Monday, February 13, 2006

I didn't inhale, your Honor, honest.

Actually, I did, but more on that in a moment.

A proposed initiative petition has been submitted to the Portland City Auditor's Office to "Make Adult Marijuana-Related Offenses the Lowest Law Enforcement Priority in the City of Portland". There could be a couple of effects of this. One could be that you could still get busted for being stupid enough to light up in front of a cop but that enforcement against large scale grow operations would be put on the back burner. The other possible outcome is that marijuana would become quasi-legal as it is now in Amsterdam and Vancouver B.C., and we might see the establishment of cannabis coffee houses. Denver recently passed a similar measure, but it's still too soon to tell how that ordinance will shake out.

I'm going to endorse this measure, but before going further, let me make the following disclosures:

1. I served as a police officer/sergeant/lieutenant for 28 years.

2. The last time I smoked marijuana was in Amsterdam, circa 1991. Hey, a young woman from my tour group knocked on my door and said, "Let's get stoned." What's a man to do? I did inhale, more than once, and by God, I liked it. (Though wandering around Amsterdam at 3 am, totally whacked out of ones mind is a bit overwhelming).

3. I haven't smoked dope since for a couple of reasons. First, being a cop, I drifted away from the marijuana subculture after leaving college. And since leaving the police force, I've become a Dad; that role isn't conducive to smoking dope.

4. I'm a 'if you do the crime, you do the crime' sort of guy. If you murder or rape another person, you should go to jail for life. If you rob or hurt someone, you should go to jail for a long time.

I could start my argument saying that studies have shown that legalizing marijuana doesn't increase use among the population, or that marijuana enforcement costs a whole bunch of money spent better elsewhere:

The societal costs of propagandizing against marijuana and marijuana law reform, funding anti-marijuana 'science', interdicting marijuana, eradicating domestically grown marijuana and industrial hemp, law enforcement, prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana smokers costs U.S. taxpayers in excess of $12 billion annually.

But the bottom line is that the war against drugs doesn't work. The current approach of interdiction and incarceration has never worked and never will. All it does is create a large subculture of people with criminal records. That's not to say that people who commit crimes under the influence of drugs should get a free pass. They need to take responsibility for their behavior, break some rocks in the hot sun. That includes people who drive under the influence of intoxicants.

All this money we spend on fighting marijuana would be spend much better on drug treatment, drug education and putting more cops on the street fighting real crime. A couple of years ago, I facilitated a creative writing seminar for a group of men at a residential drug treatment facility. Most were committed to the facility by the court and most had done hard time in the state pen. They weren't the kind of men I'd like to meet in a dark parking lot after the bar had last call. The strange thing I discovered in this seminar was that when these men were free of drugs and when treated with respect; they were intelligent, forthright, engaging and damn good writers. One that struck me the most was Porter. Porter has to be one of the best natural born story tellers I've ever known. He's also been in prison for most of his life, probably for as a result of his addiction to drugs. In another place, and in another time, he would have become a great writer. The last time I saw Porter, he had a sleeping bag slung over his shoulder and was looking for a place to crash under the Steel Bridge. I would have stopped, but I was driving my daughter to school. I've never seen him again. The State was gracious enough to give Porter the opportunity to get clean and sober, but after that he was on his own. I like to believe that he found a way up and out, but my cynical side tells me he's back in the pokey or worse.

Critics say that marijuana is harmful. The Drug Policy Alliance disagrees. In my opinion, two other legal drugs, alcohol and nicotine, are more damaging to the human body and cost society more in terms of money and suffering. That's not to say that marijuana is harmless, but if we're going to outlaw a harmful substance, let's start with tobacco. (And yeah, I'm an ex-smoker).

Right now, the current drug laws regarding marijuana don't work. Let's try something else.

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