10/13 - Pot or Not? The Decriminalization Debate

Would a reduction in penalties encourage more usage and lead the state down a path to legalization?

Mandatory drug sentences cost Louisiana taxpayers millions of dollars to incarcerate people charged with simple possession of marijuana. Would a reduction in penalties encourage more usage and lead the state down a path to legalization? Or does Louisiana - which ranks among the top ten states for drug use - need further reinforcements in its battle against this “gateway drug”? Louisiana Public Square explores the pros and cons of legalization on “Pot or Not? The Decriminalization Debate” airing Wednesday, October 23, 2013. (Taping Wednesday, October 16)

Backgrounder

Last November, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize marijuana through voter referendums. Fifteen states already have decriminalized the substance and a total of twenty states allow for its use in treating certain medical conditions.

So, where does Louisiana stand in this debate? Mandatory drug sentences cost Louisiana taxpayers millions of dollars to incarcerate people charged with simple possession of marijuana. Would a reduction in penalties encourage more usage and lead the state down a path to legalization? Does Louisiana - which ranks among the top ten states for drug use - need further reinforcements in its battle against what many call a “gateway drug”?

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The big problem with POT is it is a window drug to other ones.

Chris

Posted by Chris  on  09/10  at  03:09 PM

Chris, the reason marijuana seems to be a “gateway drug” is that once people have broken the law by using it, it becomes easier for them to break it again. They come into contact with drug dealers who sell other substances. The real gateway is between legal and illegal drug use. If marijuana was legal, then all of the users would remain on the legal side of the gateway. Marijuana as a substance has no chemical properties that would cause a person to want to try other drugs. More info can be found here: http://www.mpp.org/assets/pdfs/library/GatewayDebunked.pdf

More unconventionally, I would suggest that marijuana use can seem to be a gateway because when people use marijuana they see that it has benign affects, and they realize that the government has been lying to them about what marijuana does to you. This makes them think (probably correctly) that the government has been lying about the effects of other illegal drugs.

Of course, if the government were honest about marijuana at all, then there would be no reason to keep it illegal.

More facts can be found here: http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/10-facts-about-marijuana

Posted by Erik  on  10/02  at  03:09 PM

Really? Pot as a gateway drug? You HAVE to be kidding. I’ve used it over a span of a few years and never once did I want to do cocaine, crack cocaine, or heroin. I have no want or need to kill pain and honestly it is far better than alcohol which I really don’t have a taste for beer.

Look, a full legalization of marijuana along with hemp can jump start an industrial/agricultural revolution here in the state of Louisiana. Hemp is used to make a number of products from paper to plastics. Let Louisiana lead the way in this revolution, let us get the industrial business here first. Let our farmers get a head start in perfecting a process of growing and harvesting a hearty premium industrial plant.

Posted by Benoit  on  10/04  at  12:49 PM

We should not encourage any more drug usage in our society period.


Chris

Posted by Chris  on  10/04  at  05:32 PM

I think it should be legalized. It has been used by millions for years as a medicine. No one has ever smoked pot and went on a shooting rampage or driven down the road and caused a wreck like alcohol. I have watched many documentarys and it can be a huge help with people with cancer all the way to monthly periods. And imagine the revenue the state would have! Come on politicians we know y’all like money!

Posted by tammy  on  10/21  at  11:08 AM

Marijuana is only a gateway to drug dealers that have other drugs.  I’ve never seen a belligerent or violent stoner but I sure have seen some nasty drunks.  I could snow ski through a forest (never mind the open slopes), ice skate, cycle or any number of other athletic activities that required fine motor coordination and balance while stoned.  On the other hand, I was likely to plant my face in a snow bank if I’ve been tipping back the bota full of wine.  You will notice that everything is in the past tense.  I went to work for an airline in the late 80’s and they had drug testing.  Knowing this, I quit…..period.
I went from frequent use, to no use overnight.  Not what I would call addictive.  On the other hand, I quit cigarettes 3 times, and it took around 10 years after the final time before the cravings finally went away.  I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, but I suggest that if you tried marijuana and it was a bad experience for you, then unfortunately it is quite possible that your friendly “has everything dealer” may well have spiked your weed with something else to get you hooked.  This would not be the case with the dealers cut out of the loop.  As for the pain killing qualities, I can’t speak to that.  I didn’t have disabling pain when I was 20 something.  I hope that it actually helps as I am working on arthritis and degenerating knees.  I would like to be able to have the use of it as an alternative to killing my liver with acetaminophen or one of the other wonder “legal” drugs that big pharma is pushing.  It is about time the tide is changing.

