Panel voices high hopes for hemp

If Gov. Dannel Malloy gets his way, possessing under one ounce of marijuana will no longer be a crime in the state of Connecticut.

At a conversation sponsored by the Yale College Democrats Monday night in the Branford Common Room, four panelists involved in government and the law discussed the decriminalization of marijuana before an audience of 20 students. Though they agreed that bills currently under consideration would save money for the government and reduce the number of prisoners statewide, each of the speakers said that concerns about appearing to publicly endorse marijuana use might impede decriminalization.

“The laws will only change when public opinion changes,” said Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s undersecretary of criminal justice policy and planning at the Office of Policy Management. “The sad thing is that we spend more money running prisons than we do public colleges.”

Lawlor said that Malloy has already introduced a number of bills aimed at reducing the prison population and cutting government debt to the state legislature. He cited one bill that would classify the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana as an infraction, rather than a criminal offense, with a maximum penalty of $100. By freeing up both police and the courts from having to prosecute marijuana cases, he said, the state would save considerable resources, most importantly time and money.

Christian Young, a criminal defense attorney from Bridgeport who spoke at the event, agreed that police officers and lawyers are wasting their time prosecuting marijuana offenses in a judicial system that is already overworked. He pointed out that 15 states have already passed decriminalization laws and have not seen any spike in marijuana use.

“Continuing to vilify something that has clear medical benefits is outrageous,” Young said. “The human toll — where kids are being arrested and stigmatized as criminals, kicked out of school and forced to lose their student funding — has to be fixed.”

Joe Brooks, a retired police officer and representative for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said that the criminalization of marijuana is based in racial history and that a disproportionate amount of minorities are arrested for possession.

“The War On Drugs is ridiculous and a failure,” he said. “Anyone who disagrees with this has got to have their head in the sand.”

Students who attended the talk said that the panelists did a good job of laying out the arguments in support of decriminalization, but that full legalization of marijuana would eventually be the right policy to institute. Marina Keegan ’12, the president of the Yale College Democrats, said that advocating legalization would not be prudent in the current political climate, but that decriminalization will solve some current problems, like prison overcrowding and cost.

Dalton Johnson ’14 and Sarah Cox ’14 said that they were frustrated by the idea of decriminalization being a step in the right direction. Neither thought that it would go far enough in eliminating a black market for drugs.

“As long as we’re too scared to talk about why possessing marijuana is criminal in the first place, we won’t make any progress,” Cox said. “My dad actually lives in Mexico, and with problems he sees happening in the drug war there, I think legalization is the most sensible policy.”

The Yale College Democrats will be holding a meeting for the lobbying committee to discuss decriminalizing marijuana Wednesday at 6 p.m..

Comments

  • malcolmkyle

    Alcohol prohibition in the US run from 1919 to 1933 – Now google ‘The Great Wall Street Crash’ and see when that happened!

    During alcohol prohibition, all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. Young men died every day on inner-city streets while battling over turf. A fortune was wasted on enforcement that could have gone on education etc. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs, billions in taxes were lost. Finally the economy collapsed. Sound familiar?

    http://1929crash.com/

    Each day you remain silent, you help to destroy the Constitution, fill the prisons with our children, and empower terrorists and criminals worldwide while wasting hundreds of billions of your own tax dollars. Prohibition bears many strong and startling similarities to Torquemada­’s inquisition­, it’s supporters are servants of tyranny and hate. If you’re aware of but not enraged by it’s shear waste and cruel atrocities then both your heart and soul must surely be dead.

    Prohibition engendered black market profits are obscenely huge. Remove this and you remove the ability to bribe or threaten any government official or even whole governments. The argument that legalized regulation won’t severely cripple organized crime is truly bizarre. Of course, the bad guys won’t just disappear, but if you severely diminish their income, you also severely diminish their power. The proceeds from theft, extortion, pirated goods etc. are a drop in the ocean compared to what can be earned by selling prohibited/unregulated drugs in a black market estimated to be worth 400,000 million dollars. Without the lure and power of so much easy capital, it’s also very unlikely that new criminal enterprises will ever fill the void left by those you successfully disrupt or entirely eradicate.

    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country… Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
    – Abraham Lincoln, November 12, 1864

    It really sucks when big pharma and fascist corporations hijack your republic.

  • Citizen

    Hemp and marijuana are common names for two different plants. Although they are related you CAN NOT get high from hemp. These are separate issues. Hemp needs to be legalized as an agricultural commodity that can be used for almost anything from clothing to food (the list is exhaustive). Marijuana is a whole different animal….Please…please…please can we get this set straight for the record once and for all????

