Prison for pot? What message does that send?

Friday September 3, 2010

Most of us possess an innate sense to protect our youth. On this, there is near universal agreement. But "young adults" are another matter. We expect them to speak and act for themselves. The 2008 Vermont Young Adult Survey reports that "just over 74 percent of respondents perceived that young adults getting high on marijuana ‘now and then' is viewed as being fairly normal and acceptable." Instead of respecting their choices, however, the preceding generations are busily disinheriting our young adults from their future.

When a state spends more money locking up people than it does educating them, it's not surprising to learn that the United States incarcerates more of its young people per capita than any other country in the world. Ironically, with so many groups claiming to protect our young, you'd think our social practices would reflect better treatment of them, for they are fundamentally our future.

Everybody knows about overcrowded prisons. Most people know we can't be locking-up that many Americans for their own good. So why are so many there?

For too long, some prevention-prohibition groups have claimed to have the interest of our youth in mind, while shamelessly misusing them in their continuing War on Drugs. Our youth are being used as pawns in an otherwise adult confrontation. The real nature of the drug war is a protracted effort by some "adult" Americans to control the behavior of other "adults" who do not conform to their notion of acceptable personal drug use.

One of the salient arguments from anti-marijuana groups is that decriminalizing marijuana sends the wrong message to Vermont youth that marijuana use is acceptable. That's partially true. We are sending the message that it is acceptable - for adults! In the same way we send the message that it is legally acceptable for adults to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. And, in the same way that underage use of tobacco and alcohol is illegal, it would be illegal to sell to or encourage underage use of marijuana.

I challenge anyone in Vermont to observe a licensed liquor retailer sell alcohol to minors. It ain't going to happen. Why? No licensed liquor seller is going to risk losing an incredibly lucrative adult market by selling alcohol to a few minors. The same thing will happen when marijuana is lawfully regulated, manufactured and licensed for sale to an adult market. With marijuana regulated like alcohol, we can better protect our children than we do now with it in the illegal market.

It is human nature to inhale or drink some substances intentionally. It's the things we don't inhale or drink intentionally that cause me more concern. But, if some adults want to smoke two packs a day or knock back a six pack, I'm not convinced that they belong in jail, anymore than marijuana consumers do.

Moreover, it is misleading to suggest that all marijuana use automatically equates with harm or abuse. In fact, the majority of alcohol and marijuana consumption is moderate, not abusive. (I admit that the same cannot be said for tobacco.) Neither abuse nor use of drugs, however, should trigger a clarion call for prison sentencing guidelines in absence of an attending crime. Marijuana users are selectively demonized as drug abusers and criminals; they do not, however, generally possess criminal intent or drug abuse behavior.

In the end, if we want to send the right message to children, why do the adults have to lock-up each other to teach it to them?

Misinformation, applied as truth, helps to perpetuate our distended and draconian prison culture. In the balance, it is important to help educate the community to understand the broad picture of what lawful and responsible marijuana use means for the safety and welfare of all ages.

Marijuana Resolve was founded to engage our community in an honest and straightforward dialogue to unite and inform our generations, not divide them. While all of us support prevention and treatment for those who want it, others do not embrace the continuing widespread zeal employed to protect us from ourselves through prohibition.

Vidda Crochetta is the state coordinator for Marijuana Resolve, Inc.


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