Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Marijuana Debate

Late last week I received an email from Chris Norwood at the The Talladega Daily Home informing me that they were doing an anchor article for the Sunday edition of the paper and requesting my input for the PRO side of marijuana legalization. I happily obliged.

This is a big deal to me. I was born in Talladega and spent much of my childhood growing up on Ironaton Road. This is also a big deal because it is rare indeed that small town newspapers will take on this issue. When we start to see marijuana legalization debated in small town Alabama papers change cannot be far behind. I was able to provide a written commentary for Mr. Norwood and he used it masterfully in the following article. Read it. Try not to rupture something laughing at the uproariously funny comments from the cops. Then go here and leave a comment. You might also consider a letter to the editor which you can send to

The Marijuana Debate

Chris Norwood

Although some states are openly debating the legalization of marijuana, Alabama does not appear ready to take that step just yet. Still, there are some advocates for legalization, such as former gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall.

In a sluggish economy, as states are struggling to keep the books balanced, several have been asked to discuss the legalization and regulation of marijuana, both as a cost saver and as a source of tax revenue. Under current law, a first time arrest for possession of marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor. A second or subsequent conviction is a class C felony, punishable by one year and one day to 10 years in prison. State law does not differentiate between distribution of marijuana and distribution of other controlled substances.

2006 gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall is one of the more passionate and outspoken voices for reforming Alabama’s marijuana laws.

“Since prohibition of marijuana has never worked, I see nothing but positives in legalizing, taxing and regulating the sale to adults. I think the question that needs to be asked is, ‘What is one positive thing that has come from the prohibition of marijuana,’” Nall wrote in a prepared statement. “I can’t think of one. Outlawing it and locking up its peaceful consumers in prison cells has not stopped other people from using it, reduced the flow of it into this country, decreased crime or kept it out of the hands of children…Drug dealers don’t ask for ID, so any kid who knows where to get some can acquire it.”

Nall also sites border violence in Mexico as a factor against the current practice, then outlines what she would consider the seven biggest benefits of legalization.

First, it would significantly reduce prison overcrowding. According to her figures, Nall says that some 30 percent of Alabama inmates are serving time for non-violent drug offenses at a cost to taxpayers of $117 million per year. The Department of Corrections does not differentiate between those convicted of marijuana possession and those convicted of other controlled substance crimes, however, so it is difficult to say how many of these inmates are serving time exclusively on marijuana charges, but she sites a study by The Birmingham News estimating marijuana arrests constitute about half of all drug arrests.

“We spend $13,000 per year to house a person in prison in Alabama for smoking a joint, while we only spend a little over $8,000 per year to send a child to school. We spend more to incarcerate than we do to educate.”

Secondly, she said, legalization would “enable us to use drug courts and treatment resources for actual hard core drug addicts and law enforcement resources for catching dangerous criminals who are a very real threat to the public. Taxes from the sale of marijuana could even be used to help pay for drug court and treatment. Alabama has a dismal lack of treatment beds available and drug courts are clogged with pot smokers who are then sent to treatment where they take up space that could be occupied by someone addicted to meth or opiates, or they are sent to occupy prison space that should really be occupied by a violent criminal.”

Legalization would also make it more difficult for children to acquire, while at the same time making it more widely available for medicinal purposes for people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDs and other afflictions where marijuana has shown some potential benefit. It would also take money away from violent drug cartels and create agricultural jobs, she argues.

“We cannot afford to keep enforcing a law that has never and will never meet its stated objective. Taxes raised from the legal sale of marijuana could be used to fund worthy programs like education, health care, treatment for real drug addicts and a whole host of other worthy programs. Legalizing would allow the state to make money from marijuana as opposed to insisting that it cost the taxpayers money. We'd save all that we spend on incarceration, court costs and law enforcement resources and make money on top of what was saved. Not to mention that legalizing marijuana would reaffirm that we own our own bodies and not the government,” she concluded.

Nall said she had posted items about legalization of marijuana and hemp (a natural fiber derived from the same plant) on gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis’s Web site, and while the items were popular with users, the candidate himself has remained silent on the issue.

Jason Murray, commander of the Talladega County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, sees the issue very differently, pointing out that marijuana remains the major gateway drug to more dangerous substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

“In my personal opinion, if you want to live somewhere where marijuana is legal, I would suggest you move to Colorado or California. As long as I have been doing this, I could probably count on one hand the number of meth or cocaine users who didn’t start with marijuana. We don’t need to make it legal. The gateway theory has been proven, and if we tried to regulate it, the problems would just be beginning.”

Murray points to Amsterdam, perhaps the most high profile jurisdiction to legalize most controlled substances, as a cautionary tale.