  • timemachinist

    WE NEED A REAL DRUG POLICY PROPOSAL: Part One of Two

    “Decriminalizing” marijuana will do zilch to end the black market in non-medical drugs, which is more a threat to public health and safety than drugs themselves. This discussion should not be limited by the words “marijuana” or “decriminalization.” Rather we should consider what the best overall drug policy would be.

    Virtually every drug presents some danger or potential for harm. Aspirin overdoses will kill, and even small doses can be fatal to some persons. Just because a drug is legal does not mean it is “safe.” Individual consumers must ultimately take responsibility for educating themselves about the hazards and safest use practices for any drug.

    When a drug is prohibited, it still widely available, but much more dangerous. Now the consumer has no certain knowledge of dosage or purity, essential to calculating the risk v. benefit of taking the drug. This is the root of most drug overdoses and poisonings. Even heroin addicts desire to live and avoid bodily harm. Prohibition kills people by blocking consumers from obtaining essential information about the drug they are being sold. Prohibition kills people by making drugs much more dangerous than they would be under legal regulation. The only thing more dangerous than Jack Daniels whiskey is bathtub whiskey.

    We should replace drug prohibition with a regulated market not because any drug is “safe” or “endorsed” by the state or society. These are personal decisions for free and informed and responsible adults. Rather we regulate the market because it is necessary to public health and safety.

    In order to ensure the consumer has maximum education about the hazards of the drug, there would be a separate license for each class of drugs. The license is obtained by completing a safety course informing of all the hazards, safest use precautions and advice, and where to get counseling or treatment if needed.

  • timemachinist

    WE NEED A REAL DRUG POLICY PROPOSAL: Part Two of Two

    I propose licenses be issued by quasi-public consumer unions rather than the state in order to avoid any connotations of “big brother.” Getting your license would in essence mean joining the Consumer Union for that class of drug. Your picture ID card license allows you to purchase personal use quantities of that drug from licensed dispensaries. The drug manufacture and packaging would be regulated much like pharmaceuticals are now. Joining the Consumer Union would include signing a statement that you understand the dangers involved and, should harm come, will not hold legally liable the CU or any other party involved in manufacture or delivery of the drug.

    The Consumer Union would be governed by a Board of Directors, some elected by the membership and some appointed by the state governor. The CU BoD would include medical and addiction experts as well as consumer representatives to jointly draw up the curriculum to reflect both the medical and psychological hazards as well as keeping the advice relevant to actual use conditions. The regularly-published newsletter of the CU would be sent to each member, keeping them informed of the latest research and news and opinion relevant to that class of drug. Licenses could be renewed at set intervals by taking the update course and smiling for a new license pic. The CU would be self-funding, ie, operated as a non-profit agency that sets the license fees and retail drug costs at a level that covers the expenses of manufacture and distribution of the drug plus all other costs of the CU.

    There should remain a separation of medical from recreational drug regulation systems in the sense that medical treatments remain on the prescription system while recreational be sold to any licensed adult having undergone an education specific to the drug. In actually delineating these categories there would be a lot of grey area as some people wished to take medical drugs for non-medical reasons, examples such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. These grey areas could be resolved for certain categories of drugs (like the opiates) by making different forms available depending on whether it was intended for medical or recreational use; ie, heroin or smokable opium through the recreational license and Oxy and Vicodin through the medical prescription. Much prescription drug misuse and the resultant dangers could be greatly reduced by legalizing formulations more appropriate for recreational use, heroin v. Oxycontin being an example.

    It would still be illegal to give or sell drugs to minors (or unlicensed adults), to drive while impaired, or any other act that violates the person or property of others. Police would now be able to concentrate on such real crime.

  • timemachinist

    (Didn’t fit, here’s Part Three of Two!)

    By eliminating the vagaries of unregulated drugs in an unregulated market, accidental poisonings and overdoses would be virtually eliminated, as would the street crime and organized crime and corruption of the black market. Then those with drug problems could be seen as people who need help rather than as criminals. Then law enforcement and courts could concentrate on REAL crime while people with drug problems could be dealt with much more effectively through a public health approach, rather than forcing them into criminal settings and ostracizing them from society.

  • bydavidklein

    Far too many people are unjustly targeted by aggressive police for modest, recreational use of marijuana, often with dire consequences. For a dramatic and page-turning look at this issue, check out the novel STASH published by Random House at http://www.bydavidklein.com.