Posted by Robert  on  10/21  at  08:06 PM

“If I am not sovereign over my own consciousness, then I am sovereign over nothing.” - Graham Hancock

Posted by Louisiana Resident  on  10/22  at  11:14 AM

It should be legalized.  Not only are you wasting tax dollars on arresting people for non-violent crime, but you teach them to become real criminals once you incarcerate them.  Also, a felony charge for pot?  (Talk about ruin someone’s life over a plant)  Its ridiculous.  Its almost 2014 people.  Your cigarettes & alcohol kill thousands of people every year and not one known death has ever been caused by marijuana. Not to mention, the marijuana industry itself can produce thousands of jobs in order to help stimulate the economy.  If you think marijuana should be illegal, I strongly advise you to do a little bit of research before you create such a biased opinion.  Good day.  cool smirk

(Oh and one more thing… the ONLY reason why pot is considered a gateway drug is BECAUSE it is illegal.  If you made cigarettes illegal, guess who would sell them… [drug dealers]. Thus the new gateway drug would be cigarettes.)

—CM

Posted by Charles  on  10/22  at  01:23 PM

Why should marijuana be illegal when alcohol and cigarettes are legal? This makes no sense.

Posted by AB  on  10/22  at  01:34 PM

I strongly favor legalization and can not for the life of me understand why the discrimination against marijuana exists in the first place.  My wife and I contribute handsomely to the state coffers for income taxes, not to mention the additional property taxes and sales taxes we kick in.  In other words, we are model citizens, returning more revenue to the state than we take in. Does my opinion count? Here is my argument:

Louisiana has the unfortunate distinction of having the the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the WORLD.  We throw a lot of money into marijuana prohibition.  We spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 million annually on Department of Corrections. A good 150 million of those dollars is spent incarcerating repeat offenders for simple possession of marijuana, with the goal of “rehabilitating” them.  By legalization and taxation of marijuana, we not only free up quiet a significant amount of dedicated expenditures through decreasing the number of inmates we house, we will also tap a new source of revenue, which this state desperately needs.

Posted by N. Bossier Resident  on  10/23  at  08:35 AM

If marijuana was a “gateway drug” then Willie Nelson would have been a heroin addict by 1963.
I think both sides of this debate should be able to agree that cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, sugar, caffeine are all addictive substances that impair cognitive function in individuals.  Abuse of any of these substances is a problem for the social welfare system and not the criminal justice system. 
We give billions of American dollars to the Mexican drug cartels to purchase cannabis.  If legal, the Carolina tobacco farmers will once again have an industry (that would be used in the field of medicine unlike cigarettes and alcohol I might add) and the powerful cartels would be reduced to peasant farmers once again lowering the threat to our borders.  We would also not waste billions of tax dollars enforcing an antiquated law or billions more feeding and housing cannabis users in prison.
End the hypocrisy.  At least marijuana has validated medicinal value and is natural and not man made.
Marijuana was legal until prohibition was abolished (after the Kennedys made enough money bootlegging alcohol I suspect).  Congress needed to substitute one evil for another and chose to select the cannabis plant that the slaves grew and smoked.  The legislation is rooted in anti-slavery sentiments as well.

Posted by Voersaa  on  10/23  at  08:46 AM

Our country should stop trying to baby-sit it’s citizens.  If we want to eat bad food, drink alcohol, smoke pot, make bad choices, kill ourselves.  We should be free to do whatever we want as long as it doesn’t hinder the freedom or well being of someone else. 

Considering how easily available pot is right now, I do not see an increase in drug use if it’s made legal.  Nor do I see a change in the amount of pot people will smoke.

Posted by Meg  on  10/23  at  09:01 AM

Meg, That is entirely untrue.  There will certainly be an increase in the number of people that smoke pot if it is legalized.  No question about it, that I do not think is or was ever under debate. 

The question is how does marijuana prohibition serve a purpose? 

I never got into what are considered “hard” drugs, but I did smoke a lot pot and I did drink.  Out of the two, I can say with certainty that drinking alcohol caused myself and others a significant amount of misery.  It wasn’t until my late 20s that I learned how to drink in moderation (re: 2 or three beers max) and to stop being a “menace”.  I can’t think of anything I ever did that I was proud of after drinking. I have too many horrible experiences while intoxicated to count, including legal and medical issues, but alcohol is legal. 

