The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Marijuana supporters draw on prohibition era for support in legalizing drug

It’s one o’clock in the afternoon and Keven O’toole, an SMU senior, boards the Dallas Area Rapid Transportation train to go, unwillingly, to another probation hearing. O’toole, who was charged with possession of marijuana in March 2008, was put on deferred adjudication after a plea bargain with the city’s attorney. Now he must meet with a probation officer every other week for the next year.

“It’s a crap sandwich that I really don’t want to chew,” O’toole said. “I don’t understand why I am being punished for something that has the same effects as alcohol.”

O’toole said he would like to see marijuana legalized, and he’s not alone. According to a 2006 Rasmussen Reports telephone survey, 40 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. This issue resurfaced as a hot topic days after the Department of Justice announced it will no longer seek to prosecute people using, prescribing or distributing pot for medical purposes, as long as they’re in compliance with local law.

In Texas, if you are caught in possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana, it is considered a Class B misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Those found guilty of selling marijuana face a stiffer punishment. The sale of marijuana to a minor is an automatic felony up to 20 years of incarceration and up to a $10,000 fine decided on by a judge.

According to a letter sent to Congress by a group of American economists, marijuana legalization would save $7.7 billion per year in state and federal expenditures on prohibition enforcement and produce tax revenues of at least $2.4 billion annually. However, if marijuana was taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco, it might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually.

“It is common sense” said Michael Mallory, a certified public accountant with H&R Block in Tyler, Texas, who would like to see the plant legalized. “We’re spending millions in prison costs. Why not shift those resources elsewhere and gain revenue all by legalizing marijuana.”

But some marijuana critics are motivated by what they say are the social consequences of legalization.

“I don’t think a country should profit from a person’s personal addiction,” said John Lindsay, Drug Abuse Resistance Education regional director. “We can’t fully control the abuse of drugs that are legal now in this country. What would happen if we legalized marijuana?”

D.A.R.E is a program designed to educate youth about the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse.

In the past year, the population in America’s jails and prisons has grown to 6.9 million. A 1999 study showed that 60,000 individuals were behind bars for marijuana use. This cost taxpayers $1.2 billion. In total between $7 billion and $10 billion was spent prosecuting and policing individuals with regards to marijuana, and that was just last year.

Officials at the United States Drug Enforcement Administration were quick to defend the law as it currently stands. Referencing a referendum for any type of change.

But according to Allen St. Pierre, executive director for the National Members of the panel said that with discussions like the one on Monday night, people can start to speak out and change the laws.

“It’s the grassroots level that gets people sitting in the audience to move forward and become activists,” Larry Talley, CFO of NORML DFW said.

But for the other president of the organization, senior Spencer Matthews, putting his name and University Libertarians’ name on the “Legalize It” event was a hard decision, but they wanted to make a statement.

“We wanted to show the campus that we weren’t going to be that group that just sat there,” Matthews said.

Politicians have the same hesitations that Matthews had about supporting marijuana reform, lawyer Joe Sutton said.

Sutton has been working on writing a law that would allow responsible medicinal marijuana and hopes he can persuade legislators with his clean-cut look. Sutton said he doesn’t smoke marijuana, but his passion for passing a law comes from his wife, who suffers from chronic pain.

“Hopefully I can become a stigma breaker,” Sutton said.

The “Legalize It” forum was a preview for the University Libertarians’ main event, the SMU Liberty Conference on Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Forum. According to Matthews, the group plans to tackle other issues like heath care and LGBT rights.

“It doesn’t even have to be about marijuana, what ever your issue is, do something about it,” Matthews said.

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