Use of Marijuana a Hot Topic, with Ballot Question

Use of Marijuana a Hot Topic, with Ballot Question
Posted by CN Staff on January 06, 2008 at 06:55:12 PT
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Source: Berkshire Eagle
Massachusetts -- The debate over marijuana is a cloudy one. It's an illegal drug ... used by presidents. Heads get high ... cancer patients get hungry. Most pot smokers don't try heroin ... most heroin addicts tried pot first. One thing's for certain: This debate is coming to a water cooler near you.The people behind the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, a Boston-based advocacy group, have cleared the first hurdle to reduce the state's penalty for minor pot possession from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.
In their world, walking down North Street with an ounce of marijuana in your jeans — a sandwich bag full of pot in your pocket — is the same as speeding on the Turnpike.The committee secured enough signatures (81,758) on a petition this past fall to pass it on to state legislators. If politicians don't make it a law this spring — which they can do but which rarely happens — the campaign will need 11,099 additional signatures by July 9 to push the referendum onto the November ballot. Then, the voters of Massachusetts would decide.The committee's martyrs are youths who get criminal records attached to their names for life and the $24.3 million it says is wasted by police each year in busting and booking marijuana offenders.Berkshire law-enforcement officials are against the campaign and say that reducing the penalties would foster a blasι attitude toward the drug, one that would tempt more people — especially children — to try it.The state issue also has a local twist: The chairwoman for the marijuana committee, Whitney Taylor, a 37-year-old Boston resident, served as campaign director for Judith Knight, the Great Barrington attorney who lost the 2006 Berkshire County district attorney's race to David F. Capeless.The focal point of that race was the arrests of 19 teens and twentysomethings who were charged during a 2004 drug sting in the Taconic Lumber parking lot in Great Barrington.Taylor also was an active member of Concerned Citizens for Appropriate Justice, the group that galvanized after the arrests and lobbied Capeless for lenient prosecution during the trials.A 16-year-veteran of championing drug reform from California to Maryland, Taylor said Massachusetts voters — not outdated laws — should determine the fate of the marijuana debate."There's support for this from all walks of life," she said. "The fact is there would be both a human savings and a fiscal savings. It's just smart public policy."Taylor backs up her claim of support with numbers. More than 81,000 registered Massachusetts voters — nearly 20 percent more than the required 66,593 — signed a petition this past fall to move the ballot question ahead. In all, signatures were collected in 350 of the state's 351 towns and cities.Locally, the number of signatures included 831 in Pittsfield, 482 in North Adams, 161 in Dalton, and four in Alford.State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said he is strongly opposed to the idea of decreasing marijuana penalties."I believe it would send the wrong message to society," Pignatelli said. "If you don't want a criminal record, then don't break the law — it's that simple. That's the lesson kids need to understand — they're jeopardizing financial assistance for higher education."Pignatelli said he is against mandatory sentences for drug sales near a school zone and is "sympathetic to kids who make stupid mistakes." But he said that decriminalizing marijuana would create "an air of leniency" toward drugs."I don't think the attitude of society has changed toward this drug," he said. "I would be surprised if the general populace voted this through. I'm not a big fan of government by referendum anyway, but I just hope that people understand what yes and no mean."The current penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana are a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. Individuals are arrested and booked, and convicted offenders are entered in the state's Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system.Under the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy's proposed law change, those caught with an ounce or less would have their marijuana confiscated, be handed a ticket and face only a $100 fine. Offenders under age 18 would have to enter a drug-awareness program.Taylor said the laws against selling the drug and driving under the influence of it would remain untouched.According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), 12 states, including Maine and New York, already have reduced penalties for marijuana possession."This is not decriminalization in the legalizing sense," Taylor said. "What we're talking about is changing the penalties and putting an end to a system that stops people from moving forward with their lives, getting student loans or even jobs."Harvard economist Jeff Miron conducted a study on the