Nov 062005
 
Authors: Ben Bleckley

Marijuana is considered an illegal substance by state and federal law.

There seems to be some change of public sentiment in Denver however, whose citizens passed I-100, legalizing the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for those 21 years and older. The issue narrowly passed 53 to 46 percent.

Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), which pushed for the passage of a ballot issue in last years ASCSU election, was a force behind the Denver issue.

"It just goes to show the hypocrisy of the federal government that allows the sale and use of a drug (alcohol) that is infinitely more deadly and harmful than the one it prohibits (marijuana)," said Mason Tvert, executive director for SAFER.

The arguments of SAFER were not articulated so well in their television ad campaign, one of which asked voters to reduce domestic violence (which is sometimes influenced by alcohol) by voting "yes" on I-100.

There are better arguments.

Although some might argue that supporters of the issue are looking for a legalized high, this columnist has neither done nor intends to do dope. Rather, many supporters are searching for sensible drug laws that minimize frivolous spending. It is time America considered an intelligent drug policy, especially when it comes to marijuana.

While some European countries have legalized marijuana possession, at times subvertly, the United States continues to spend millions of dollars at the federal and state level to enforce laws banning the possession of marijuana.

According to testimony before the House Appropriations Committee in 2003, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spent $12.2 million on marijuana enforcement in 2002.

This does not include the amount individual states spend on enforcement or on the prison cells occupied by those convicted of possession.

In Colorado, while possession of one ounce or less carries only a fine of $100, a person in possession of eight ounces or more can be sentenced to one to three years in prison. Sale of the drug carries a penalty of two to six years.

The greatest risk in marijuana use according to theantidrug.com was that it slows the brain's ability to learn.

And certainly while marijuana impairs judgment, like alcohol, sensible regulation of the drug to a responsible age group would make more sense than a complete banning of the drug.

Another argument against marijuana is its classification as a "gateway drug," that individuals who purchase marijuana could "upgrade" through their drug dealer to cocaine or heroine.

Yet, if marijuana was legalized, drug dealers wouldn't be selling it on the black market. Rather, cannabis would be found behind the counter in gas stations and supermarkets, eliminating the "gateway" concern.

It is questionable how much the I-100 victory will help the legalization movement, however.

The Denver Post, which supports drug legislation reform, suggested a "no" vote on the bill in an October 25th opinion article.

"We don't think there's any point in passing a law that will have no effect," the editorial stated.

After passage, that fact has not changed.

"There is some sentiment out there that there needs to be some modification of the drug laws in this country, particularly in regards to marijuana," said John Straayer, a professor in the political science department who specializes in state and local politics.

"You're probably going to see more efforts (like I-100), whether or not their driven specifically by what happened to Denver is really hard to say."

Straayer said that what the passage of I-100 reflects is more important that what it might predict.

"It does reflect some introspection here and there around the country saying 'you know, we're spending a lot of money trying to chase people down and lock them up, maybe we need to reexamine our drug laws.'"

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