This year the Vermont Legislature will most likely take up the issue of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. It will not be a bold, sweeping step, even if a bill is passed that turns possession of small amounts of marijuana into a traffic ticket type offense
This country is wasting too many resources arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people who use and sell marijuana. It is a substance that has a great deal of value and very few ill effects. Researchers have made it clear that chronic, daily use of marijuana can affect memory. Children should avoid the drug because of the effects it can have on the developing brain. Smoking marijuana is just plain bad for the lungs, but the active substances that produce the best effects can be taken into the body through the GI tract, sparing the lungs.
Let's look at some facts.
On May 22, 2012, the Huffington Post reported, "Fifty-six percent of Americans think marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, according to a nationwide Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely voters."
In that same piece they noted, "Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop and the executive director of advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, sees the poll as a political weather vane pointing toward the future.
"Polling now consistently shows that more voters support legalizing and regulating marijuana than support continuing a failed prohibition approach," he said in a statement Tuesday. "Yet far too many politicians continue to act as if marijuana policy reform is some dangerous third rail they dare not touch. If the trends in public opinion continue in the direction they are going, the day is not far away when supporting a prohibition system that causes so much crime, violence and corruption is going to be seen as a serious political liability for those seeking support from younger and independent voters. Savvy forward-looking politicians are already beginning to see which way the wind is blowing."
That should be a wake-up call for legislators in all states except Washington and Colorado where enlightened voters have legalized marijuana.
In another Huffington Post article on Oct. 29, 2012, it was noted that, "According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting data, there were a total of 1.5 million drug arrests made nationwide in 2011, and out of those arrests, about 750,000 were for marijuana (just under half, 49.5 percent) -- that's one marijuana arrest every 42 seconds and one drug arrest every 21 seconds in the U.S."
That is a modern-day version of reefer madness, arresting so many people for using something that is far less dangerous than alcohol, while having many beneficial effects.
When I worked as a home health nurse it was not unusual for me to arrive at a patient's home to find my patient surrounded by a cloud of smoke, not from tobacco but from marijuana. It was bad enough that they had to go through all of the misery of chemotherapy, but then to find out that the best way to alleviate many of their troubling symptoms was to go out on the street and buy something illegal, made life even more difficult.
None of those people feared the law. They just wanted to feel better. Even though there is a pill that contains the active ingredients in marijuana that doctors can prescribe, most people I know that have used it say it is not as good as the street version for a variety of reasons.
Our prisons are overcrowded and we are facing tight budgets. Decriminalizing and then making marijuana legal would save taxpayers serious money. Just shifting that kind of savings to health care would mean that a lot more people would not have to suffer and die because of a lack of access to care. That's a tradeoff worth making.
If marijuana could be grown legally it would be a blessing for many farmers. There would never be a need for agricultural subsidies and farmers would be able to live comfortably and move into a higher income bracket. They certainly deserve that.
As far as I know, no one has ever died from organ failure or from an overdose of marijuana. Any substance has the potential for abuse, and marijuana is no exception. But the pro's of legalization far outweigh the con's and, hopefully, lawmakers will see where the balance tilts sooner rather than later.
I hope they take a meaningful first step in Montpelier during the coming session and prevent any more of Vermont's version of reefer madness.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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