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Dealing with Marijuana

Just returned from the first City Council meeting of the year. After the State of the City address - which I will have to delve into later -, I took to the podium during the first opportunity for citizen comment and gave the following speech:

"A few weeks ago, we heard from a number of citizens about the issue of decriminalizing marijuana. Tonight, I want to contribute to this discussion.

Let me begin by posing a question: what has prohibition done for us? What is the purpose of prohibition? Do we, as a society, aspire to protect the consumer? Is there a legitimate danger to the public that must be addressed? Or is this just a case wherein a taboo behavior is banned because it makes us feel better? Regardless of the answer to those questions, the one thing that is clear is that prohibition has not stopped anyone who wants to consume marijuana from doing so.

If the objective is to protect the consumer, then let us examine why this is hardly a sufficient excuse to restrict the use of any substance. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that marijuana is harmful to the body; is not prohibition based on these grounds adequate for banning the personal consumption of other things? What about alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, salt, or fast food in general, need I go on? The list of harmful products that we humans regularly consume despite their effects on our health is long, but we aren’t seriously prepared to start throwing people in jail for a charge as ridiculous as possessing the ingredients for making koolaid, now are we?

If the goal is to protect society, then I must challenge you to address what it is about a pot smoker that harms the rest of us. Is he or she any more likely to become violent or otherwise problematic under the influence of marijuana than an equally inebriated patron of your local bar? Why is the stereotypically lazy pothead more in need of a criminal record merely for possessing the plant they intend to consume than the alcoholic who carries a bottle home in a paper bag?

If we are concerned about protecting our cultural image, then there too opens a potential floodgate for more needless prohibitions. Picking one’s nose is considered unseemly as well, but it would be laughably absurd to lock a person up over mining for nose gold. Is it not time to dispense with arbitrary restrictions on relatively harmless personal behavior? We should not just be looking to decriminalize marijuana here in Newark; rather the goal ought to be a transition from the oppressive prohibition to a liberating legalization.

By legalizing marijuana in the long-term, we can begin the process of allowing those most affected by prohibition to build a new life that isn’t tainted with a nonsensical criminal record. Also, we can explore the best options for tapping into the potential tax revenue that such could produce, and stop wasting taxpayer money on waging a failed, endless war on drugs. Eventually, permitting the legal sale of marijuana via the same route that tobacco is sold can prove beneficial in undercutting the black market. Finally, legalization can enable us to regulate marijuana so as to ascertain that the product will at least be somewhat safe to consume.

Ultimately, this debate will have to be settled nationally, but we have a chance to lead Ohio and probably even the region by taking action now. The prohibition of marijuana has not succeeded in preventing the use thereof. Actually, its illegality has contributed to its appeal in some respects and the only harm that has come from such has been to the lives of the men and women ruined by this aimless experiment of the nanny state. So, please consider your options, and if you don’t want to vote on it, then give us citizens a chance to determine whether this is the course we want. Thank you."

When I was done, two other citizens (one from out of town) stepped up and made a plea for council to take action to decriminalize marijuana, at least to allow people to get a drivers license. In response to the three of us, the Law Director spoke up and clarified that the City of Newark is not empowered to legalize marijuana on its own, and that someone arrested for possession can either be dealt with according to the state's less-punitive standards or Newark's slightly more punitive approach.

Honestly, the issue of whether we had home rule in this respect was something that I was curious about, and it is part of the reason why my initial plan in writing my speech was to include the phrase "do whatever is within the city's power to legalize". For whatever reason, I forgot to put that part in there.

Anyways, moving forward I hope to have an opportunity to speak at length with the Law Director about what the city can do to at least diminish the role played in Newark by this failed drug policy. There are some more ideas that I have pertinent to this as far as an alternative route is concerned and I just want to ask him if any would be doable.

Trust me, this is not the last time I will speak before council on what I consider to be an important issue facing the citizens of Newark. My goal is to address a new topic every month or at least every other month this year. You can count on me sharing the details of each speech right here just as I did tonight.

Until next time, have a great night!

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