The Chicago City Council doesn't always act with wisdom and frugality, but it did so today in voting to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Treating it as a crime wastes money, diverts police from truly scary activity and brands many minority youngsters with a police record that will hold them back in life. This new policy is more humane and more responsible.
Opponents fear it will produce an explosion of drug abuse. But that fear is unfounded. Fourteen states have already decriminalized pot, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, including conservative ones like Alaska, Mississippi and Nebraska. Have you read anything about Omaha becoming Haight-Ashbury east? Me either.
The effects on cannabis use are minimal or nonexistent. A few years ago, University of Maryland economist Peter Reuter told me that when you look at which states have decriminalized and which haven't, "You can't tell the difference from how many people use marijuana." A 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences found "little evidence that decriminalization of marijuana use necessarily leads to a substantial increase in marijuana use."
Why not? Because most people who are inclined to smoke dope don't pay attention to the law, if they even know what it is in their jurisdiction. And the people who are disinclined to use pot won't do it even if it carries no criminal penalty.
Putting people in jail for getting high doesn't keep them from getting high. It just inflicts a price on them and us for no visible benefit.
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