financial costs of current marijuana enforcement and found that at least $24.3 million is spent each year by police departments across the state in arrest and booking costs. That does not include $68.5 million spent in the courts and $13.6 million in jails.Taylor said this money should be used to add more police officers and equipment and to fight violent crime.But local law-enforcement officials point out that not a single warrant has been issued for marijuana possession. Most marijuana possession arrests, they say, are "add-on charges" — meaning they find marijuana in a car or in a home after another crime has been committed.Capt. Patrick F. Barry, head of the Pittsfield Police Department's detective unit, said his officers usually focus on drug dealers."The reality is," he said, "if a cop stops a car for speeding or we're on a domestic-abuse call and we find marijuana, that person will be arrested and charged. We find a roach, a marijuana pipe, a bag in someone's car when we do a traffic stop. But we rarely target marijuana possession."I don't want to say it's decriminalized now, but no one is going to jail for a first-time possession drug charge."Barry declined to state his opinion on the proposed law change. But he did say that dealers could play it safe if lower penalties were instituted."If you have a guy with (just over) an ounce right now, that's possession with intent to distribute," he said. "An ounce is 40 joints' worth. That's quantity. If the law was changed, dealers would make sure they only carried around an ounce or less. It could make it tougher for us."Lt. Joseph McDyer, a state police officer and head of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, said he is against the marijuana proposal and doesn't believe it would help police departments."It wouldn't free us up at all," he said. "All marijuana possession charges result from other police work. All these (marijuana committee) people want to do is get high. They don't see the tragedies. There's a small segment of society that will move on from alcohol to marijuana to prescription drugs and harder drugs."McDyer said tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana) "is a dangerous drug, and we're now seeing pot with higher THC levels than ever before."According to a study cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC increases heart rates, and the risk of a heart attack more than quadruples in the first hour after smoking marijuana. A Yale University study also found that 50 percent of healthy volunteers given THC showed symptoms of psychosis.Conversely, the drug has medicinal purposes, and 12 states have adopted legislation or initiatives that permit marijuana use for the treatment of nausea and anorexia associated with cancer and AIDS and for neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.Although Massachusetts passed legislation recognizing marijuana's medicinal value, the drug has never been legal for those purposes in the state.Capeless said changing the current marijuana penalties would be a setback to the advances made in the war on drugs. He said the justification of saving police dollars is "a ludicrous claim.""The public needs to understand that we have a very fair and responsible statute right now with regards to possession of marijuana," Capeless said. "On a first offense, we recommend that the matter be dismissed and the person placed on probation."Taylor said drug interdiction is much different in Berkshire County from what it is in urban areas such as Springfield, Worcester and Boston, "where they are targeting specific groups.""They do go after possession in a tough way, and these people are getting (put into the Criminal Offender Record Information system)," she said.Capeless said roughly 4 percent of the cases that go through his office each year deal with marijuana possession.In 2005, 183 of the 271 total marijuana possession charges involved other criminal charges. In 2006, it was 174 of the 262 total charges, and in 2007 (through Dec. 1), it was 108 of 184."I think that shows that marijuana is directly associated with other criminal activity," Capeless said. "This proposal is a very dangerous initial step toward decriminalization. Good, positive work is being done to fight illegal drug use."Capeless, vice president of the Massachusetts District Attorney's Association, said district attorneys from across the state recently gathered and talked about the voter initiative."We've discussed this, and we're unanimously against it," he said. "We will be actively involved in sending out a clear message."Michael, a Pittsfield resident who asked that his last name not be used and who signed the marijuana petition last fall, said he expects the issue to generate heated debates. He believes there's a generational divide between those who favor marijuana decriminalization and those who don't."Outside of the actual 'smoking,' I've never really seen anything harmful about marijuana," he said. "A lot of people smoke marijuana. And a lot of people drink, too. I just don't see a big difference."NORML reports that more people are smoking