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Harsher Pot Punishments a Waste of Effort


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Nebraska - A state senator from Wilber who describes himself as a "redneck" wants harsher punishments for people caught with marijuana. Sen. Russ Karpisek points out that teenage drinking carries a harsher maximum punishment than possessing up to one pound of marijuana in Nebraska.
"It's one of those things us rednecks really get mad about," he told the Omaha World-Herald last week. Oh, Jesus.

First, let's get this out of the way: We support the legalization and regulation of marijuana for medical and recreational use in the United States.

Smoking marijuana does not come with the harrowing health concerns, including lung cancer, of smoking tobacco cigarettes. Marijuana doesn't cause a fatal car crash every 30 minutes, like alcohol does in this country. And legalizing marijuana would significantly lessen the crime and other risks involved with smuggling the drug into the U.S.

As a medical tool, marijuana has a host of benefits, including the treatment of glaucoma and some types of cancer. Lastly, as an occasional recreational drug, marijuana is rather enjoyable.

However, because marijuana is not likely to become legal in Nebraska any time soon, let's look at why Karpisek's specific legislation is wrongheaded.

According to state law, someone caught with one ounce of marijuana or less receives a $100 fine and the possibility of attending a drug course. Possessing between an ounce and a pound carries a penalty of up to one week in prison and a $500 fine.

Meanwhile, a minor who is caught with alcohol faces a maximum $500 fine and 90 days in jail.

Karpisek's comparison between MIP and marijuana laws is flawed for several reasons.

First, kids who get first-offense MIPs typically receive a fine of about $250 and no jail time, not all that different from the penalty for having a few joints (which would be less than an ounce).

Second, while alcohol might be the preferred drug for some state senators, it kills a hell of a lot more people - drunk driving alone causes more than 15,000 annual deaths in the U.S. - than marijuana does.

There are other reasons why the bill doesn't make sense. It would swamp the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office. It would also place drug misdemeanors on the records of college students who get caught smoking a joint, possibly harming their ability to lock down some scholarships and jobs.

For decades lawmakers have been chasing pot smokers, throwing them in jail and telling children that if they take a bong hit they're likely to end up dead in a ditch by the age of 15.

These methods have proved ineffective and misguided.

An excellent article, "How America Lost the War on Drugs, "in the November issue of Rolling Stone magazine concludes: "We continue to treat marijuana as a major threat to public health, even though we know it isn't. We continue to lock up generations of teenage drug dealers, even though we know imprisonment does little to reduce the amount of drugs sold on the street. And we continue to spend billions to fight drugs abroad, even though we know that military efforts are an ineffective way to cut the supply of narcotics in America or raise the price."

The Unicameral would be wise to just say no to this imprudent legislation. It would be nice if our state's public policy was based on reason rather than a ganja witch hunt.

Source: Daily Nebraskan (U of NE,NE Edu)
Copyright: 2008 Daily Nebraskan
Contact: letters@dailynebraskan.com
Website: Daily Nebraskan
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