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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 19, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 33
A new approach to marijuana policy
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A new approach to marijuana policy

by Dr. Bob Wood - Special to the SGN


Current marijuana prohibition efforts are a costly failure. In 1991, 29% of drug arrests nationwide were for marijuana; by 2009, that number had increased to 52%. Of those marijuana arrests, 90% were for simple possession. Yet despite these soaring arrest rates, marijuana use rates remain stable. Punishing marijuana users has proven itself an ineffective prevention strategy.

Continuing to rely on this failed strategy harms our communities. Arrests for marijuana use consume law enforcement attention, require ever more jail and prison cells, and increase criminal-justice expenses. This reduces availability of already shrinking government resources for proven strategies that reduce risk factors for substance abuse. A vicious cycle ensues: less or ineffective prevention results in more substance abuse, which results in more arrests, which cost more of the shrinking resources. Users acquire criminal records, lose rights for scholarships and organ transplants, and experience reduced earning, broken families, and even homelessness.

I-502 has been carefully designed to:

1) reduce the harm to users and society (e.g., from arrest, incarceration, and social disruption caused by current enforcement);

2) free up law enforcement and criminal-justice resources for more important problems;

3) regulate the production, sale, advertising, and quality of marijuana;

4) produce new revenue for the state and effective prevention strategies;

5) reduce illicit income to drug cartels; and

6) enable Washington to become a model for rational marijuana policy.

Its design builds on the experiences of other states and countries, and also on public opinion research about where Washington voters 'are' on the issue of marijuana law reform. I-502 is not the final word, but rather a fundamental shift in policy that begins the process of replacing the current prohibitionist, punitive policies that are causing significant damage to our communities with a new, public health-based approach that voters can support.

Washington can't singlehandedly fix the War on Drugs, but states clearly can push federal policy: the six states that have offered marriage equality to LGBTs have accelerated the demise of the federal Defense of Marriage act. Leadership on issues of national importance sometimes needs to come from the states. And within those states, leadership sometimes needs to come from the individual citizens. Please support I-502 by learning about this effort, signing someone's petition, and - better yet - spreading understanding and getting signatures from your friends.

To learn more, please visit www.NewApproachWA.org.

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