Bringing down the war on marijuana

A new bill before the Massachusetts House would decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

Though the bill is a far cry from full legalization and still recommends a fine for those caught with the drug, it is a step in the right direction toward a smart and fair policy regarding pot.

The reformation of marijuana laws is something that has been discussed since the drug’s use became widespread in the 1960s. However, the debate has never really changed. Opponents continue to insist that marijuana is a gateway drug, decriminalization would lead to greater use and that law enforcement admitting defeat is symbolically dangerous.

Those arguments hold as little water now as they did when Lyndon Johnson was president. It’s true that most people who abuse hard drugs used marijuana first, but conversely, most people who smoke pot do not move on to abuse hard drugs. It says absolutely nothing about whether marijuana itself caused this evolution. Furthermore, the argument that decriminalization would lead to more widespread use would be an effective one only if it could be proven that this were a bad thing. There has yet to be a definitive study that proves reefer is any worse for one’s health than cigarettes.

Some in politics and law enforcement worry about the message that is sent by decriminalization, which they perceive as one of defeatism. In a sense, they are right. Strict penalties for pot use never have been and never will be effective and there is an element of conceding defeat in seeking to lessen the charges. However, stubbornness has no place in this discussion. We can’t continue this campaign against pot simply because it’s the way it has always been done.

Decriminalization is often seen as a “stoner issue,” one not to be taken too seriously by lawmakers. The Bonnaroo crowd doesn’t often make it to the polls, after all. It’s a shame that this is the perception.

This futile war on a generally harmless drug is costing the state of Massachusetts millions of dollars a year, tying up our court system and locking up or otherwise punishing nonviolent offenders, many of them the kids that these politicians claim to be looking out for.