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An issue that will be back [Editorial]

When it comes to the status of marijuana in Maryland, Sheriff Jesse Bane was absolutely right when he told the Harford County Council last week: "I will guarantee you dollars to doughnuts they will be back next year to legalize marijuana..."

For better, or for worse, the push is on in many parts of the U.S. to legalize marijuana; this year, the Maryland General Assembly went so far as to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug, which already had been given clearance for medical uses, albeit a rather useless clearance.

All this comes even though federal laws against the possession, distribution and use of marijuana remain in effect, resulting in an odd governmental standoff in states that have allowed various levels of legalized use.

In his presentation to the county council - conducted during a budget review session - the sheriff went on to predict legalization will result in crime problems.

The crime increase prediction is less of a sure thing than the prediction about continued lobbying for legalization.

Realistically speaking, the abuse of any intoxicant - legal or illicit - is likely to result in crime problems. Alcohol, for example, is rather easily linked to drunk driving, domestic abuse and teen delinquency.

On the other hand, the crimes associated with substance abuse also are associated with physical and mental health problems.

Police are generally well-equipped to deal with the effects of substance abuse, but the criminal justice system is ill-suited to treat the root causes.

Legalization of marijuana (or any other social intoxicant) doesn't change the health effects of substance abuse, but it does tend to shift the problem away from the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, it doesn't shift it anywhere that's better suited to deal with the problem. Abuse treatment programs are expensive, and many of the people afflicted don't have the wherewithal to pay for treatment. Also, there's the matter of treatment programs requiring the abuser to be a willing participant.

It remains to be seen if the legalization experiments undertaken west of the Mississippi will result in more, less or different kinds of social ills and crimes.

It may be that legalization will reduce some of the violent marketing tactics of illicit drug cartels the way the repeal of Prohibition did away with the violence associated with bootlegging.

Or, more likely, the illicit drug distribution organizations will be just as violent as they switch focus on pushing more dangerous products.

No outcome on the subject can be assured, except maybe that, given the state of flux on the issue across the country and the federal prohibition, the present situation isn't likely to be in place for very long.

Agree with the sheriff's predictions or not, it does make sense to follow one of his suggestions, namely look at the effects legalization is having in places like Colorado and learn from their mistakes – as well as any successes they may have as well.

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