In the debate over marijuana legalization, which is like arguing over last year’s Superbowl, whether the motivation is tax revenue, the realization of changing attitudes, or resignation, there is one thing we should all understand.
More lives are ruined by an arrest for marijuana possession than have ever been ruined by using marijuana.
There is no better rationale for legalization than that.
While one can argue over the potential for abuse, the impact on those with schizophrenia, or other known or suspected risks of using marijuana, every substance known to man, from caffeine to soda to aspirin to tobacco, has risks.
Life has risks, one cannot legislate it away.
Americans must be trusted to use their own judgment on acceptable risks. The law is not the most effective method to mitigate these issues, education is. An informed consumer can be trusted to make their own decisions.
According to a 2016 article in the New York Times, marijuana arrests far outdistance arrests for violent crimes. Even considering the number of violent crimes is lower than the number of people possessing marijuana, it is an enormous waste of police officers’ time, burdens the courts with cases, and overwhelms prisons or probation officers with little, or no, positive effect on quality of life. (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/us/marijuana-arrests.html)
Hidden within these arrest statistics is another troubling element. While the use of marijuana is about the same between whites and blacks, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana. The one consistent aspect in matters of the law is the racial disparity. That alone should give one pause.
I spent twenty years as a police officer. I made many arrests for possession of marijuana, and let just as many off the hook, based primarily on how they reacted to being stopped. The law was clear and debating the rationality on the street wasn’t the proper forum.
But my experiences with those who used marijuana was almost always non-violent. That cannot be said for the other drugs on the street, but it is true of marijuana. Back then, most officers understood the futility of wasting precious resources on such minor offenses. Sadly, not every officer shared the same common sense approach to the reality on the street.
It’s time we legalize marijuana and redirect criminal justice resources to efforts that make people safe. To borrow a phrase I heard the other day.
Let’s take the tax money from the sale of marijuana to potheads and use it to fix potholes.