communities. And we absolutely can not afford to send mixed messages to our kids about the seriousness and dangers of drug abuse.

Gerry Leone is the Middlesex district attorney. The Rev. Jeffrey Brown is co-founder of Boston Ten Point Coalition.

Source: Boston Globe

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