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COMMON SENSE
Legalizing marijuana allows police to focus on violent crimes

By Amanda L. Stevens| RAW STORY COLUMNIST

President Bush recently announced that he wants to crack down on softer drugs, leaving the more damaging drugs behind. Marijuana, labeled the gateway drug, is the target of President Bush’s anti-drug campaign. But is cracking down on marijuana logical — and is it really the gateway drug?

Legalizing marijuana would greatly reduce the burden of America’s prison system on taxpayers.

In the past year, the population in America’s jails and prisons has grown to 6.9 million, including those on probation and parole. A 1999 study showed that 60,000 individuals were behind bars for marijuana use. This cost taxpayers $1.2 billion.

Nor does it reflect the number of individuals or the amount spent on those who had their probation or parole revoked for marijuana use. In total, in prosecuting and policing individuals with regards to marijuana, between $7 billion and $10 billion was spent — and that’s just last year.

Ninety percent of those cases were for possession only.

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There are more arrests made on marijuana charges than violent crimes combined. These violent crimes include assault, rape, robbery and murder. To put it simply, this is unacceptable.

Marijuana arrests have doubled from 1991 to 2000, as arrests regarding cocaine and heroine have decreased by one-third. More that 700,000 people are arrested on marijuana charges each year.

Are the police resources devoted to marijuana use taking away from policing in other areas? A state-commission Drug Advisory Group in New Mexico asked the same question, supporting the decriminalization of marijuana because it would free up already exhausted resources and save the state millions of dollars.

Why are all these funds being spent on prosecuting and policing marijuana when perfectly legal substances, like alcohol and tobacco, are readily available? Thousands of people die each year from alcohol and tobacco related accidents, disorders, and illnesses. Every thirty minutes, one person loses their life because of alcohol.

This number is even higher for tobacco, with 35 million people now living with a chronic lung disease and 342,000 people dying from lung disease each year.

These numbers do not take into account the individuals who die from cancer. If there is such a thing as a gateway drug, the two leaders have been found and they are completely legal.

Decriminalizing marijuana is not going to lead to increased use of marijuana. In countries that have decriminalization policies, use is actually lower or comparable to use in countries where it is restricted.

In 1997, the Connecticut Law Review found that states that have the strictest laws against marijuana use actually have experienced the largest increase in use and there is no study that can scientifically prove that the use of marijuana will lead to the use of harder illegal drugs. And with the amount of money spend on prosecuting, policing and housing offenders; criminalizing marijuana does not deter the use of marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana has many things to offer. Besides freeing up funds to state agencies and city police forces, it also frees up manpower and resources for violent crimes, instead of tying time and money up in chasing a non-violent crime such as marijuana use.

Legalized, it could provide many jobs at a time when jobs are much needed. Taxing marijuana would also provide more money for policies geared towards helping the country as a whole. It could help many states that are finding themselves closer and closer to bankruptcy gain much-needed funding.

References and Resources:
Marijuana Arrests and Incarceration in the United States. 1999. The Federation of American Scientists' Drug Policy Analysis Bulletin.

New Mexico Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group. 2001. Report and Recommendations to the Governor's Office. State Capitol: Santa Fe.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000. Drugs and Crime Facts.

National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM). 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 6.

E. Single et al. 2000. The Impact of Cannabis Decriminalization in Australia and the United States. Journal of Public Health Policy 21: 157-186.

Connecticut Law Review Commission. 1997. Drug Policy in Connecticut and Strategy Options: Report to the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Assembly. State Capitol: Hartford.

 

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