September 19, 2014
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My take on the news
Time to decriminalize marijuana and save a lot
Lonnie Barham

DECRIMINALIZE MARIJUANA: It has been proven that marijuana has substantial medical value for the treatment of certain diseases and afflictions. That’s a given. The arguments about restricting its use for medical reasons should be moot at this point. Yet, our attorney general wants to further restrict the rights of patients and providers of medical marijuana. Let’s end this ridiculous farce and decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by any citizen. Decriminalization will be a win-win-win for everyone. It will lower the crime rate – both property crimes and violent crimes related to the drug trade; it will greatly decrease the cost of running our police, courts and prison systems; and will increase state revenues, and perhaps lower our tax rate, if properly regulated and taxed. 1920s folk, like current-day Attorney General Kilmartin, were vehemently opposed to ending the prohibition that criminalized alcohol possession (ala Eliot Ness). They were wrong! Their modern-day counterparts are equally wrong about marijuana.

THE SOCIETAL COST OF MARIJUANA: Here are just a couple of statistics compiled by Time magazine related to the cost of enforcing laws against minor marijuana possession. During 2009, the most recent year such statistics are available, there were 1.66 million drug arrests in our country, of which 1.3 million were for simple possession. We have spent over a trillion dollars on the so-called “war on drugs.” Yet such luminaries as former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, televangelist and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson, and the presidents of Brazil and Mexico have all said the “war” has been a dismal failure. Marijuana possession contributes to the U.S. incarceration rate, the highest in the developed world with 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. Compare this to France, Germany, Japan and South Korea – each with fewer than 100 of their citizens incarcerated per 100,000. Our prison costs are astronomical. It costs about $45,000 per year to incarcerate a person, yet only about $15,000 per year for a state college education. And our prison costs are rising at a rate six times that of higher education. Every military leader will tell you; when a combat strategy is so poor it causes unacceptable losses, it’s time to change strategies. Legalization of limited marijuana possession is the first step in changing a broken strategy.

PELOSI HYPERBOLE: Appearing in Rhode Island to support the candidacy of Congressman David Cicilline, whose poll numbers make him extremely vulnerable to Republican rival Brendan Doherty in November, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the country needs “... to remove the vitriol from the political debate.” She then accused the Republican Party of trying “to pick fights with women.” She knows this is an outright fabrication. Neither party purposely tries to alienate 50 percent of voters. Democrats like Pelosi seem particularly adept at turning every Republican position into a “vitriolic” attack on one of their key voting groups. Republicans’ and Catholics’ attempt to stop President Obama’s infringement on religious freedom through his requirement that religious organizations pay for birth control does not constitute a “vitriolic attack” on women. Clearly, birth control measures should always remain available but not at the expense of religious freedom. Sometimes a deeply held philosophical conviction is simply that and is not, as Pelosi would try to make voters believe, an attack on any group of voters.

PAYDAY LOANS: A state bill has been introduced by Rep. Frank Ferri and Sen. Juan Pichardo that will reduce to 36 percent the maximum interest rate charged by companies offering “payday loans” – short-term loans that now carry up to 260 percent annual interest. These companies make loads of money because many, perhaps most, people can’t afford the $40 in interest on a two-week $400 loan; so they pay it off and immediately borrow another $400, with its own $40 interest. It goes on and on. Such companies prey on the poor, uneducated, and struggling among us; and Rhode Island now condones it. The former manager of a prominent Rhode Island payday loan company, Advance America – someone who saw the loan company’s operations from the inside, put it best: “It’s wrong, it’s immoral, and it’s just one bogus industry.” Surely, our General Assembly will see it the same way.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT “PAYDAY” BORROWING: It’s a shame to see how many similarities exist between the poor, uneducated victims of “payday loan” scams and our federal government that continues to borrow money so recklessly as it runs up the country’s debt. Our debt is at an unprecedented $16 trillion and has now climbed above the U.S. gross national product. It has risen from 51 percent of GDP in 2000 to 102 percent of GDP in 2012. It looks like our president and Congress are just as financially illiterate as those poor suckers who fall prey to payday loan scams.

CELL PHONE SEARCHES: Rhode Island local and State Police are to be commended for already obtaining search warrants before viewing the contents of suspects’ cell phones. However, as many other states have proven, it is best to have the search warrant requirement codified into state law to ensure statewide compliance with what seems to be a clear constitutional requirement. Statutory protection of our privacy is like insurance – you don’t need it until you need it! This bill deserves statewide support.


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