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Marijuana: regulate instead of incarcerate

Marijuana is already legal, that is, unless you get caught. The debate for medical marijuana, total legalization, keeping it decriminalized, or having criminal penalties is a debate about control.

Minnesota is following suit in the form of proposed medical marijuana legislation modeling 20 other states who have legitimized medical marijuana as a way for patients to get access to an alternative form of care. This decision contradicts federal marijuana laws, as cannabis is currently listed as a Schedule I controlled substance: deemed to have no currently accepted medical treatment in the U.S., high potential for abuse, and lack of accepted safety regarding its affects.

The campaign in Brown County, located in southwest Minnesota, for a jury trial in favor of medical marijuana is led by Mankato Lawyers Calvin Johnson and Elizabeth Levine who believe marijuana should not be kept as a schedule I drug. Their argument coincides with proponents for the drug who claim it has the potential for curing symptoms of muscular dystrophy, cancer, glaucoma and symptoms felt by HIV/AIDS patients. These lawyers also cite the 750,000 Iraq war veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who might find help from medical marijuana.

The bill, sponsored in the MN State House of Representatives by both Republican and DFL members, was recently put on hold. The question whether the bill will be passed during the current legislative session with about two months left has to do with opponents of legalizing medical marijuana, namely, law enforcement.

Again, this debate is about control. According to Marijuana Policy Project documents, “in 2011 there were 12,042 marijuana-related arrests in Minnesota. 60 percent of these arrests were for marijuana possession.” While pot is currently decriminalized in Minnesota, meaning small amounts are not recorded on a person’s criminal record, first time offenders are open to a $200 fine—we need to consider societal effects of weed prohibition.

Keeping marijuana as a banned substance puts users, both recreational and medical proponents, in a bad spot. Consider the case of Patrick McClellan from Burnsville, who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy. He was quoted in The Star Tribune, saying, “My only choice is to buy it on the black market. I don’t believe I should be forced to go on the street to buy something that cures my symptoms.”

Now whether or not you choose to believe in the health effects‑remedial or negative‑the word “symptoms” is quite peculiar. Marijuana make users feel better, whether for migraines or menstrual cramps, cancer or muscular dystrophy, weed is undoubtedly a remedy for a wide variety of symptoms. That being said, to me, weed is not a “medicine”‑it does not have medical cures, like an antibiotic or other pharmaceuticals. Yet, in opposition to government policies of controlled substances, does Xanax “cure” depression? Does Adderall “cure” ADHD, or does it simply control the effects of symptoms? This is the fallout.

Law enforcement is worried about medical marijuana; police departments across the state are under the impression it will lead to full-scale legalization. In other words, there would be fewer people to give tickets to for weed.

Law enforcement has asked medical marijuana proponents to consider derivatives of the drug in “the form of pills, oils or vapors,” but not marijuana leaves. How can a government regulate a drug that can be grown virtually anywhere? They can’t. And that’s just the thing.

These arrests hit minority communities the hardest. “According the ACLU, African Americans in Minnesota are nearly eight times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession” as whites, according to Marijuana Policy Project.

Let me put it this way: have you ever been pulled over in your house? No. Because unless a 9-1-1 call, search warrant, or probable cause leads authorities to your house, weed is essentially legal: anyone can do it so long as they’re “smart” about it. Unless you’re pulled over while driving a car with the aroma of marijuana, who is going to know, let alone do something about it? This shows a testy, often racial problem of suspicion: maybe the reason so many minorities are arrested.

So consider the health effects of marijuana: propagators in favor of marijuana say there are no health effects. The claim that marijuana is void of causing health issues not only bogus but negates the truth of the matter. Weed, inhaling burnt plant matter isn’t good for you, but it’s not necessarily that bad either.

Look at the state of Colorado, who recently legalized marijuana for recreational use. In the first month of sales alone, under a government control and oversight, marijuana produced $2 million dollars of taxation alone, a comparable number to the state’s $2.7 million dollars in excise taxes for liquor in 2013.

Much like Forbes has concluded: crime doesn’t pay, but taxes do. So what about taxes? How much does it cost to prosecute and incarcerate the over 749,000 people for marijuana related offenses in 2012? Well it’s not cheap, I’ll say that much.

It appears the state of Colorado is taking advantage of freedom of choice. Those who need it for medical purposes can still get it through doctors. Recreational users, on the other hand, now have the choice between spending $20 on a case of beer or a gram of marijuana: just as long as they do not drive under the influence of either.

In Minnesota alone, the decriminalization of marijuana is lenient when in possession of under 42.5 grams. However, above this amount yields felony charges: maximum incarceration up to five years, along with a maximum fine of $5,000.

Across the nation, approximately 40,000 inmates are incarcerated for marijuana convictions. The yearly cost per incarcerated inmate? Just short of $29,000. As a state, we shouldn’t be spending this sort of cash to make criminals of people who are not committing violent crimes. This should not be the case.

Instead of streamlining medical marijuana, allowing possible access to those who aren’t supposed to have it (which is inevitable, considering widespread non-patient use of prescription drugs) how about we step up to the plate and just legalize it already.