Will Wooton: Legalizing pot won’t unburden legal system
By Will Wooton
My prediction is that we will live in a state that someday will decriminalize not only the use of “medical” marijuana, but also its recreational use. I have watched this battle unfold for a decade with both sides doing a better job of misinforming the general public then actually giving a sound argument.
To me, this is such a vital issue. When asked, I discuss it in groups, parent forums, counseling sessions and with people on the street. I receive more emails asking “What is wrong with marijuana?” than any other topic and am sent links to pro-legalization websites and challenged with statistics about why marijuana is not bad. This is such a long topic I will break down my view into two articles so I can address each point.
Again and again I hear the same few arguments: marijuana is natural, it’s a plant or it’s organic. Now we could split hairs how something so genetically crossbred and engineered to raise potency levels of THC is in any way natural or that organic crops are certified by private agencies through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that no agency will do this for marijuana.
What is being implied is that if you claim something is natural, it somehow makes it sound less harmful. It must be safe because it’s a plant. Arsenic, atropine, strychnine, cyanide and thallium are all natural yet very deadly. The natural defense just doesn’t mean much when, by the standards set, cocaine and heroin can be listed as natural too.
Criminalization of marijuana lands millions of people in prisons every year just for smoking it. In researching this, I found the answer is not black and white. There are actually very few people who are in prison for only marijuana. With over two million Americans in prison, what are the actual rates for marijuana sentences? According to my online research, the total number of state inmates doing time for any drug offense with a prior conviction is 83 percent. Basically, the large majority committed crimes in the past and nearly two-thirds of them (62 percent) had multiple prior convictions.
• First time drug offenders equals 3.6 percent of all state inmates.
• Offenses involving marijuana equals 2.7 percent of all state inmates.
• Prisoners held for marijuana only equals 1.6 percent of all state inmates.
• Prisoners held for marijuana possession only equals 0.7 percent of all state inmates.
• First time offenders held only for marijuana possession equals 0.3 percent of all state inmates.
These clearly are not the numbers that the legalization movement is talking about when they say that there are 86.5 marijuana arrests every hour in this country. Yes, that may be a number that is real, but it is misleading. If someone steals a car and is arrested for that car theft and marijuana, I don’t believe it is fair to list that person as a causality of the federal marijuana laws. You can’t solely point out just the drug arrest and omit that they have priors and may be on parole for other crimes. You can be sentenced just for marijuana but, as the numbers point out, only 0.3 percent of inmates are incarcerated for only that with no prior record. Many of 3.6 percent are individuals that were arrested for selling or trafficking very large amounts, not for their personal use.
I don’t believe that making marijuana legal will somehow free millions of marijuana smokers and unburden our legal system.
(Part 2 in two weeks.)
Wooton is director of Pacific Treatment Services and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults. Website: www.PacificTreatmentServices.com.
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