Pragmatism Spurs Debate Over Marijuana Laws
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Pragmatism Spurs Debate Over Marijuana Laws
Posted by CN Staff on November 29, 2009 at 12:34:19 PT
By Tom Tryon
Source: Herald-Tribune
USA -- Thirteen states in America have made it legal in the past 13 years to smoke marijuana for medical reasons. Another two states have eased the penalties against using marijuana for medicinal purposes.Three states have licensed nonprofit corporations to grow medical marijuana and two state legislatures, in California and Massachusetts, are conducting hearings on whether to legalize pot.
In Europe, seven countries have decriminalized marijuana. In Latin America, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico — all demoralized by the violence associated with the illegal drug trade — have proposed the repeal of prohibition.The U.S. Justice Department recently announced the sensible policy that it would not use federal laws to prosecute medical-marijuana producers or users in states where the practices are legal.All of these developments are, according to The Economist magazine, evidence of “a tentative worldwide shift towards a more liberal policy on drugs.”Widespread legalization and licensing of drugs such as marijuana won’t happen quickly, The Economist reported in its Nov. 14 edition. “But a debate about regulation is increasingly drowning out the one about enforcement.”In the United States, the shift toward decriminalization and conditional legalization has been driven not by left-wing radicals but by majorities of voters in states representing a diverse range of political views.Voters in these states approved medical marijuana laws: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.In Hawaii, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont, medical-marijuana laws were approved by state legislatures. In Arizona and Maryland, legislators passed laws that are favorable toward medical marijuana without legalizing it.Proponents of medical marijuana have cited several reasons for their support. Some believe cannabis has beneficial medicinal purposes; some see this step as the first toward legalization; some abhor the costs to governments and individuals of the “war on drugs.”Whatever the case, there is a shift in views in the United States and abroad. I suspect that, if politicians didn’t fear political backlash, a lot more of them would support decriminalization, if not legalization, as a way to reduce the massive costs of arresting, detaining and processing users.( President Obama has described the war on drugs as an “utter failure” yet he and his “drug czar” have refused to even discuss the possibility of changing drug laws.)The fear of backlash isn’t the only concern of politicians and policy-makers. They are entitled to a fear of the unknown. What would happen if more drugs were decriminalized or legalized?Two days before The Economist wrote about the shift in attitudes, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation — based in the United Kingdom — issued a compelling report, “After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation.”Transform is the leading drug policy reform charity in the United Kingdom.The founder, Danny Kushlick, worked with problematic drug users. He identified a need for an independent organization to critique policies and seek more just and effective alternatives.“There is a growing recognition around the world that the prohibition of drugs is a counterproductive failure,” the Transform report states.“However, a major barrier to drug law reform has been a widespread fear of the unknown, just what could a post-prohibition regime look like? . . . We demonstrate that moving to the legal regulation of drugs is not an unthinkable, politically impossible step in the dark, but a sensible, pragmatic approach to control drug production, supply and use.”The report ( available at the Transform foundation’s Web site -- ) -- offers a step-by-step plan for ending prohibition and dealing with its consequences through regulation. The report calls for a “cautious, phased introduction,” probably starting with legalization of cannabis and its sale or consumption at regulated “membership based coffee-shop style, licensed premises.”That approach may seem unrealistic to some, but look at George Will’s column on the opposite page. Will, a conservative, notes the increasing prevalence of medical-marijuana outlets in California and Colorado and their liberal dispensing practices. He concludes that “legalization of medical marijuana may be more socially destructive than full legalization.”The Transform foundation’s recommendations provide some practical and provocative ways of assessing and ranking social and health impacts of drug use.It also offers an outline for enhancing addiction treatment — a call echoed recently by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The U.S.-based association, whose members amass millions of billable hours defending drug suspects, urged “a serious discussion of decriminalization” as part of reforms that would make “substance abuse a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue.”Are Americans ready to go this far? I don’t know. But it seems a crime not to have the discussion.Tom Tryon is the Herald-Tribune’s opinion editor. Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)Author: Tom TryonPublished: Sunday, November 29, 2009Copyright: 2009 Sarasota Herald-TribuneContact: editor.letters herald-trib.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives 
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