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Pot Proposal Simply Acknowledges Reality


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According to government surveys, an estimated 98 million Americans – nearly half the U.S. population – have smoked marijuana. Clearly, criminal prohibitions outlawing pot possession have done little to curb Americans' desire for, use of or access to this drug. Conversely, enforcing this prohibition has incurred significant fiscal and emotional costs.

In 2006, the last year for which national data is available, law enforcement arrested over 829,000 persons for marijuana violations * the highest annual total ever recorded. Of those arrested, approximately 90 percent were charged with minor marijuana possession only, not trafficking or sale.

Of course, not everyone busted for possessing small amounts of pot receives jail time – most do not. But that doesn't mean that they don't suffer significant hardships stemming from their arrest. Seldom emphasized penalties associated with a minor marijuana conviction include probation and mandatory drug testing, loss of employment, loss of child custody, removal from subsidized housing, asset forfeiture, loss of federal student aid, loss of voting privileges, loss of adoption rights, and the loss of certain federal welfare benefits such as food stamps. Thousands of Americans suffer such sanctions every day – at a rate of one person every 38 seconds.

New Hampshire legislators can end this counterproductive practice by moving forward with legislation, House Bill 1623, that would replace existing criminal sanctions with civil penalties, punishable by a fine only.

Specifically, this bill would impose a civil penalty of no more than $200 upon first-time offenders found guilty of possessing up to 1.25 ounces of marijuana. (Under current law the possession or of any amount of cannabis is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.) Numerous states, including Maine, Mississippi, and Ohio have had similar policies on the books for over two decades.

Naturally, critics of such a move warn that decriminalizing cannabis will increase pot use among New Hampshire's young people. Such concerns, while understandable, are not supported by epidemiological evidence. Passage of similar legislation elsewhere has not led to increased marijuana use or altered adolescents' perceptions regarding the potential harms of drug use.

In fact, the only U.S. government study ever commissioned to assess whether the enforcement of strict legal penalties positively impacts marijuana use found, "Overall, the preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people."

Most recently, a 2008 state-sponsored report by the city of Seattle, Wash., found that the implementation of a 2003 voter-approved ordinance making investigation and prosecution of minor marijuana offenders the city's "lowest law enforcement priority" has not been associated with any increase in drug-related crimes or drug use.

Since the law's passage, there has been "no evident increase in marijuana use among youth and young adults; no evident increase in crime; and no adverse impact on public health" the report found. In addition, "There is some evidence of arguably positive effects of the implementation of I-75, [including,] fewer adults experiencing the consequences of involvement in the criminal justice system due to their personal use of marijuana; and a small reduction in the amount of public safety resources dedicated to marijuana possession cases and a corresponding slight increase in availability of these resources for other public safety priorities."

Millions of Americans and tens of thousands of New Hampshire's citizens have used marijuana at some point in their lives. Most consume cannabis responsibly, in the privacy of their own homes, and in a manner similar to alcohol. House Bill 1623 reflects this reality rather than denying it.

Source: Foster's Daily Democrat (NH)
Copyright: Geo. J. Foster Co.
Contact: letters@fosters.com
Website: Fosters.com - Dover NH, Rochester NH, Portsmouth NH, Laconia NH, Sanford ME
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