Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No on Question 2

After reviewing the arguments on both sides of the question—both by checking out their websites and hearing their arguments at the Sterling debate—I have come to the conclusion the right vote on Question 2, which would decriminalize the possession of marijuana, is a no vote.

In my mind, all of the discussion about whether or not a yes vote would save the state money, or contribute to a rise in teen marijuana use, or make the job of police easier or harder is ancillary fluff. The question should be decided on this basis: is the current penalty for marijuana possession too harsh and if so, is the new proposal the right way to remedy the issue.

The answer is no.

Question 2 would change possession from a criminal to a civil offense. The proposed penalty has been likened to a speeding ticket by both proponents and opponents, where the offender would be issued a citation for $100 and sent on their way.

If people arrested for possession of marijuana were routinely incarcerated and or fined excessively then perhaps the law would need to be changed. But that is not the case. First-time offenders have their cases continued without a finding and stricken from their records if they remain clean for a probationary period. That seems fair. Repeat offenders face stiffer penalties, but as long as we are dealing with the possession of an illegal drug—and the proponents of Question 2 insist that they are not working toward making marijuana legal—that also seems appropriate.

In its place would be this $100 ticket. To put that in perspective, if I were stopped for driving 40 mph down Main Street in Sterling, I’d pay more in fines than if I were stopped walking down Main Street in Sterling with enough marijuana to make eight or nine cigarettes. The possession of an illegal drug is more consequential than that.

(I realize that traffic laws and drug laws really don’t have much to do with each other and that there are probably many examples of criminal and civil penalties that look out of balance in comparison to each other, but since both sides use the “speeding ticket” shorthand, I find it an appropriate comparison).

The one area where I agree with the Question 2 proponents is in the area of CORI reform. The proposed change would exclude marijuana possession charges from a CORI background check. Proponents argue that people applying for a job or a loan should not be hampered because they have a mark on their criminal record for simple marijuana possession. I concur and strongly back a reform of the current CORI system.

But I do not think CORI reform should be approached in an ad hoc manner, with this new law affecting this class of offenders, and another new law affecting another class, and so on. The legislature should approach CORI reform systematically and comprehensively. It should not be undertaken one issue at a time through a series of ballot referendums.

Question 2 is not an appropriate response to the issues of marijuana use and CORI reform. It should be defeated. Vote no on Question 2.

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