VT: My Turn: It’s time to decriminalize marijuana


Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2008 16:45:42 -0800
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My Turn: It's time to decriminalize marijuana

By Ken Freer

January 4, 2008
We lost the so called "War on Drugs" a long time ago and it's time to
introduce a little common sense. Gov. Jim Douglas' spat with Windsor County
prosecutor Robert Sand brought this issue to our attention just recently. I
think that the Vermont Lottery does more harm to Vermont citizens than
smoking marijuana. The Lottery Commissioner always shouts, "Please play
responsibly!" while he and his staff are dreaming up more games to fleece
those people who can least afford to lose the money.

Now the governor is talking about leasing the lottery to a private business
that will probably further abuse our citizens. The money realized from the
proposed lease would be used to help fund our public education program and
maybe reduce taxes. Why not get rid of the lottery and find another, more
responsible, way to raise money to support the education of our children?

The Vermont prison population continues to grow even though we have farmed
out inmates to other locations. Corrections officials, the Legislature and
the administration say they are now very concerned. They should be, and
maybe they should take some time to find out how many "criminals" they have
incarcerated because they were in possession of "significant" amounts of
marijuana.

Enforcement officials hold press conferences around here if they seize a few
pounds of marijuana. Is that really a significant amount, and should it be
enough to send someone to jail when our correctional institutions are
bursting at the seams? What is the recidivism rate for those marijuana
violators that we have incarcerated? We probably don't have answers for
those questions or many others that could be posed. The point is that we
need to reconsider our law enforcement stance on marijuana as part of any
larger study that we appear poised to do on the ever-increasing Vermont
prison population.

There is no argument that Vermont is one of the most heavily taxed states in
the country. Despite this, our roads are in horrible shape, we never seem to
have enough money for education and the corrections system is bleeding us
dry. So where do we go for help? If an adult could legally buy enough
marijuana and the paper to roll a cigarette at one of the local convenience
stores, would that be the end of the world? I don't think so. The state
could tax the hell out of that transaction in order to help pay for our
roads and fund our schools. We could probably stop stealing money from
people with the Vermont Lottery. Marijuana arrests, related criminal
activity and incarceration would decline. Oh, and if someone with a medical
condition who could benefit from smoking an occasional joint were able to
use some marijuana without feeling like a criminal, that would be nice, too.

We passed the civil unions law in Vermont and the sky didn't fall. Gay
marriage doesn't look like it is far behind and the sky still hasn't fallen.
Incredibly, we sold and gave up control of Vermont Yankee to a private
company and just lately seem "concerned" about some safety issues, including
the long-term storage of nuclear waste on the banks of the Connecticut
River. I wonder if the sky might fall on that decision?

However, if we allow the same person who can now legally buy a six-pack of
beer, a carton of cigarettes or a bunch of lottery tickets at Cumberland
Farms to also purchase a personal-use supply of marijuana, the sky will not
even notice. After a few months, I don't think anyone will notice except law
enforcement, the Corrections Department, the state treasurer and maybe the
lottery commissioner.

Ken Freer lives in Morrisville.

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