With marijuana on the other hand, I have had no bad experiences.  I wouldn’t say that smoking marijuana makes me a sharper/smarter person, it slows me down a little as it makes me more introspective.  However it definitely opens up a creative and happy place for me that as far as I can tell has not had any detrimental side effects.  I have started several (dot)com business after being inspired by ideas I have had while “impaired” which supplement my income every month.  Now, keep in mind that I spent between hundreds to thousands of “sober” man-hours on developing these projects, but I never would have thought of them if I wasn’t in that creative place that marijuana can take me.  I have also written songs, created art work, had excellent culinary experiences and quiet thoroughly enjoyed some movies and games while smoking marijuana without causing misery to myself or others. 

I do not smoke marijuana now, except once every couple of years it seems due to the simple fact that I will not put my career in jeapordy by possessing an illegal substance.  However, were it legalized, I would certainly enjoy partaking, in moderation of course. 

Some argue that the long term effects of smoking marijuana are not known, and that is a case for prohibition.  However the long term effects of tobacco and alcohol use, not to mention excessive intakes of sugar, butter and many other perfectly legal substances ARE known and are perfectly legal, so there should be no basis for marijuana to be criminal.  If you really want to protect the physical health of the people in this state, crack down a bit on the Petrolium and Industrial complexes down just west of Baton Rouge.  The cancer rate in this state is absolutely deplorable!  I’ve lost so many friends and family members to cancer from down there.

Posted by N. Bossier Resident  on  10/23  at  10:13 AM

People are slowly realizing that the government has perpetuated blatent lies about the most useful plant on the planet for political reasons. It makes no sense to let the black market and law enforcement budgets reap the benefit from this anymore. It costs the tax payer more money and your children can get it easier than ever. Regulation and taxation solves many problems financially for state and local governments, and keeps it out of your children’s hands by eliminating the black market. It would simply make money for the state instead of spending money prosecuting its citizens, all while making it safer by regulation. And another side note…alcohol and tobacco kill millions of Americans annually. Cannabis has no recorded death from use, ever.

Posted by B  on  10/23  at  04:32 PM

What a panel!  I can almost guess where these “experts” are going to go.  I cannot believe that LPB did not think to include a representative from NORML on this panel.  I’ll watch… but I can already feel the bias.

Posted by Voersaa  on  10/23  at  06:21 PM

The fallacy of the “gateway” argument.  It is befuddling to see law enforcement representatives use propagandist statistics.  Sure everyone in the courtroom for a criminal offense has probably used marijuana. That’s it! The marijuana sent them on this path to a life of crime. That is laughable.  They also eat sugar, drink caffeine, eat processed foods, drink alcohol, and smoke cigarettes.  Why is the artificial line or “gate” placed at cannabis?  It is not logical.
Maybe 99% of meth users have tried marijuana - but you can’t come close to saying that 99% of marijuana users have tried meth.  Now that would be meaningful statistic but you will never find that statistic because it does not exist.
The whole “gateway” argument is a straw man argument.

Posted by Voersaa  on  10/23  at  06:26 PM

It blows me away, how much common sense most of the kids on this panel have and they know their stuff.. great job kiddos,, don’t let these old folks dumb you down , they have not a clue about cannabis and don’t want any, because you see they’re pockets are being filled by illegal drugs , so why would they want to legalize…and listen carefully to what that police chief on the end said, they cut funding to education , health care, and who are they thinking about when we should legalize cannabis oh yeah the kids , but what happen when we thought about kids educations, oh uh well we have to do,it seems these old geezer always have an excuse..look the people have spoken an we are going to take the reigns back and do what is right for our kids because we know after hearing this show that these 4 people on the panel,,, money is the only thing on their minds and no interest in our kids accept to lock them up and stealing a good education away for a harmless substance. remember people if black markets are bad then quit creating them if there is prohibition on any thing then that means you can have it which in return produce a BLACK MARKET==CRIMINAL PRODUCER,VOLIENCE PRODUCER,FAMILY SEPARATER,GANGS,NO ID NEEDED! LETS THINK ABOUT THE KIDS PEOPLE!!! QUIT LETTING THESE PEOPLE IN POWER DUMB US ARE OUR KIDS AND GRAND CHRILDREN DOWN WE NEED TO THINK AND QUIT LETTING THEM THINK FOR US !!. PeAcEoUt!

Posted by roger  on  10/23  at  07:05 PM

The reason marijuana is illegal is because Nixon designed the DEA with an inherent conflict of interest. In order for marijuana to be legalized, an accepted medical use would have to be determined. The DEA, whose funding depends the mission to eradicate marijuana, is the agency that chooses whether to allow or deny medical research to determine accepted medical uses. The DEA has always denied permission to do such research because the first positive results would end their mission and so end their funding.

