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September 4, 2010

"Prison for pot? What message does that send?"

The title of this post is the headline of this commentary authored by Vidda Crochetta, who is Vermont's coordinator for Marijuana Resolve, Inc.  Here are excerpts:

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....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.... 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.

Some related posts on pot policy and politics:

September 4, 2010 at 01:33 PM | Permalink


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Another disingenuous headline to muddy the debate.

The reality is that no first or second offenders are sentenced to prison for smoking a joint!

Posted by: mjs | Sep 4, 2010 8:09:31 PM

Possession can be upgraded to distribution, trafficking, money-laundering. Growing becomes manufacturing.
There is speculation to about the amount of the controlled substance. It is nailed down with the help of cooperating witnesses. There is no need to find the product, just have a CI tell you the amount.

When the last three Presidents have used pot, it makes me believe that marijuana prohibition is now a "Dog that don't hunt"

Posted by: beth | Sep 4, 2010 8:43:56 PM

mjs the first and second offenders will now have a criminal record for life for a little weed. Sometimes that toughens the job hunt wouldn't you say? Marijuana needs to be decriminalized.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 4, 2010 9:44:03 PM

"Prison for pot? What message does that send?"

The message is: Don't do pot. It's not that hard.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 4, 2010 11:10:57 PM

Hey Bill, when our last three presidents smoked pot and weren't punished for it – and when millions of professional class Americans smoke pot every year and don't get punished for it – I actually think the message is actually quite a bit more complicated than you suggest.

The message I hear is: don't get caught; don't live in a neighborhood subject to intrusive policing; be upper middle class and white and pot is ok.

Posted by: dm | Sep 4, 2010 11:26:18 PM

perhaps our next President will have smoked a little pot also! Marijuana prohibition has failed, time to tax and regulate.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 5, 2010 12:14:16 AM

dm --

If you don't do pot, you don't go to jail for doing pot. So don't do it and stay out of jail.

That people escape punishment for minor crimes is not exactly news -- indeed it's soporifically routine -- and does not in the slightest change the truth of the first two sentences in this comment.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 5, 2010 12:45:34 AM

Right, don't do it because your elders say it's wrong - your elders who are getting tens and hundreds of millions of dollars a year to protect tobacco and alcohol interests.

I defy ANYONE to explain why marijuana should be prohibited but alcohol allowed, WITHOUT relying on the "but it's illegal" malarkey. Describe why marijuana use is more destructive than alcohol - which our legislators protect - and I will listen. Tell me "because it's illegal," and you will have proven there's no reason other than we've been told "because I said so."

Remember those first wild-eyed radicals who dared to question Government, like G. Washington and T. Jefferson, and then ask whether they would agree that our "leaders" since 1937 have known better than other humans who safely (and, often, medically) used the wild plant for thousands of years. It's not for everyone, but it is not the demon from "Reefer Madness" that the (well-paid) drug warriors want us to believe.

Posted by: Jay Hurst | Sep 5, 2010 8:46:34 AM

Followup Comment:

Prof Berman has asked whether decriminalization should be a conservative plank. The comments to this editorial ask the same question, and one suggests this is Ms. Palin's position. Is there any truth to that?

Another question I have is about economic impacts. The tax benefits of decriminalization are disputed, but there would seem to be at least a marginal effect. Are there estimates about how much we would save in actual prosecution costs from deccriminalization? I'm talking the hours and copy costs a frontline prosecutor has to spend on marijuana-only offenses per year?

Follow the money. If we do, I think we'll find better ways to spend our money.

Posted by: Jay Hurst | Sep 5, 2010 9:47:19 AM

Come November, we here in California expect to pass a series of laws that will legalize and tax marijuana for open recreational use. The legislature has been drafted and it appears that it is only a matter of time.

Posted by: Apply for a va loan | Sep 5, 2010 1:42:24 PM

You are right if not California it will be another State, It truly is a matter of time and it is about time.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 5, 2010 7:27:00 PM

Vick may finally get Philly a ring.

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Men stop calling these women 'wiffy' if you haven't put a ring on it!

Posted by: charms thomas sabo | Dec 16, 2010 3:28:11 AM

I'm absolutely agree with the dear aothor:"Marijuana users are selectively demonized as drug abusers and criminals; they do not, however, generally possess criminal intent or drug abuse behavior." I just want to add that everyone should realize that they destroy their life if they get any druggs. They also should understand that it's the beginning of the end.

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