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The time to legalize marijuana is now [Letter]

Laws and LegislationFinanceColumbia University

I was disappointed to see your informed and eloquent indictment of state and federal marijuana laws lead to the conclusion that Maryland should wait before legalizing the drug ("One step at a time on marijuana," Nov. 20).

When a drug policy becomes far worse than use of the drug could ever be, there is only one option: End the policy. The time for legalization is now.

By every measure, the prohibition of marijuana has failed since it was instituted. It hasn't reduced use of the drug, it hasn't taken marijuana out of the hands of kids, it hasn't reduced crime. In fact, a Columbia University study shows that teens consistently say marijuana is easier to buy than beer.

The laws against marijuana are themselves part of the problem. They help fund violent criminal gangs and create conviction records that leave low-level, non-violent offenders with few other choices than to re-offend.

Nor are the law's effects distributed fairly: Black people are 2.9 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite comparable rates of use.

For police, skewed priorities stemming from civil asset forfeiture laws and earmarked federal grants mean focusing on marijuana over real crime. There were more arrests for possession of marijuana drug last year than for all violent crimes combined.

Prohibition forces us to go into neighborhoods where people who should look upon law-enforcement as friends and protectors instead see police as an invading force.

That loss in community trust means fewer crimes are reported and fewer people willing to speak about what they've seen. Together, the focus on drug crimes and the reluctance of the public to cooperate with police has translated into more violent crimes that go unsolved and leave their perpetrators free to strike again.

Decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, which The Sun recommends, is a good first step but it does little to rectify these issues. Organized crime, rather than state coffers, would still make all the money, and use the profits to buy guns and finance other criminal activity.

Unregulated, unlicensed dealers would continue to sell to children. Those caught selling would continue to be denied employment, student loans, housing and other benefits that would enable them to better their lives so they wouldn't have to turn to criminal activity.

In short, this policy has never produced any beneficial results for society. The Sun says we should wait and see what happens in other states that legalize. My response to that is that we already know prohibition has had a devastating effect right here in on our own community. Why would we continue a policy we know doesn't work?

Too many communities can't afford to wait: They can't wait to de-fund criminals, can't wait for police to dedicate more of their limited resources toward solving violent crimes, can't wait for racial profiling to end.

As a child growing up in Baltimore, I dreamed of being a cop. After I grew up and became one, I saw my profession demeaned by the war on drugs. I will never stop hoping that one day, little kids will one day look upon the profession as I once did. The first step is to legalize marijuana.

Neill Franklin, White Hall

The writer was a police officer in Maryland for 34 years and now heads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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