“Amsterdam has more addicts living on the street than any other city in Europe or the world. It is a massive draw on their society over there.”

Murray also rejects the argument that marijuana actually acts as a gateway drug because it is illegal.

“I don’t know how you could make that argument,” he said. “I don’t know of any study or any set of statistics showing that legalizing marijuana would (help prevent) any other kind of drug activity.”

He added, “I will say, though, that I do believe marijuana does have some medicinal advantages, for cancer patients, for example. But we’re a nation that sends people into space, put men on the moon. I’m sure they could take the components of the drug that are beneficial and put them into pill form. But what it comes down to is that this is something that has been studied for 30 years. There is definite clinical data out there that show that marijuana destroys brain cells, that an A student that starts smoking marijuana regularly will drop at least one letter grade. Keep in mind, this is not a law enforcement perspective. These are scientific studies that were conducted by people who are supposed to be a lot smarter than me.”

Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens said he was also utterly opposed.

“I get asked about that from time to time, not just about marijuana but about crack and methamphetamine as well,” Giddens said. “People call my office, and people call law enforcement, and say they’ve got dealers down the street, meth labs down the street, and they’re scared. We go out, we make arrests, we get them off the street. If these drugs were legalized, there would be nothing we could do. I am totally opposed to that.”

When asked whether legalization might actually reduce street crime, Giddens said it wouldn’t. “We ended prohibition of alcohol, but that didn’t put the moonshiners out of business, did it?”

Talladega County Presiding Circuit Judge Julian King was also strongly opposed.

“Legalization of controlled substances is an issue for the legislative branch of our government to decide, but I am personally and professionally opposed to legalization of marijuana. I have seen first hand in the court system the byproducts of that substance and other drugs.”

St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor is also opposed to legalization. “That’s really an issue for the legislature. My office enforces the law. Right now, the legislature says marijuana is illegal, so it’s illegal. But based on my experiences over the last 15 years, if I was a legislator and did have a vote, I would vote to maintain the law as it is now. I’m sure there are a few out there, but I have never met a meth or crack addict that didn’t say they smoked marijuana first. Maybe legalization might eliminate that first step for some people, but I don’t think so.”

During a PowerPoint presentation Minor frequently gives to groups about methamphetamine is a drawing done by an elementary school age child.

“The children were told to draw a picture of a problem in their family. This child drew a stick figure in front of a stove and labeled it ‘Dad making meth.’ The next picture showed a stick figure chopping up meth on a plate and then smoking it. The last picture shows the stick figure with a cigarette and is labeled ‘Dad smokes pot.’”

He also pointed out that “Legalization is not just a topic of debate in the legislature, it’s also a topic among prosecutors in some parts of the country. In California, prosecutors have been told not to make any marijuana cases, so there’s a political issue at work too.”


"The gateway theory has been proven" said Jason Murray

I'm not sure I've ever seen a funnier statement in print in all my life. If the gateway theory had been proven wouldn't it be a gateway 'fact'?

Also, Mr. Murray, I was born and raised in Alabama. The likes of you and your ilk will never, ever run me out of my home state. You move if you feel uncomfortable living close to me.

Murray also rejects the argument that marijuana actually acts as a gateway drug because it is illegal.

“I don’t know how you could make that argument,” he said. “I don’t know of any study or any set of statistics showing that legalizing marijuana would (help prevent) any other kind of drug activity.”

Well since you didn't know theory wasn't in fact FACT we can't really expect you to wrap your head around a more complicated idea like this one can we?

As to Murray's position on medical marijuana has the man never heard of Marinol? It doesn't work for most cancer patients by the way. Try swallowing a pill while you are puking your guts out from chemo/radiation treatments and let us know how that works out for you Jason. Plus, it costs about $700 for 30 pills and most insurance companies refuse to cover it. Additionally there are mountains of clinical studies that show marijuana is good for treating cancer and may even hold a cure. Look at this article from the Journal of Clinical Investigation about glioblastoma cells and the effect marijuana had on them.

As to the tired and completely disprovable argument that it kills brain cells...try again. Indeed two recent studies from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada actually shows that marijuana regenerates brain cells. 'Regenerate' means to REGROW. Maybe you knew that Jason Murray, but, since you didn't know the definition of either theory or fact, and regenerate is a big like word, I thought you might need me to break it down for you.

His closing line in that paragraph is a gut buster "These are scientific studies that were conducted by people who are supposed to be a lot smarter than me.” Murray said.

Supposed to be a lot smarter than you? Hell, how hard could that be?

Next Up the Brilliance of Talladega DA Steve Giddens

"Marijuana, meth, crack, meth, crakc, meth, crack"

Uh, Mr. Giddens I think the question was about marijuana. The article is about marijuana too. Not meth. Not crack. Stick to the topic please. Nice try at a straw man though.

