No Retreat: Marijuana Is A Dangerous Drug, To Society As Well As Users [Commentary]

April 5, 2011

Op-Ed as it appeared in the Hartford Courant on April 1, 2011

Marijuana is a harmful, federally illegal drug that does not save or improve lives. There are several bills before the General Assembly this year that would decriminalize pot. The harm to public health and safety and increased cost to law enforcement far outweigh any perceived benefit.

Marijuana is a gateway drug that ruins lives. Many of my constituents suffer unbelievable hardships because of marijuana use by their children. I am reminded of the horror of a friend and constituent, Ronni McLaughlin, who found her beautiful son dead in her home after he overdosed on drugs at the age of 20.

Her son Dan opened the gate to drug abuse by smoking a few joints of marijuana. His marijuana addiction created a desire for more potent substances and finally heroin, which ended his life. This story has been repeated by too many Connecticut families.

I am a strong believer that taking away teeth from current laws sends the wrong message to our youth, increases drug use and crime and costs our state more on so many levels. If proposals to decriminalize marijuana are passed, possessing a small amount of pot (less than one ounce) would be punishable with a fine of up to $90, instead of a criminal charge. (Less than the penalty for a cellphone violation.) According to a Drug Free America, an ounce of pot equals 60 to 120 joints.

Decriminalizing marijuana will make it easier for street corner drug dealers to do business. An insignificant civil fine will be the cost of doing business and they will carry smaller amounts. New York City became the safest city in America when it cracked down on small offenses. Montana is debating bills that would repeal its medical marijuana reforms due to a huge surge of drug use, cartels moving in and rampant crime. We must not give Connecticut a soft-on-crime reputation by making it easy to obtain a get-out-of-jail-free ticket.

Police chiefs James Strilacci and Anthony Salvatore are on the front lines and they believe decriminalization would lead to unintended consequences. In testimony submitted to the Judiciary Committee they said, “Like many minor crimes, simple possession of marijuana is often a clue to more serious crimes. It’s a common occurrence for a police officer to stop a car for a traffic violation, approach the car, and see a marijuana cigarette or smell its pungent smoke, which gives the officer probable cause to search the car. Discovery of larger quantities of drugs, cash, scales and packaging may indicate a dealer rather than a mere user.”

Further, reducing the penalty for marijuana possession to a mail-in infraction would not save the state money. Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane testified, “We could identify no inmate who is in prison — either pretrial or sentenced — solely for the simple possession of marijuana. The reality is these individuals are not in prison solely for possession and most certainly would still be there even if the infraction option had existed. There would seem to be little, if any savings to police departments by allowing for mail-in infractions.”

Kane also said, “What proponents would lead you to believe is a ‘simple’ change is anything but and may actually dramatically increase the cost and time spent on these cases.”

Yale University and other research institutions have all determined that smoked marijuana causes damage to the brain, lungs, heart and the body’s T-cells that fight off infections. Researchers have also found marijuana can cause memory loss and can precipitate psychosis and schizophrenia.

There is evidence that a marijuana cigarette is four times as potent as one tobacco cigarette producing tumors, respiratory and heart ailments. According to A Drug Free America, gram for gram, marijuana contains more cancer-causing agents and higher levels of ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and nitric oxide than tobacco.

Furthermore, under the current proposals, the drug-free zones around schools and day care centers would be reduced from 1,500 feet to 200 feet allowing dealers to do business right in front of our children.

I am grateful we have fought repeated attempts in the past to take our state down this dangerous path and have not broken a trust with our constituents of doing no harm. Let’s commit to keeping our children and neighborhoods safe.

Republican state Sen. Toni Bouchr, represents New Canaan, Wilton, Westport, Weston, Redding, Ridgefield and Bethel.