Pot Laws Should Be Eased
I pulled into the parking lot of a small shopping strip in the heart of Eugene, Ore., and noticed a cute storefront with a green awning and freshly painted salmon-colored walls. Clothing boutique? Massage spa? Juice bar? I walked up to the gleaming display windows. It was a brand new medical marijuana dispensary.
Later that day, a report came on the radio about an amazing occurrence in Denver. In the Mile High City, medical marijuana dispensaries now outnumber Starbucks, such a profusion that a local alternative weekly employs a pot critic to review them.
It’s not just in California anymore, Toto.
Here in Illinois, marijuana still comes with a strong whiff of the illicit.
Plenty of people smoke it — in living rooms, on decks, in parks, behind bars — but it remains against the law, despite the fact that, according to a recent Gallup poll, a record-breaking half of Americans think it should be legal. In May, the Illinois Legislature voted down a bill to authorize it for medical purposes, although two-thirds of Americans think that use should be allowed.
But attitudes are shifting even on our cautious Midwestern shores.
Not long ago, Toni Preckwinkle, the new president of the Cook County Board, had the guts to state the obvious: The war on drugs has failed. Substance abuse should be treated as a public health problem, not a crime.
She went a bold step further: Let’s stop arresting and incarcerating people for possessing small amounts of weed.
Preckwinkle points out that even if the charges are eventually dropped, as they usually are in Chicago, people who can’t make bail get stuck in jail, at a cost of $ 143 per day. That’s our tax money. Why not fine offenders instead?
Such an approach frees up jail space, frees officers to stay on patrol instead of processing paperwork, and raises money.
Now some Chicago politicians are following Preckwinkle’s lead. Next week, Ald. Daniel Solis, backed by several other aldermen, will introduce a proposal to change how people caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana are treated. Instead of being arrested, they’d get a $ 200 ticket and have to perform up to 10 hours of community service.
The idea is overdue.
I say this even though I don’t enjoy marijuana. I hated it when I tried it in college. I hated it when I used it a couple times afterward. It made my brain feel like a giant mothball. It made conversation stupid. Inhaling wasn’t worth the work.
But it’s time to put marijuana into perspective. Decades of prohibition haven’t reduced its use. More people than ever smoke it, some for pure pleasure, some as a cure for pain.
For some, it turns into addiction. But those who grow addicted — like people addicted to cigarettes, Percocet or pinot gris — have a health problem. Treating them as criminals doesn’t solve their problem or society’s.
Of course, many people who smoke dope already do it with impunity. Lollapalooza, anyone?
In Chicago, punishment falls with appalling disproportion on black men. For a thorough analysis of that disturbing truth, read the excellent July piece by Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky in the Chicago Reader: http://tinyurl.com/the-grass-gap
We’ve demonized marijuana for so long that it’s hard to shift attitudes and laws. But they’re shifting anyway.
Chicago may not need as many marijuana shops as Starbucks, but it does need laws that deal more squarely with reality.
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Author: Mary Schmich
Published: October 28, 2011
Copyright: 2011 Chicago Tribune Company
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