The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

April 24, 2013

Jim Bailey: Is there any legitimate place for marijuana use in Indiana?

ANDERSON, Ind. — With moves in other states to legalize, at least in part, the private use of marijuana (and perhaps taxing it as well), we hear increasing rumblings in Indiana about the possibility of at least lessening penalties on pot smokers.

Indiana’s laws right now are among the strictest in the country. Get caught with a joint in your possession and you’re in the slammer. Legislation has been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly to decriminalize marijuana, at least to the extent of reducing conviction for possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Others would like to see its use legalized entirely.

We see “fact sheets” from both sides on the matter, though it is likely the “facts” are generously mixed with opinions. It has been called a gateway drug to harder and more destructive stuff, and indeed some, but not all, pot smokers graduate to heroin or meth or whatever the “high” of choice might be. Its use is reputed to lessen the nausea and pain of diseases such as cancer, though I’m told not one single official medical organization has endorsed its medicinal use. It is said to be less addictive than tobacco and other drugs, which is probable but akin to saying strychnine is less poisonous than cyanide.

The war on drugs has been something of a losing proposition over the years. Many advocates say legalizing marijuana, or at least decriminalizing it, not only would reduce the number of small-time offenders cluttering up our penal institutions but enable us to more readily get a handle on the problem and perhaps provide a new source of tax revenue for strapped governments at all levels.

That’s been done with the gambling industry. Once largely illegal everywhere except Nevada, legal gambling now occurs all over the place including right here in river city. The jury is still out as to whether we’re better or worse off now for affording people the opportunity to squander their hard-earned money in the off chance they’ll hit it big.

Should we follow suit with marijuana?

While the idea of trying to control the flow and street price of cannabis by legalizing and taxing it has some appeal, I tend to believe granting approval to something more harmful than helpful serves to reinforce its propaganda value. We’ve seen that whenever restrictions on sale or advertising of such things as tobacco or alcohol bring cries of unwarranted intrusion on the public’s right of unrestricted use of a “legal” product.

Of course, if it were up to me, not only wouldn’t I legalize marijuana but I’d pull tobacco off the market. Obviously it’s not up to me, and given the number of tobacco addicts, a brand-new black market would form. We learned the futility of that tactic in the prohibition era.

But we should go slow in giving the OK to a potentially damaging behavior that society doesn’t need on its hands.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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