A waning drug war

Those among us who want to see an end to the war on drugs should not hold their breath, but there are some indications that the tide may be turning in the decades-long failure.

According to a June 10 AP story by David Klepper, “[M]arijuana policy is appearing on legislative agendas around the country thanks to an energized base of supporters and an increasingly open-minded public. Lawmakers from Rhode Island to Colorado are mulling medical marijuana programs, pot dispensaries, decriminalization and even legalization.”

To date, there are 17 states plus the District of Columbia that allow medical marijuana use, and according to the AP story, 14 states have reduced criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of the substance. According to Klepper, Rhode Island could become the 15th state to decriminalize pot possession.

“The state's General Assembly passed legislation last week that would eliminate the threat of big fines or even jail time for the possession of an ounce or less of pot… Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he is inclined to sign the legislation.”

Klepper reported that similar measures have been introduced before, but they always died in committee. Not so this time. He wrote that some legislators want to go further.

State Rep. John Savage, a retired school principal, acknowledges that the war on drugs has failed and that pot should be legalized.

There are those who oppose any change, of course. Some honestly feel that legalization, even simple decriminalization, would be nothing more than making another intoxicant available to a society that already has too many. Yet, very few drug warriors say they want to re-introduce prohibition of alcohol.

Some ask what kind of message would be sent to youth if pot or other drugs were made legal. But the real question is why does society allow the prevailing message of hypocrisy.

Joe Six Pack and Mary Marguerita are legally allowed to drink themselves into a stupor any night of the week. They can drink until the alcohol rots their brains or kills their livers. They can also smoke enough tobacco to shrivel their throats and lungs to charred dust. But if people want to toke on a joint or make a batch of pot brownies, they face trouble with the law, and all too often, jail time. The hypocrisy is unconscionable.

Just because other state legislatures are reconsidering marijuana laws is no reason for Pennsylvania to do so, but it is an indicator that legislators in those states are realizing that the drug war is a lost cause and wrong. We can only hope that Pennsylvania lawmakers will wake up to the same realizations.

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