and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
October #3

A reluctant 'yes' on Question 2
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, October 17, 2008

My conservative is at war with my libertarian. I and myself are having a conversation about Question 2, the initiative petition on the November ballot to decriminalize marijuana.

A "Yes" vote would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties. Offenders would no longer risk arrest, jail, loss of driver's licenses; they wouldn't have a criminal record. Instead, a $100 fine would be imposed, and offenders under age 18 would also have their parents notified and be required to complete a drug awareness program. If they don't, the fine is raised to $1,000.

Conservative Barbara: Taking drugs for recreation is dumb. Why would anyone want to reject God's gift of a sharp, reasoning brain and turn it to mush, even temporarily? Decriminalizing marijuana sends a message to already dumbed-down Americans that marijuana is more acceptable than is currently implied by the criminal penalties.

Libertarian Barbara: I agree with you that smoking pot is dumb. But it's none of the government's business if people want to do dumb things, as long as they don't hurt someone else. How would you like to have been arrested the two times you tried marijuana in your misspent youth?

CB: The misspent youth was entirely yours, buddy. You were the one who experimented with pot, I was the one who didn't know enough to inhale the first time, and who inhaled so deeply the second time that I got a wicked sore throat and never tried it again.

You're right, being arrested and getting a criminal record would have been overkill for such a minor offense. But what about people who like it, overdo it, sometimes drive under the influence, and use their contacts with dealers to move on to worse drugs?

LB: People make bad choices, none of the government's business, except the driving-under-the-influence part. If caught, a stoned driver should lose his license and have the car confiscated. The fact that this won't happen even under current law is a problem with government we can't always count on its courts to protect the public.

I agree with myself: Government is generally so dumb that you'd think it was smoking something. It's time to move outside myself for more information.

After reading the red Secretary of State's Voter Information booklet, I went with my partner Chip Ford to a Beverly cable forum on the three ballot questions, sponsored by The Salem News. Chip was debating for "Yes on 1," and having made up my mind on that, I wanted to learn more about the other two issues.

Debating for "Yes on 2" was our good friend and Georgetown attorney Steve Epstein. "No on 2" was represented by Peabody police Chief Robert Champagne, who is the image of what we all want law enforcement to be. Both made the best possible arguments for their side; I need a third opinion.

So I called my son Lance, who is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor in Nevada. Having been a teen-age marijuana smoker himself, and a law enforcement officer later, he understood all the arguments for Yes and No votes.

His first thought was facetious, sort of: Stupidity is legal, so why not marijuana?

Seriously, he sees the "zombies" who are sent to him for treatment, but who can be turned around when the fat-soluble marijuana is finally out of their system. He doesn't think that pot itself leads to more serious drugs, but notes that it draws the pot-smoker into the society that sells them, making it easy to be tempted.

Lance wonders why the proposed law draws a line at 18 years old; why not 21, like alcohol? And he suggests that if marijuana is decriminalized, users should be able to grow their own small supply rather than support the evil drug cartels both here and in Mexico.

He is concerned that this change in the law would increase the use of pot by kids and adults, and worries that it would increase the number of stoned drivers. Lance describes the "thinking" of a stoned driver as "Red light! Crash! Brakes." This scares me.

The "Yes on 2" campaign cites studies showing that those who smoke pot don't decide based on whether it's a misdemeanor or a civil infraction, that decriminalization in other states didn't increase the number of users. Dumb, I guess, is also impervious to penalty.

Lance said that he would vote "Yes" despite concerns, liking the part that gets kids to counseling instead of into the criminal justice system. Chief Champagne says that the police rarely arrest for this misdemeanor; but it seems to me that laws should not be arbitrarily enforced, that it's better to decriminalize.

My son could have been arrested as a teenager for marijuana use when I, the impervious parent, was focused on discouraging alcohol and tobacco use. I'd have rather gotten parental notice and a fine, with Lance sent for counseling.

So I've decided, reluctantly, "Yes on 2." Then I'd support a law that would severely penalize anyone caught driving while stoned.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson's
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.