marijuana today than ever before. At least 100 million Americans (33 percent) have tried pot, with 25 million people consuming it at least once a year and 15 million using it in the past month.In 1970, there were an estimated 188,682 arrests on marijuana-related charges. Last year, there were more than 830,000.This millennia-old mystical plant has been causing a ruckus for decades. It was during the counterculture revolution of the 1960s that marijuana, aka Cannabis sativa, saw a rise in recreational use.It's been studied by the Nixon administration, used at concerts to heighten the musical experience, and glorified — and vilified — on television and in movies.In his book, "Hemp: Lifeline to the Future," Chris Conrad lists seven presidents as cannabis users, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They weren't alone. Who can forget former President Clinton's famous "I did not inhale" quote?The pot debate apparently won't end anytime soon, or perhaps, even with a vote.Taylor said she believes Massachusetts is ready for a change in the laws."(Twelve) states have decriminalized this, and none of the problems have come to fruition," she said. "It's still going to be illegal. We're taking the penalty and making it a civil offense. Let's not punish people for the rest of their lives."Marijuana Facts:Drug use in the United States wasn't defined as a federal crime until 1914, under the Harrison Act.By 1937, 23 states had outlawed marijuana. That year, the federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which made nonmedical use of the drug illegal.At least 7,500 people are arrested for marijuana possession in Massachusetts each year.Twelve states have reduced the penalties for marijuana possession, starting with Oregon in 1973. The other states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio.Massachusetts ballot questions have varied in importance over the years, including repealing Prohibition, eliminating income tax, outlawing capital punishment, and enacting campaign finance reform.Laws passed by states and cities to decriminalize marijuana do not result in the drug being legal. The federal government regulates marijuana through the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Supremacy Clause, any state law in conflict with a federal law is not valid. Federal agents don't normally spend time on small possession charges, though, unless they involve crossing state and national borders.The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy collected signatures for its Massachusetts marijuana ballot referendum in 350 of the state's 351 cities and towns. The only town that failed to register a signature was Berkshire County's Mount Washington, with a population of 146.Sources: Time Magazine, the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Eagle news services.Complete Title: Use of Marijuana a Hot Topic, with Ballot Question PossibleSource: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)Author: Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle StaffPublished: Sunday, January 6, 2008Copyright: 2008 New England Newspapers, Inc.Contact: letters berkshireeagle.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #6 posted by DCP on January 07, 2008 at 21:55:06 PT
Re: #2 Polonium 210
American Spirit rolling tobacco sells an organic, additive free product, FYI. DCP
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Comment #5 posted by HempWorld on January 06, 2008 at 10:58:03 PT
I made a goof, correction, 2nd hand cigarette smok
e kills over 38,000 American per year (about over 10 times every year compared to the amount of dead soldiers from since the illegal invasion in Iraq to date).Long live cigarettes!Annual Causes of Death in the United States in the Year 2000Tobacco 435,000 Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,000 Alcohol  85,000 Microbial Agents 75,000 Toxic Agents 55,000 2nd Hand Cigarette Smoke  38,053 Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs  32,000 Suicide 30,622 Incidents Involving Firearms 29,000 Motor Vehicle Crashes 26,347 Homicide 20,308 Sexual Behaviors 20,000 All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect 17,000 Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs  5,600 Aspirin 2,029 Caffeine 511 Water 15 Marijuana 0 And oh yeah, 5 grams of caffeine will kill a mature human being. And caffeine is physilogically addictive and it is psychoactive, our society could not function without it.
On a mission from God!
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Comment #4 posted by Sam Adams on January 06, 2008 at 10:50:17 PT
Interesting that all these LEO's are quoted the day after a big scandal broke with other 1,000 police thefts of drugs from the Boston PD storage facility.A little 1984, eh? Listen to the High Priests of government as they decree how to live your life. Just don't look in the back of the Church where they're all taking drugs they stole from you.Also interesting that all the govt. folks seem to insist that we already have de factor decrim - if that's true, why don't they embrace the initiative? They're liars, that's why.
