Oct 192009
Authors: Josh Phillips, Ian Bezek

Federal leniency on medical marijuana beneficial

By Josh Phillips

The Justice Department’s new policy forbidding prosecutors from arresting people using marijuana for medical purposes is a step in the right direction. While I’m inclined to agree with Ian that this step may be trivial in the struggle to legalize marijuana, it is important to note that the federal government relinquished a fair amount of power to the states.

Such a move is in the best interest of the United States as a whole. The states should determine whether or not marijuana is legal in their respective regions, not the federal government.

And while this progress may seem trivial in the legalization of marijuana, it may benefit us in other ways. In 2008, Washington, D.C. reported that police had arrested around 847,000 people for marijuana violations. Of these, roughly 89 percent (around 750,000) were merely charged with possession.

In February 2008, the Washington Post reported that it cost an average of $23,876 to incarcerate somebody in 2005 (the most recent year figures were available). These costs vary from state to state, but consider that if our prisons suddenly had 750,000 open slots, the government would save around $18 billion a year.

Not only is this new policy a moral push in the right direction, it also places high value in state empowerment and overall fiscal improvement.

The policy will not refrain from pursuing cases that involve violence or other illegal activities, which I think we should accept as a reasonable compromise. While these violent offenders will still be prosecuted for possession, at least the federal government will shift its focus to real criminals.

New policy doesn’t go far enough

By Ian Bezek

I fully agree with Josh that this new policy ceasing the federal prosecution of medical marijuana possession is a good step. But it is a largely ceremonial one, impacting only a tiny fraction of the American population.

It is because of statistics such as the one Josh points out, referencing the extremely high cost of incarcerating prisoners, that makes the legalization of marijuana for all people, not just sick persons, so essential.

Marijuana is a significantly less dangerous drug than either alcohol or tobacco, both of which remain legal. Mere marijuana possession is a trivial offense, yet hundreds of thousands of Americans are in jail for merely that.

Just one conviction of marijuana possession can stop you from getting aid for college, prevent you from holding down a job and even send you to prison. In summary, if a na’ve teen gets caught with marijuana, they will struggle to succeed in life.

Just think: President Obama, had he been caught when he was using marijuana (and cocaine!) in high school, would more likely be a societal dropout than a president. Obviously his usage of these supposedly nefarious drugs didn’t prevent him from over achieving. But had he been thrown in prison and denied the opportunity to go to college, how could he have become what he is today?

America must simply stop prosecuting adult marijuana possession altogether. It costs us dearly in money, police officers’ time and society’s lost potential. What could the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are rotting in prisons be doing if they were allowed to be regular members of society? We may never know.

While I commend the policy change from the Obama administration, this isn’t even close to enough, and Obama, as a former, self-admitted drug user himself, should know this. Legalize marijuana now and not just for sick people.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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