The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 8, 2013

Legalize marijuana

Even in states where marijuana is formally banned the drug is available everywhere and at modest cost. It is generally accepted that Americans smoke more marijuana than any other people, eat more, crash their cars more, and shoot themselves and each other more. Name a risky activity and American if not No. 1, is a close second.

Some are advocating making marijuana a legal drug and controlling it like alcohol. That would go a long way to solve our prison problem. In the 1990s a wide range of federal drug laws were passed, many with mandatory sentences in federal and state prisons. America has 760 prisoners for every 100,000 citizens. To really get a feel for the problem consider this. For every 100,000 citizens Japan has 63 prisoners, Germany 90, France 96, South Korea 97, and Britain 153. Even the developing countries noted for crime have less than the U.S., Mexico has 128 and Brazil has 242.

We spend more on prisons than schools. Since 1980 California has built one college campus and 21 prisons. In California a college student costs the state $8,667 a year and a prisoner costs $45,000 a year. I recall reading somewhere that in Pennsylvania a prisoner costs about $43,000 a year. Our Governor readily cuts school funding. Maybe if he made marijuana legal he could cut the number of prisoners and rescue our schools.

Habitual marijuana users, not unlike habitual alcohol users, experience more difficulty with learning and schooling. They perform poorly at work and miss more work days and suffer more accidents. They have fewer closer friends. Someone who smokes excessive amounts of marijuana every day may be living at a suboptimal intellectual level, again not unlike a daily alcoholic.

If we legalize the weed and control quality, availability and tax it, the authorities can concentrate on other more dangerous narcotics like cocaine. The profits from controlled sales and taxes and the reduced prison costs will benefit every citizen except the criminals it will put out of business.

Carlyle Westlund, Middleburg

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