If this all sounds crazy, I invite you to Google 1) How much of the DEA’s budget is dedicated to marijuana enforcement. 2) What the DEA says they would require before they would allow marijuana to be reclassified. 3) Why the DEA says they routinely deny medical research to discover the answer to #2.

Posted by Yare  on  10/23  at  08:17 PM

They say that marijuana leads to harder drugs, but no medical study has ever proven this. Also, they classified marijuana as a Class I drug, the most dangerous category, so if it leads to cocaine and oxy pills, which are Class III drugs, then marijuana leads to softer drugs.

They say they don’t want to legalize marijuana and add any harm, but marijuana is an alternative to more harmful drugs, so as people switch to legalized marijuana, there would be a net decrease in harm.

They say that they want the ability to add 20 years to sentences and ask us to trust that they won’t abuse that power. That is very dangerous and plainly unjust. If we as a society want to lock criminals up for longer, then we should change sentences ourselves and not delegate such powers to the police.

The bottom line is that marijuana use causes far less harm to society than Prohibition does. We must change the laws and restore the liberty that is guaranteed to us in the Constitution.

Posted by Yare  on  10/23  at  08:22 PM

I am a wife and mother, owner of two businesses and I am white.(Since race was such an issue in the video, I found that may have been “somewhat important.”) I am a daily smoker and I function just fine running two businesses 7 days a week. Now there is some background, here is how I feel about it:

Great video and I am so glad to see that this is as much of an issue for the other residents of this state as it is for me!

I have been a pot smoker for 5 years. What started off as recreation turned into my getting off medication for anxiety/depression and choosing to smoke weed instead. I like the idea of something natural instead of pumping my body with pills. (The pill industry and what they put in the medications is a total different subject.) In the 5 years that I have smoked, I have not had any desire to get into or try “harder” drugs and do not agree that weed is a gateway to anything. People make the choices they make for whatever reason they make it. To put people making bad choices to move onto harder drugs is really not fair to marijuana. Why should marijuana have to shoulder all the centuries of bad choices? And why should those of us who use it for medical purposes also be punished for those centuries of bad choices?

The problem in this state begins with the unnecessary laws set in place by “good ole southern boys” that will never allow change to take place due to being closed minded. I can tell you that I do not deserve to spend 20 years in a jail with hardened criminals (I have never even seen a jail besides on TV and movies) just for smoking weed in the privacy of my own home. I should get the choice to have marijuana for medical use with out feeling like I am a bad person or breaking the law. And let’s touch on the cost of keeping someone “like me” in prison! I do believe I would rather have my tax dollars go to something a little more important that punishing weed smokers.

They kept saying: “Look at the statistics!” “Look at the statistics!” Ok, so let’s look at these statistics:
The number one cause of death- Tobacco
The number two cause of death- Alcohol
(Maybe I have them backwards, but I know they are one and two!)
The question is : WHY ARE THESE LEGAL? We are teaching our kids that it is ok to use these things that KILL us, but not to use marijuana that can HELP us?? Not one person has ever died from the usage of marijuana! I just do not see the justification.

And to the person who said about Willie Nelson becoming a heroin addict: FUNNY!!!!

Posted by VoteYesForWeed  on  10/23  at  08:37 PM

In all the discussion, there is never a distinction made between use and abuse.  As of now, government treats all use as abuse.  Yes marijuana treatment has gone up over the last few years, but I would argue that it’s only due to people choosing treatment over the criminal justice system.

Another issue that was not discussed is the supply side.  As of right now, the equivalent of a case of beer’s worth of marijuana is viewed as an amount suitable for charging someone with distribution and seeking severe penalties.  The same is true for any plants being grown (which law enforcement can then use to seek civil action for, up to and including taking away someone’s home and property - something that I thought we were explicitly free from based on the US Constitution’s 4th amendment).  Prices are artificially inflated to levels that have at times (in my lifetime anyway) surpassed the price of gold per ounce (admittedly for the better stuff).

There are probably as many, if not more, varieties of cannabis as there are varieties of alcohol. Is a beer the same as moonshine?  Not by a long shot.  So goes with marijuana.

“Intoxication” seems to be the worry of the DA head that was on the program, but I don’t see them asking for a urinalysis for alcohol use the night before.  He probably thinks marijuana intoxication is much worse than the alcohol he drinks - NOT.  Besides, a drug test says nothing about impairment, rather it looks to see if you have used the drug at all within the last 30 days or so (at least for marijuana - all other drugs burn out of the system in a few days).  There is no test for impairment.

Posted by Russell  on  10/24  at  05:00 AM

I was disappointed in this discussion.  I had hopes that there might be a little bit of progressive talks coming out of this.  So we get Dr. Cataldie, a proponent of marijuana prohibition that runs a rehabilitation center as the sole medical panelist. 

