Time for decriminalization of marijuana talk to come to Utah

By By Reed Nelson

By Reed Nelson

California, always at the forefront in the relaxation of criminal marijuana penalties8212;and relaxation in general8212;has taken another step forward to the complete statewide legalization of the nefarious green plant, as opposed to the decriminalization seen in 12 states.

As more states attempt some sort of decriminalization process, the Washington state Legislature is voting on significantly reducing possession penalties to the tune of removing “all existing civil and criminal penalties for adults 21 years of age or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana,” according to House Bill 2401.

New Jersey just passed a medicinal exemption, “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” allowing medicinal marijuana to be possessed by patients in need and purchased at state-monitored dispensaries.

I have come to the realization that Utah might be the last state to jump on the counterculture bandwagon. Our penalty for possession of less than one ounce can garner the accused as much as six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

If this prediction indeed comes to fruition, it should come as no surprise to anyone. Utah is about as progressive as the Baltoro Glacier. This is one of the more controversial issues in today’s society8212;an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object-type situation. In Utah, I’d bet on the immovable object. We are a state whose presiding senator, Orrin Hatch, has been opposed to this issue since 1977, the year he took his seat in the Senate.
California understands the unbelievable revenue that could potentially be generated by the simple taxation of marijuana if it were to be legalized, as well as the money saved by clearing the already overcrowded jails of nonviolent marijuana offenders. But California decriminalized marijuana in 1976.

Even if Utah were to decriminalize marijuana, we would probably be about 30 years away from a complete end to prohibition8212;a tall order. However, it is high time8212;pun intended8212;to start rethinking the simple process of decriminalization. Now could be the perfect opportunity to start talking about a bill of this sort, not just because of the support that has begun to snowball across the country, but also because it seems that the wild goose of acceptance has finally been sighted. For an entire week this fall, we had a head shop on campus. It wasn’t just one retailer, but multiple tables, a curious act for a notoriously conservative state’s flagship university.

A statewide8212;or at least citywide8212;decriminalization could create a positive ripple effect throughout the entire justice system, even if those who support it do so through squinted eyes. I am not proposing the adult legalization of marijuana. It is a (slightly) harmful substance that should probably garner some attention, but not the level of attention that it currently receives.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, in conjuncture with www.stopthedrugwar.org, almost 60,000 Americans are incarcerated on marijuana-related offenses at any given time8212;$1.2 billion a year in tax money for those keeping score8212;and a quarter of those are for personal possession charges involving no other drugs. If President Barack Obama’s administration can give it a rest, there is no reason that individual states shouldn’t as well.

It is an unnecessary cost for petty crimes, and in the end, the public ends up paying for it. Utah is not immune, and it would take only decriminalization to begin to fight the incarceration bug. First-time offenders would still be fined, just like in Colorado or California, but they wouldn’t have to do hard time.

In 2002, there were 4,609 individuals arrested for marijuana-related crimes, according to www.criminaldefenselawyer.com, and of those, 4,282 were for possession. That leaves only 327 individuals arrested for selling, meaning most of these crimes were misdemeanors, inconsequential to the rest of society. The Drug Enforcement Agency estimates that between $69 million and $111 million worth of marijuana is grown yearly in Utah. That’s a lot of money for the state to be missing out on.

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