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Comment #3 posted by fight_4_freedom on January 06, 2008 at 10:41:25 PT:
I just received this on the minorml talk list
Washington, D.C. - University of Massachusetts-Amherst Professor Lyle Craker, MAPS, the ACLU, and a broad array of medical and public policy groups nationwide enthusiastically supported today's official recommendation by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner that Prof. Craker be permitted to grow research-grade marijuana for use in privately-funded government-approved studies that aim to develop the marijuana plant into a legal, prescription medicine. Judge Bittner ruled that it is in the public interest to end the federal government's monopoly, which it has maintained for over six decades, on the supply of marijuana that can be used in FDA-approved research."This ruling is a victory for science, medicine and the public good," said Prof. Craker. "I hope the DEA abides by the decision and grants me the opportunity to do my job unimpeded by drug war politics."The 87-page Opinion and Recommended Ruling by Judge Bittner, who is appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice, marks a unique window of opportunity in the six year struggle by MAPS and Prof. Craker to gain a Schedule I DEA license to grow research-grade marijuana for use by scientists in MAPS-funded, DEA- and FDA-approved studies.
Entire Ruling
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Comment #2 posted by HempWorld on January 06, 2008 at 09:26:05 PT
The Moral Of Above Story: "You can't get high but 
you sure can get drunk!" I will make every irresponsible person who says Marijuana or THC is dangerous, eat the words below. And guess what how many kids are amoung the 32,000 that get killed from 2nd hand cigarette smoke! Can't get high, you simply cannot have it, we have the proper morals you should obey or we will throw you in jail and punish you!Why tobacco smoke killsAbout smoking:Tobacco Radioactive, Pot Safer! Space Odyssey Marches in 80 Cities May 5, 2001The following is the text of a pamphlet for an organization at UMASS amherstAn address and some sources are at the end.So, you thought it was the tar that caused cancer...Think again. Cigarette companies will have you believing anything just as long as you continue to buy their products. The fact is, although insoluble tars are a contributing factor to the lung cancer danger present in today's cigarettes, the real danger is radioactivity.According to U.S. Surgeon General C. Everette Koop (on national television, 1990) radioactivity, not tar, accounts for at least 90% of all smoking related lung cancer. Tobacco crops grown in the United States are fertilized by law with phosphates rich in radium 226. In addition, many soils have a natural radium 226 content. Radium 226 breaks down into two long lived 'daughter' elements -- lead 210 and polonium 210. These radioactive particles become airborne, and attach themselves to the fine hairs on tobacco leaves. Studies have shown that lead 210 and polonium 210 deposits accumulate in the bodies of people exposed to cigarette smoke. Data collected in the late 1970's shows that smokers have three times as much of these elements in their lower lungs as non smokers. Smokers also show a greater accumulation of lead 210 and polonium 210 in their skeletons, though no studies have been conducted to link these deposits with bone cancer.Polonium 210 is the only component of cigarette smoke which has produced tumors by itself in inhalation experiments with animals. When a smoker inhales tobacco smoke, the lungs react by forming irritated areas in the bronchi. All smoke produces this effect. However, although these irritated spots are referred to as 'pre-cancerous' lesions, they are a perfectly natural defense system and usually go away with no adverse effects. Insoluble tars in tobacco smoke can slow this healing process by adhering to lesions and causing additional irritation. In addition, tobacco smoke causes the bronchi to constrict for long periods of time, which obstructs the lung's ability to clear itself of these residues. Polonium 210 and lead 210 in tobacco smoke show a tendency to accumulate at lesions in specific spots, called bifurcations, in the bronchi. When smoking is continued for an extended period of time, deposits of radioactivity turn into radioactive 'hot spots' and remain at bifurcations for years.Polonium 210 emits highly localized alpha radiation which has been shown to cause cancer. Since the polonium 210 has a half life of 21.5 years (Due to the presence of lead 210), it can put an ex-smoker at risk for years after he or she quits. Experiments measuring the level of polonium 210 in victims of lung cancer found that the level of 'hot spot' activity was virtually the same in smokers and ex-smokers even though the ex-smokers had quit five years prior to death. Over half of the radioactive materials emitted by a burning cigarette are released into