The readers’ forum

Enact smarter marijuana laws


It is unbelievable that, after more than four decades of the destructive “wars on drugs,” Helen Aguirre Ferré offers, basically, a call for more of the same. ( It might be legal, but it’s not right, Jan. 19). Her claim is that while the legalization of marijuana may be popular, doing so would be wrong.

These are the arguments that were used 90 years ago in defense of alcohol prohibition: The use of mood and mind-altering substances is wrong, regardless of its popularity. Because alcohol has harmful consequences, it should continue to be illegal. America should continue to use police, prosecutors, courts, and prisons to enforce prohibition.

Been there, tried that.

What is most distressing is that, while highlighting the harmful consequences of the use of marijuana, she completely fails to offer the slightest defense of public policies that criminalize its use. Not the slightest acknowledgement of the cost as evidenced by the explosion of the prison population, the expansion of police powers to stop and search, the loss of privacy rights and, most important, the destruction of the lives.

Arrests for marijuana now account for more than half of all drug arrests in the United States. Between 2001 and 2010, there were 8.2 million arrests for marijuana, 88 percent of which were for possession, and in many cases for having small amounts.

Laws prohibiting the use of marijuana are one of the main weapons that the criminal justice system uses to imprison young black men.

A recent ACLU study documenting racial disparities in the enforcement of laws against marijuana use found that, though the use of marijuana is roughly the same in the black community and the white community, data from all 50 states indicate that blacks are four times more likely to be arrested. In Florida and Miami-Dade County, the disparity is even greater.

The use of marijuana for medical purposes, including alleviating the pain and nausea of cancer patients and symptoms of other serious illnesses, some affecting children, will likely come before the voters of Florida in this November’s election.

The practical real-world consequences of continuing the war on drugs is that those suffering from serious illnesses endure extreme pain, malnourishment and a host of other symptoms so that we might prevent one more teenager from cavalierly experimenting with marijuana.

Sometimes it is smarter to adopt policies that are the least worst.

Howard L. Simon,

executive director, American Civil

Liberties Union of Florida, Miami

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