Statement at Press Conference on Marijuana Regulation
Cedar Creek Room, Statehouse
Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016
Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform supports the legalization of marijuana, because criminalizing it has not worked. In fact, it was a bad idea from the beginning. That is, if the goal was to discourage people from using, it was a complete failure, as there is as much use of marijuana now as ever.
On the other hand, if discouraging use was not the point at all, and the point was instead to target a particular ethnic group associated at that time with marijuana, then maybe it was a success. (Historians of drug use have pointed out that the history of drug policy in the U.S. reflects a systematic targeting of one group after another, starting with Chinese immigrants (opium), Mexican immigrants (marijuana), African Americans (cocaine, then crack cocaine), etc.)
The reason this matters is that both the failure of the first motivation—discouraging use—and the success of the second—targeting certain groups—have led to bad outcomes. Criminalizing the possession and sale of marijuana has not resulted in marijuana being less available or in fewer people using it. As mentioned, it is as available as ever, it's unregulated, and because it’s unregulated, it’s stronger and more potentially dangerous than ever. What criminalizing marijuana has succeeded in doing is involving more people in the underground economy, in lawbreaking activity, and, depending on whether you're in a college dorm or a downtown, and in what county you live in, it can result in your getting arrested, entangled with the criminal justice system—and burdened with a criminal record that can limit your opportunities for the rest of your life. It's important to recognize that even though blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate, those who get arrested, prosecuted, and jailed are disproportionately people of color.
The point is that prosecuting people who use certain drugs is probably the most misguided public policy of the last century. (I say certain drugs, because the distinction between legal and illegal drugs seems fairly arbitrary.) If it doesn't discourage use, if it disproportionately impacts people of color, why in the world are we continuing to do it? If we don't want kids to smoke—and I certainly don't—then let's look at what works to change behavior. We can start by taking the simple step supported by most Vermonters, and begin the process of legalizing and regulating marijuana.