the air, where they can be inhaled by non-smokers. In addition to lead 210 and polonium 210 it has been proven that tobacco smoke can cause airborne radioactive particles to collect in the lungs of both smokers and non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke. Original studies conducted on uranium miners which showed an increased risk of lung cancer due to exposure to radon in smokers have been re-run to evaluate the radioactive lung cancer risk from indoor air radon. It turns out that tobacco smoke works as a kind of 'magnet' for airborne radioactive particles, causing them to deposit in your lungs instead of on furniture. (Smoking indoors increases lung cancer risks greatly.) It has been estimated that the total accumulated alpha radiation exposure of a pack-a-day indoor smoker is 38 to 97 rad by age 60. (Two packs a day yields up to 143 rad, and non-smokers receive no more than 17 rad.) An exposure of 1 rad per year yields a 1% risk of lung cancer (at the lowest estimate.) Don't smoke. Or if you do, smoke lightly, outdoors, and engage frequently in activities which will clear your lungs. Imported India tobacco has less than half the radiation content of that grown in the U.S. Kicking the nicotine habit is not easy, and nobody has the right to expect it of you. Often physical addictions are reinforced by emotional and psychological needs. Filling or coming to terms with those needs can give you the inspiration and added freedom to succeed. Most of all, inform yourself, even if the information is disturbing. You are a lot less likely to be taken in by tobacco advertising once you know the facts. Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco smoke, has long been known to be highly addictive. In fact, doctors and pharmacologists are not in consensus as to which is more addictive -- nicotine, or heroin. Physical addiction occurs when a chemical becomes essential for the body or metabolism to function. In other words, a substance is said to be physically addictive if extended use results in a build up of tolerance in the body to the extent that discontinuing use of the substance results in negative side effects. Called "withdrawal symptoms," these consequences can include anxiety, stress, trauma, depression and physical conditions such as shakes or nausea. It is to avoid these consequences that an addict will keep using his or her substance. In addition to being addictive, nicotine is also a toxin (i.e. lethal if ingested in sufficient quantities.) Nicotine has been shown to have a negative effect on the heart and circulatory systems, causing a constriction in veins and arteries which may lead to a stroke or heart attack. In fact, nicotine is so poisonous that smokers who ignore their doctor's advice and continue to smoke while using dermal nicotine patches have managed to overdose and die of heart seizure. Many people think smoking marijuana is just as harmful as smoking tobacco, but this is not true. Those who hold that marijuana is equivalent to tobacco are misinformed. Due to the efforts of various federal agencies to discourage use of marijuana in the 1970's the government, in a fit of "reefer madness," conducted several biased studies designed to return results that would equate marijuana smoking with tobacco smoking, or worse. For example the Berkeley carcinogenic tar studies of the late 1970's concluded that "marijuana is one-and-a-half times as carcinogenic as tobacco." This finding was based solely on the tar content of cannabis leaves compared to that of tobacco, and did not take radioactivity into consideration. (Cannabis tars do not contain radioactive materials.) In addition, it was not considered that: 1) Most marijuana smokers smoke the bud, not the leaf, of the plant. The bud contains only 33% as much tar as tobacco. 2) Marijuana smokers do not smoke anywhere near as much as tobacco smokers, due to the psychoactive effects of cannabis. 3) Not one case of lung cancer has ever been successfully linked to marijuana use. 4) Cannabis, unlike tobacco, does not cause any narrowing of the small air passageways in the lungs. In fact, marijuana has been shown to be an expectorant and actually dilates the air channels it comes in contact with. This is why many asthma sufferers look to marijuana to provide relief. Doctors have postulated that marijuana may, in this respect, be more effective than all of the prescription drugs on the market. Studies even show that due to marijuana's ability to clear the lungs of smog, pollutants, and cigarette smoke, it may actually reduce your risk of emphysema, bronchitis, and lung cancer. Smokers of cannabis have been shown to outlive non- smokers in some areas by up to two years. Medium to heavy tobacco smokers will live seven to ten years longer if they also smoke marijuana. Cannabis is also radically different from tobacco in that it does not contain nicotine and is not addictive. The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, has been accused of