Marijuana legalization debate - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Marijuana legalization debate

Amarillo, TX -- Legalizing marijuana has now become a topic of discussion after Colorado and Washington became the first states to do so this year.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, and on November 7th, voters in Colorado and Washington elected to decriminalize recreational use of the drug.

Some say marijuana is harmless, and the fact that it's illegal only propagates the criminal activity associated with it.  Others say marijuana is illegal for good reason, and making it legal would only open the door to more social ills.

Proponents of legalization argue marijuana is not a dangerous substance and that nonviolent minor drug offenders do not belong in the criminal justice system, as Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn says,"We have wasted too much money, too much time, and too many resources on prosecuting people on simple possession of marijuana cases - this is money that could be saved.  We should be going after criminals, not people that are just getting high."

"I don't think the question is whether or not it's a burden on the court system or the criminal justice system," counters Randall County District Attorney James Farren, "That's the function of the criminal justice system, is to protect citizens from criminal activity which is detrimental to them and to society."

Critics of the idea of decriminalization argue that mind-altering substances of any kind are inherently destructive, regardless of legality, as Farren says, "Whether it's legal or illegal, it's the drug that is altering their lifestyle and preventing them from being productive members of society.  What I often hear is, 'Well, alcohol's detrimental to society, we legalized it.'  We sure did, and how's that worked out for us?"

Supporters counter that allowing access to marijuana would decrease the use of more dangerous drugs, as Blackburn suggests, "If we legalize marijuana like Colorado and Washington have done, we would eliminate a big public health problem.  It would eliminate that whole racket that's going on with these synthetic substances."

Critics reject that notion as simplistic, as Farren says, "I just think it is a short-sighted, Pollyanna outlook to say, 'Well, if we just legalize this detrimental product, suddenly everything will be fine.  It won't be fine."

What remains to be seen are the long-term effects of legalization.  In the meantime, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which could clash with state laws down the road.

For more on the issue and to see the DEA's current schedule, follow the links attached to this story.

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