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Pot and Politics


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Currently, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana or three plants or fewer could bring a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 6 months in prison for a first offense, although referral to a court diversion program is common and jail time rare. The penalty for subsequent offenses is up to 2 years imprisonment and up to a $2,000 fine involving that same amount of marijuana.

For possessing higher amounts of the drug, jail time and fines could escalate.

Proposed is a civil fine with no prison for possession of up to 4 ounces and an escalating civil fine with possible prison time for possessing more than 4 ounces.

A number of officials and advocates spoke in opposition to such a change, saying it would promote greater use of marijuana and make it easier for drug dealers to operate in Vermont. These are arguments that should be considered during this debate.

Also worth considering are the dozen states that have lessened penalties for possessing small amounts, including New York, which changed to a citation with no prison time during the late 1970s. This would not, then, be a radically new approach, and it seems likely that the dire consequences some speakers predicted during the recent testimony in Montpelier did not come to pass in New York or in the other states.

Lawmakers also might consider that allowing citizens to grow small amounts of marijuana – as they are free to make beer or wine – might reduce the role of large drug-dealing enterprises and gangs.

Yet another consideration is fairness. Marijuana, like alcohol, is a non-synthetic drug that has been in use around the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. Millions in this country have used marijuana in recent decades, and the drug does have a substantial track record here.

Almost all of the secondary societal problems we deal with today are related to alcohol abuse – assault, domestic violence, rape, murder – while problems stemming from marijuana abuse are more likely personal in nature, those of dependence or addition.

Society should not condone the abuse of any drug, but we now allow almost unlimited consumption of a drug closely associated with violence and myriad illnesses while subjecting marijuana users to the threat of jail for mere possession, especially for subsequent offenses and when the amounts are above an arbitrarily set limit.

This is patently unfair and based on the flawed argument that marijuana is somehow as dangerous or even more "evil" than alcohol, when the opposite seems to be the case.

Vermont should switch to a system of civil fines with no court record for possession of small amounts and allow users to grow a reasonable number of plants. That would not only be a fair but a rational approach.

Source: Benningon Banner (VT)
Copyright: 2008 by MediaNews Group,Inc
Contact: news@benningtonbanner.com
Webpage: Bennington Banner - Home
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