Sensible reform

Recently several Vermont law enforcement officials have claimed that marijuana arrests in Vermont are a nonexistent issue. However, according to the Department of Public Safety’s “The New Vermont Crime Report: Vermont Crime On-Line”, marijuana arrests were 1,758 of the total 2,765 drug arrests in our state in 2006 (66 percent of all drug arrests), up 14.6 percent from 2005.Marijuana arrests made up two-thirds of the fourth mostreported crime in the state, and the fourth highest arrest rate as percentage of the population. Additionally, Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand told this committee that each arrest takes an officer off the street for two hours.This means that Vermont police officers spent more than 3,000 hours on marijuana arrests in 2006.That seems like an awful waste of police resources. “Nonexistent”? For young teens held overnight in local jails facing the very real threat of sexual assault, the problem isn’t “nonexistent.” For those losing student loans or subsidized housing due to having a criminal record, it isn’t “nonexistent.” For those paying court and attorney costs and being diverted into forced treatment, it isn’t “nonexistent.”Thank goodness for public servants like state’s attorney Robert Sand and Sen. Jeanette White who reject the empty tough-on-crime rhetoric that often drives marijuana policy and instead demand basic, commonsense reforms.Once you get past the hysteria, misinformation and political posturing of opponents, it’s hard to imagine why anybody would object to White’s proposal – which is currently being debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee – to replace criminal penalties for small time marijuana offenses with a simple fine.Decriminalizing marijuana will allow police and prosecutors to focus on more important crimes, save taxpayer dollars and ensure minor marijuana offenders aren’t saddled with a criminal record for the rest of their lives for one dumb mistake. Eleven states, including New York and Maine, already have similar laws on the books- none report higher marijuana use rates than states that treat marijuana offenders similar to shoplifters, muggers and drunk drivers.We’ve wasted too much time and money going after small time marijuana offenders and ruined too many lives in the process. It’s time to bring some sanity to our marijuana laws and make sure the punishment is proportional to the crime.Vermonters are known for their Yankee common sense… let’s demonstrate that we deserve our reputation.Respectfully,Ami Wennar Class of 1997