causing brain and genetic damage, but these studies have all been disproven. In fact, the DEA's own Administrative Law Judge Francis Young has declared that "marijuana in its natural form is far safer than many foods we commonly consume." The disturbing thing about all of this information is that the majority of Americans are as yet unaware of the radioactive risk in cigarettes. In fact, many professionals: doctors, scientists and health administrators, either have never heard of polonium 210 or consider it to be just another scare story. Why is this information so hard to come by? When the studies were first released in the late 70's, many magazines were unable to print articles because their main advertisers, cigarette companies, threatened to pull support if they published the facts. Although network news did pick up the story, virtually nothing came out in print. Those who heard were hard pressed to produce collaborating evidence, and were eventually convinced it was nothing to worry about. The power of the cigarette industry to suppress information goes far beyond magazines, however. A well financed tobacco lobby has been very active in the United States Congress for decades procuring subsidies and fighting laws and proposed research which could hurt the American tobacco industry. Tobacco interests practically own Senate and House seats, as many campaign contributions come from cigarette profits. Tobacco pay- offs also go to fund organizations such as the Partnership For A Drug Free America, which adopt a harsh anti-drug agenda yet seem to omit alcohol and tobacco (claiming they are harmless.) As an example, a 1984 law which was intended to require tobacco companies to release to the public a list of additives used in the manufacture of cigarettes was watered down to the extent that the list is now released only to the Department of Health and Human Services on the condition that it not be shown to anyone else. Companies have been known in the past to add chemicals to cigarettes for flavor, and, many assert, for their addictive properties. In Britain such chemicals have included acetone and turpentine, as well as an assortment of known carcinogens. Tobacco companies argue that revealing their 'secret ingredients' would hurt their competitiveness. In fact, when Canada passed legislation forcing additive lists to be released, one large company reformulated its recipe for its Canadian distribution; another took its product out of Canada entirely. Tobacco companies do not have the right to poison the public. Don't trust them. Get the information you need to make your own decisions, and restore government to the people. Another destructive aspect of the Drug War is the unreasonable measures taken as a result of "reefer madness." Because of the long standing anti-pot-smoking paranoia begun in the 1930's, many law enforcement agencies have taken it upon themselves to censor and limit the marijuana culture through whatever channels they can find. This includes the banning of various forms of drug "paraphernalia" (pipes, clips, rolling papers, etc.) Water pipes, or "bongs," are quite often the target of such efforts. Claiming that water pipes are constructed to allow marijuana smokers to inhale "dangerous" marijuana smoke deeper into their lungs, many states and towns have passed laws controlling the sale, manufacture, and possession of these items for "health" reasons. The sad fact is, water pipes have been shown to be extremely effective in removing harmful materials from smoke before it reaches the lungs. They also cool the smoke and prevent injury and irritation to lung passages. In effect, laws against water pipes hurt all smokers, cannabis and tobacco, by preventing the development of safer forms of consumption.Produced as a public service by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition Researched and written by Brian S. Julin Corrections, comments, inquiries should be addressed to:UMASS CANNABIS S.A.O. Box #2 Student Union UMASS Amherst, MA 01003
On a mission from God!
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Comment #1 posted by HempWorld on January 06, 2008 at 09:15:35 PT
Parroting the DEA line ... "THC is dangerous"
Yes, THC is so dangerous, it is non-toxic and thus no-one has ever died from it. This, of course because it is non-toxic. On this scale water is more toxic than THC and several people a year die from water overdose in this country. Cigarettes are completely legal, there is no penalty for smoking a substance that causes 460,000 Americans to die, every year, of which, 32,000 from 2nd hand smoke!Cigarettes are legal and they are, by far, the most deadly and addictive substance mankind has ever known! CIGARETTES ARE LEGAL AND ARE THE BIGGEST KILLER IN OUR SOCIETY! Marijuana kills none and yet 'it is dangerous.' Can we all just please cut the crap and do what is right for our society and our children. Thanks!
On a mission from God!
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