June 4, 2003
The Canadian government recently introduced legislation that would essentially decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Possession of as much as twenty joints "would be punishable by a fine of up to $180 for youths and $290 for adults," The New York Times reported.
Now that's a sensible policy, similar to the ones that other enlightened nations have enacted, like Belgium, Holland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain.
And about a dozen states have a comparable policy, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon. Some of these even have lesser fines than what Canada's proposing, according to Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project.
But on the flip side, Florida puts you in prison for a year for mere possession. And Oklahoma sends you to the slammer for one year on your first offense of possession--and up ten years for your next.
This is craziness.
As Mirken says, "Jailing marijuana users does far more harm than the drug itself."
Jails and prisoners are crime factories. Putting relatively harmless pot smokers among hardened criminals is about the stupidest thing we can do.
And the war on drugs is a war on minorities. For instance, in 1997, more than five times as many blacks as whites were in state prisons and jails for drug offenses, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, even though blacks and whites use illegal drugs equally. And since whites outnumber blacks in the general population by 6 to 1, blacks were imprisoned for drug offenses at thirty times the per capita rate of whites. That year, there were 217,000 people in state or federal prisons strictly for drug offenses; more than 100,000 of those were in for mere possession.
Like Prohibition, the War on Drugs is riddled through with hypocrisy. D.A.'s who use marijuana are prosecuting dope smokers, and judges who toke are sentencing them. And even those who aren't hypocrites are expending an awful lot of time and energy on a problem that doesn't merit it.
Criminalization of marijuana possession is jamming our jails and prisons.
It's interfering with basic liberty rights of individuals to be safe and secure in their homes, as police have used the War on Drugs to blast a hole through the Fourth Amendment.
It's criminalizing people by race.
And it's not solving a thing.