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Old 08-29-2009, 11:25 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Letter in the Seattle Times Supporting Decriminalization

Time for Washington state to decriminalize marijuana

By Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Toby Nixon
Special to The Times

Once again, the Seattle Hempfest drew tens of thousands to parks along the waterfront this weekend. In its mission statement, the all-volunteer organization that produces the event says, “The public is better served when citizens and public officials work cooperatively in order to successfully accomplish common goals.”

We agree. That is why we, as a Democratic state senator and former Republican state representative, support state Senate Bill 5615. This bill would reclassify adult possession of marijuana from a crime carrying a mandatory day in jail to a civil infraction imposing a $100 penalty payable by mail. The bill was voted out of committee with a bipartisan “do pass” recommendation and will be considered by legislators in 2010.

The bill makes a lot of sense, especially in this time of severely strapped budgets. Our state Office of Financial Management reported annual savings of $16 million and $1 million in new revenue if SB 5615 passes. Of that $1 million, $590,000 would be earmarked for the Washington State Criminal Justice Treatment Account to increase support of our underfunded drug-treatment and drug-prevention services.

The idea of decriminalizing marijuana is far from new. In 1970, Congress created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. A bipartisan body with 13 members — nine appointed by President Nixon and four by Congress — the commission was tasked with conducting a yearlong, authoritative study of marijuana. When the commission issued its report, “Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding,” in1972, it surprised many by recommending decriminalization:

Possession of marijuana in private for personal use would no longer be an offense; and distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration or insignificant remuneration not involving profit would no longer be an offense.

Twelve states took action and decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s. Nevada decriminalized in 2001, and Massachusetts did so in 2008. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states where marijuana possession is decriminalized represent more than 35 percent of our nation’s population.

These states have not seen a corresponding increase in use. Nor have the 14 states that have adopted legal protections for patients whose doctors recommend the medical use of marijuana. Nor the several cities and counties that have adopted “lowest law enforcement priority” ordinances like Seattle’s Initiative 75, which made adult marijuana use the city’s lowest law enforcement priority in 2003.

On the flip side of the coin, escalating law enforcement against marijuana users has not achieved its intended goals. From 1991 to 2007, marijuana arrests nationwide tripled from 287,900 to a record 872,720, comprising 47 percent of all drug arrests combined. Of those, 89 percent were for possession only. Nevertheless, according to a study released earlier this year by two University of Washington faculty members:

• The price of marijuana has dropped;

• Its average potency has increased;

• It has become more readily available; and

• Use rates have often increased during times of escalating enforcement.

We now have decades of proof that treating marijuana use as a crime is a failed strategy. It continues to damage the credibility of our public health officials and compromise our public safety. At a fundamental level, it has eroded our respect for the law and what it means to be charged with a criminal offense: 40 percent of Americans have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. It cannot be that 40 percent of Americans truly are criminals.

We hope that the citizens of this state will work with us to help pass SB 5615, the right step for Washington to take toward a more effective, less costly and fairer approach to marijuana use.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Seattle, left, chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. Toby Nixon was state representative for the 45th legislative district, 2002-2006, and served as vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus and ranking member of the House Committee on State Government Operations and Accountability.

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Old 08-31-2009, 08:58 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I love the new article system! Nice read t/c. I have a feeling we only have a year or so more of suffering.

I like this
“The public is better served when citizens and public officials work cooperatively in order to successfully accomplish common goals.”
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Old 08-31-2009, 10:21 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Decriminalize Marijuana Possession (Canada)

Keith Martin...... Member of Parliament, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, B.C., Liberal Party of Canada; MD.

The lethal gun battles on the streets of Vancouver, the astounding number of murders in Mexico, and the insurgency that continues to grow in Afghanistan (which results in our soldiers being killed) all have one thing in common: the trafficking of illegal drugs.

The U.S.-style war on drugs that is being pursued by Canada’s Conservative government has proven to be an utter failure. It has not reduced crime, harm or even drug use. The only groups benefitting from the status quo are organized crime gangs, insurgent groups, and terrorist organizations. Who pays a heavy price? Society, our soldiers, some of the world’s poorest countries, and the most vulnerable people in our communities.

So how do we deal with this? First, our government needs to change its perspective and see substance abuse as a medical problem, not a judicial one. In order to reduce the supply of illegal drugs flowing into our communities and, by extension, the funding of organized criminal groups and insurgents, we must get our own house in order and reduce the demand for these drugs.

Can we sever the ties between addicts and organized crime? Indeed we can. One superb initiative that does this is a little-known program in Vancouver called the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI). This program allows addicts to receive prescribed narcotics under medical supervision. It frees these patients from the devastating feedback loop of drug dependence and criminal activity and brings them into the medical system. The addict no longer commits illegal activities (usually theft, prostitution, or trafficking) to fund their addiction, which produces a significant reduction in crime. It also severs the ties between the individual and the organized crime gangs that are the primary vehicles for moving illegal drugs into Canada. By breaking this cycle, addicts are able to remain connected to the medical system, access training programs, psychological therapy and educational opportunities, gain employment, and rebuild their lives with their families.

Another initiative that is needed to modernize our drug laws is to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, including the possession of up to two plants. This will cut the connection between the gangs involved in commercial grow ops and casual pot users.

Bill C-359 was introduced this spring to accomplish these goals. Under this bill, a person who is caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana or less than two plants would receive a fine instead of going through the expensive court system and receiving a criminal record, or even incarceration if found guilty. The money saved could be invested in prevention programs like the Head Start/Early Learning Program for children or drug treatment programs like NAOMI.

Many studies, including those done by House of Commons committees, have found that current federal drug policies have not been effective at reducing drug use, trafficking, crime, and harm. In 2002, the Senate Report on Illegal Drugs called for the decriminalization of the simple possession of marijuana. Respected organizations like the Canadian Medical Association have also echoed this position.

The medical profession has a principle: do no harm. We are actually doing terrible harm and will do so for as long as we continue to address substance abuse as a criminal issue.

Decriminalizing the simple possession of marijuana would be a start at reducing harm, cost, and criminal activity in Canada. Several states in the U.S. have done this with positive results, as have many countries in Europe. Canada can and should do it too.
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