Opinion: Marijuana poses no threat to anyone
As a University of Delaware student in international relations and Americorps graduate, I am completely unashamed to say I smoke marijuana on a regular basis. Naturally, my parents disapprove, but they also recognize it's my choice. In return, I repeatedly prove to them and myself that I am capable of handling this responsibility. For example, I never drive while inebriated, I'm careful not to overuse, and I generally conduct myself as an adult.
I am astonished by American double-think regarding substance abuse. When is the last time you heard of someone overdosing on marijuana? Never. Yet drunken driving is potentially fatal and a common occurrence. Binge drinking leads to alcohol poisoning, is also potentially fatal, and is standard college fare.
Most of my peers who also use marijuana (most of my peers, period) choose to act in a mature manner. Of course, some do not. I have little respect for them because they obviously have none for themselves. Please do not construe my liberated attitude toward drug use as sympathy for drug abuse.Yet that is exactly how the law sees it. According to current state and federal legislation, my responsible use of marijuana is worse than someone else's drunken driving and alcohol poisoning.
I cannot fathom how punishing someone for smoking marijuana with a fine, prison and a criminal record can possibly benefit society. Essentially, the message seems to be that my past (Americorps), present (youth mentoring) and future contributions to my community are outweighed by the harm incurred when I smoke a marijuana cigarette.
I always figured that laws should be based on the common and individual good, not mindless dogma.
Anyone who investigates the history of American prohibition of marijuana will quickly discover that it was nothing more than a mechanism of discrimination. In the 1920s and '30s, Mexican workers were flooding into the United States, taking jobs. Noting that marijuana use was popular with the workers, legislators banned it, and used the ban as an excuse to kick out Mexicans.
Anti-drug propaganda used in those days was ridiculous. One example: "Marijuana -- a powerful narcotic in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death!" (For those who have never used marijuana, let me assure say this could not be farther from the truth.)
We still treat all illegal drugs as equally dangerous, regardless of their effects and addictiveness. Cigarettes have been described as being equal to heroin in addictiveness by addicts of both -- whereas marijuana is biologically non-addictive. School drug education programs as a rule rely on scare tactics over facts and honest discussions.
Prison populations have exploded in the last 30 years. In 1999, the annual cost was $64,157 per non-violent drug offender. In 2000, they comprised 57 percent of the prison population. With 2,071,686 prisoners under U.S. jurisdiction, that's roughly $75.5 billion being spent annually on imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, as of 2000.
Former Delaware prosecutor Peter Letang stated in an article that he had no solutions. I beg to differ. The first and foremost solution is a candid discussion. Here are two more:
Marijuana and similar "soft" drugs (psychedelic mushrooms and other drugs that pose no inherent danger of use) should be legalized in the same manner as alcohol, with a minimum age of use and severe repercussions for irresponsible misuse (driving under the influence, etc.)
Drug laws should be written and amended to reflect that drug abuse is not the same as stealing, rape or murder. Prisons are breeding grounds for substance dependency and criminal behavior. Non-violent drug abusers don't require jail time but effective treatment programs that emphasize rehabilitation over shame and fear.
Punitive measures should be paid for in the form of fines and community service, not prison sentences.
I urge people to abandon preconceived notions that drug use is inherently irresponsible and take a hard look at the witch hunt. I and countless others are responsible contributors to society. Are we really the enemy?
By Casey Jaywork