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July 5, 2013

MARK HEINIG: Clearing up marijuana misconceptions

What effects would legalization have on teenagers?

Early in June, the American Civil Liberties Union published a study on the illegal use of marijuana in the United States. The media in Indiana reported the findings of the study for both the nation and the Hoosier State. That doesn’t surprise me at all. I would be surprised to learn the media in any state omitted the local findings. Both nationally and locally, two of the ACLU’s conclusions confirm our expectations. They tell us what we thought was true really is true.

First, race is a key factor in determining who is prosecuted for allegedly violating marijuana laws. At the risk of oversimplifying the study’s findings, you can get in more trouble for smoking pot if you’re black than if you’re white. Make that a lot more trouble! Second, the costs of prosecution are skyrocketing. That presents us with the problem of reducing those costs without diminishing the effectiveness of our marijuana legislation. Wait a minute! Who thinks our marijuana laws are effective now?

The ACLU examined a mountain of statistical data in reaching those conclusions. I can’t challenge the organization’s contention that blacks are scrutinized much more intensely than whites when it comes to possible violations of marijuana laws. The evidence seems incontrovertible. Is that unfair to African-Americans? Absolutely!

I am apprehensive about the ACLU’s other conclusion. I must wonder how more lenient marijuana laws and less severe penalties would reduce the unfairness. Subjecting black people to closer scrutiny than white people remains an injustice no matter how much we relax the marijuana laws and reduce the penalties. What’s right is still right, and what’s wrong is still wrong!

Despite the organization’s opposition to unfair treatment of blacks, urging a state like Indiana to soften its stance on marijuana may not be the best solution. The arguments for moderating or abolishing marijuana legislation seem to revolve around money. Providing due process for marijuana offenders is undeniably expensive.

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