When asked whether legalization might actually reduce street crime, Giddens said it wouldn’t. “We ended prohibition of alcohol, but that didn’t put the moonshiners out of business, did it?”

Well, yes actually it did put the moonshiners out of business for the most part. Are there still a handful spread out over the entire state? Sure. There are also bootleggers who sell alcohol from their homes and businessmen who sell it from their stores on Sunday when it is illegal to buy it in most parts of the state. I'd like him to tell me though when was the last time he was called to the crime scene where the Budweiser man and the Coors man had a shoot-out over shelf space at Wal-Mart. Mr. Giddens how many of those calls do you have in a week?

"If these drugs were legalized, there would be nothing we could do. I am totally opposed to that.” Giddens said

Translation = I need drugs to be illegal so I can keep my job. Drug war = Job Security.

Next up to the whipping post Judge Julian King

We won't be too hard on Judge King. He did acknowledge that this is a matter for the legislative branch of government to decide and not the judicial branch. Basically he said "I don't make the laws I only enforce them," instead of acting like he gets to make the laws or have influence on the laws enforced, like Murray and Giddens did. It would have been nice if he had expounded on what the 'byproducts' of marijuana he has seen are. We could have a really long discussion about that.

And finally St. Clair Co. DA Richard Minor

He also acknowledged that this is an issue for the legislative branch. And he seems willing to entertain the concept that legalizing marijuana would reduce contact with other drugs. But then he pollutes the whole thing by throwing the gateway THEORY right back in there and says if he were allowed to vote he would keep things the way they are. Even though that way has never worked. If it had we wouldn't be having this conversation. His story about the stick figures is a ridiculous straw man meant to tug at the heart strings of readers. No one is talking about meth in this one except the cops.

All in all I'd say this is a home run for my team. I (the self-proclaimed pot smoker) get some great front page ink with very articulate rational points and nice verifiable facts and figures and the cops, who claim the pot smokers are the stupid, brain-dead ones, yet never offered one fact or figure and didn't articulate much of anything well and couldn't understand that Theory and Fact are two entirely different things come off looking more more brain-dead than Cheech and Chong ever pretended to be.



Anonymous said...

Your arguments were all ironclad, and those guys made some pretty weak claims. Most of the claims people make have been proven to be untrue or are just ludicrous.

I'll be in Amsterdam later this week (yes, I'm very excited), and I'll be sure to report back on the overwhelming numbers of pot/drug addicts idling in the streets, waiting to prey on innocent victims in between fixes. Something tells me I won't have much to report.

Hillary said...

It does not surprise me that addicts of harder drugs tried marijuana first, but that doesn't mean that marijuana LEADS to anything. Someone with an addictive personality or trait will automatically want to get higher... hence, they try pot and then move on to heroine or cocaine or meth or percocet or whatever. So of course all of the people who are on harder drugs tried marijuana first.
There's another crowd that might help prove the gateway theory and they are the experimental crowd. There are some people who try just about everything for the sake of trying it (and don't necessarily get addicted)... They aren't going to be deterred or encouraged by legalization either--they're going to try whatever they can get their hands on because they can.

I don't think that people that don't fall into these two groups are likely to magically become methheads because we legalized pot. I honestly don't think it would even increase marijuana use by that much because everyone who wants to use does.

Also, don't get me started on the medicinal thing. Without going into details, I work as a social worker with patients who have terminal illness and most of them are on social security... It chafes my nerves to no end when they can't get marinol because the insurance doesn't pay or only pays for a certain amount, and the cost is too high for rug assistance programs to help... People are wasting away because of stupid laws, high pharmaceuticals costs and ridiculous insurance limits.

Also for the record, just to throw off everyone's theory about who wants pot legalized, I do not, have not and will never smoke pot. I got a contact high once and have never had any desire to do it myself-- it's just not my thing.

sixstring said...

This is the same tired old stuff from people with a vested interest in prohibition; Erroneous statements and invalid arguments are all they can offer. And they try to indoctrinate our children with this stuff.

While change will most likely come through the legislative avenue, I believe this is not a legislative issue but a matter of individual freedom. If we are not free to decide what substances we will put in our own bodies in the privacy of own homes, we are are not free. No matter what the majority votes. People must be free to make even poor choices in their personal lives or none of us are truly free. The courts are charged with protecting our constitutional freedom. They have neglected this responsibility.
The war on drugs is an assault on all of our freedom.

Brandon said...

You never hear about the folks that tried cigarettes and then moved onto alcohol.

btw - I've never heard more BS from a source as this Jason character. Good grief ... edumocate yourself man!