Then there was Diana Drakes.  I felt that her statements are absolutely untrue; I disagree with almost everything that she said.  Let’s not forget that her job as CEO of Woodlake is to create a culture where treatment is a priority. Honestly, what percentage of patients at Woodlake are checked in soley for “marijuana addiction”?  Out of that small percentage of patients that come through Woodlake for “marijuana addiction”, how many (if there have EVER been ANY) are there WITHOUT a pending court case (in an effort to get leniency for sentencing)? A more appropriate panelist would have been a one of the Psychiatrists from LSU or Tulane or such that did not have such a blatant conflict of interest.  I feel that LPB, whether inadvertently or intentionally, has introduced bias by allowing panelists running a for profit treatment center to argue the medicinal and “addictive” aspects of marijuana.

I owe Mr. Charles Scott an apology for my unfounded bias against him going into this debate.  He does not really seem as frenetic in the fight against legalization as his track record indicates.  My take on watching him as a panelist is that he is simply doing his job, prosecuting according to the laws of Louisiana.  And while he does have a number of draconian sentences that he has been the prosecutor for, they appear more in line with following the law of the state than any personal bias or stake in the matter.

So, if between 70-85% of the people in the state believe that the laws in the state that outline sentencing for possession should be redressed, why will the Senate not act on that?  Do they think so little of their constituents they feel their opinion is more valid than that of the people that they represent?

Another point.  If (and I believe I am low balling this) 45-60% of the people in the state believe that marijuana should be legalized completely, who are the other 40-55% to say “No, we won’t. An not only that, but we will arrest and prosecute people who do not comply with our beliefs?”  Law and order is of paramount importance.  No one should ever face loss of property, loss of life, or pain at the hands of others.  People have a responsibilities; to pay taxes, to perform certain civic duties.  Drug enforcement is important.  There are terrible drugs out there.  The synthetics are terrible.  Meth, crack, heroin, MDMA… that sort stuff has no business being in our society and we should be vigilant in our fight to keep them off our streets.  Prescription medications are some powerfully addictive drugs as well, we need to continue to improve the control of scheduled medication as they are can not only be extremely potent, but addictive as well.  However, I believe Marijuana is not the same as the above, and should fall under same category as alcohol and tobacco.

Posted by N. Bossier Resident  on  10/24  at  09:08 AM

N. Bossier Resident,
Thanks for your comment. I did want to clarify some things…Diana Drake was not one of our 4 panelists. She was interviewed for the backgrounder package and she is the Director of New Beginnings at Lake Charles. While Ms. Drake does not have medical training, Dr. Cataldie, who was on the panel, does, including being Board Certified in Addiction Medicine and acting as the Addictionologist for the Louisiana State Board of Nursing. He also does not “run” the Woodlake Addiction Treatment Center, but is their Medical Director. I don’t believe he ever called for the prohibition of marijuana but rather expressed concerns, as you may recall, with younger individuals using the substance. You may also recall him agreeing with an audience member that he, too, felt that the war on drugs was a failure. Thanks again for your interest in this subject and taking the time to comment.

Posted by Louisiana Public Square  on  10/24  at  10:50 AM

I feel its all about money! Since there’s not a way to TAX it, they won’t legalize it!!! If it was to be legalized, maybe the people wouldn’t turn to ‘bad’ drugs like cocaine, heroin, etc. I’d rather see someone smoke marijuana instead of smoking cigarettes or drinking!!!! Just think of how many less arrest would be made if it was legalized! Look at how much money is spent on housing people arrested for possession of marijuana! That money could go towards more important things! Wake up!!!! Common sense!!!

Posted by Deanna Dupre  on  10/28  at  08:38 AM

it should be legalized the law is too unjust on possesions charges im speaking from personal expeirence i was beat down in court for a small qaurter of a joint i served three days and was sentenced to 1 year probation and 200 hrs comunity service also i payed over 1800 in fines and fees do you know drunk drivers only get 40 hrs of comunity service for their crime and personaly weed isnt a crime and it is not adicted and it isnt a gate way either god created it its not man made and it really is good for pain and i mean all kinds of pain please understand i am a advoket of mary jane but also im a father and a husband im a pillor of my community also a vet it is a mess how peaple like myself have suffered an will continue to suffer under this unconstitutional law in the service we fight injustic but i have seen more injustic in louisiana behind this toppic then ever i saw in the middle east . thk you 4 your time!!!!

Posted by sean  on  10/28  at  09:41 AM
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