Decriminalize Possession

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Oct 29, 2002.

  1. By Susan A. Kettlewell
    Source: Arizona Daily Star

    The Star's Oct. 11 article "Why we pay top taxes" revealed that Pima County residents pay more taxes than most Arizona counties for the County Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Department, the courts, and Indigent Defense.
    The county attorney's aggressive trial practices and resultant impact are the most commonly cited cause for these high costs.

    Previous articles in the Star highlighted Pima County as having the highest death penalty sentencing rate in the country and one of the highest reversal rates in capital cases.

    We live in a community that pays a high price for crime and punishment.

    Despite the high costs already paid by Pima County taxpayers for criminal justice services, in recent articles prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and some judges advocate passage of Proposition 302, which would allow incarceration of individuals charged with simple possession of illegal substances.

    Passage of this proposition would undo previous voter initiatives, which require drug treatment and prohibit or curtail jail or prison time for individuals charged only with possession of illegal substances for personal use.

    The alternative to Proposition 302 is Proposition 203, which decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana and makes marijuana available for medical purposes.

    In the Oct. 15 article, "Pot plan a smoke screen, foes say," Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall is quoted as saying "If we decriminalize that much marijuana, we're telling our young people that it's all right to use drugs."

    The Oct. 15 article "26 local schools fall short, state says" reported that 26 schools in Tucson are underperforming based on the state's mandatory AIMS testing.

    By contrast, only two local schools in the state are "excelling."

    The Tucson school that has been labeled excelling, University High, admits only children who are classified as "gifted."

    These students spent approximately 14 years gaining the life skills, abilities and education that permitted their admission to University High.

    What distinguishes these children from the great number of children who are "underperforming"?

    What can we do as a community to increase the number of children who will have the success that University High children and others like them have achieved?

    Socioeconomic factors cannot be ignored and are obvious when the list of underperforming schools is given cursory examination.

    It costs approximately $70 per day to incarcerate someone in the Pima County jail.

    It costs a minimum of $17,000 per year to imprison an individual in the Department of Corrections.

    These costs are in addition to the demonstrated high costs of arresting, prosecuting, defending, and bringing to trial those accused of crimes.

    For every two or three people we can keep out of the jail or prison system, we can hire an experienced teacher or counselor to work with a handful of children to increase their chances of future success.

    By decreasing our jail and prison populations, we can develop more preschool programs based on successful Head Start models.

    We can fund more social and recreational programs aimed at keeping young people occupied and out of a life of crime.

    We can provide services for children whose parents are perhaps incarcerated or otherwise unavailable.

    Logic and a lack of money dictate that we must pick and choose what is criminalized, what is prosecuted and who is incarcerated.

    We cannot revert to jailing individuals for possession of illegal substances and at the same time provide quality education and other valuable services to our citizens.

    Generations ago, we learned that prohibition does not work, and efforts to criminalize possession and use of alcohol were abandoned, despite the fact that alcohol abuse has serious consequences.

    By decriminalizing the personal use and possession of various drugs, we are not "telling our young people that it's all right to use drugs".

    We are recognizing that we must use scarce resources to provide programs and services that will hopefully decrease the desire for drugs and result in brighter futures for more of our children.

    * Susan A. Kettlewell is Pima County public defender. She has served on the PTSA and School Council for Roskruge Bilingual Middle Magnet School, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Head Start and Southern Arizona Legal Aid.

    Note: Money spent putting away pot users is sorely needed elsewhere.

    Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
    Author: Susan A. Kettlewell, Special To The Arizona Daily Star
    Published: Sunday, October 27, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 Pulitzer Publishing Co.

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