To legalize or not to legalize … that is the question

The legalization of marijuana is a long way from legislation, says Roy Hanson, a retired USF social problems professor. That is because interest groups have created an illusion about the dangers of marijuana to intimidate politicians and discourage support for the drug.

“If anyone tries to change it, they will be (voted) out of office,” Hanson said.

Hanson has taught classes at USF covering the issue of legalization. He believes that it is entirely a perception problem along with many other drug problems.

“It’s not a mystery what (life) would be like in the U.S. if marijuana was decriminalized; it has already been decriminalized in other states and it has had no impact whatsoever on anything. All it has done is saved money and fewer kids have been put in jail.” Hanson said. “Their society has not collapsed.”

Hanson explained that before the 1900s, drugs were legal in the United States and there was no such thing as a drug problem. In the 1930s, marijuana was made illegal and then was decriminalized in the 1970s and the government turned over the responsibility to specific states. About 10 states made marijuana illegal, Hanson said. Now, it is illegal everywhere.

“The United States locks up more people for marijuana than any other (country) in the world,” Hanson said during one of his class lectures.

Hanson said some scientists claim that the long-term effects of marijuana are far worse than that of cigarettes. Hanson claims that cigarettes are even more detrimental than heroin.

According to Hanson, more people are dying because of strict anti-drug laws. Before drugs were made illegal, people could buy them in local pharmacies. This assured that the buyer knew exactly what was in the drugs and that the drugs were not mixed with anything else.

Though drugs are illegal in the United States, it doesn’t stop people from using them. People will get them somehow. Hanson said this type of situation leads to drugs being laced with others, which causes various side effects including death.

Although marijuana use should not be illegal, as Hanson and many others argue, the government still has strict laws against marijuana or any drugs.

Marijuana is one of the leading drugs on campus, said University Police Sgt. Mike Klingebiel.

“In this community, the primary users are students, but we do get non-affiliates when there are concerts and things that occur on campus,” Klingebiel said.

The penalties for being caught with marijuana vary, depending on the amount of marijuana the student has in his or her possession.

“Generally, since it is a housing violation as well, we get the university involved. They have to go to student affairs even if they are caught with it but not charged with it,” Klingebiel said.

Jason Spratt, an employee in the student affairs office, said that a lot of students they see are mostly discipline students, and usually the students are either first-time users of drugs or recreational users on campus.

“The purpose is to aid in the growth and development of students and to help them (through) drug education programs(or) probation. There are a lot of different things that happen. We want to educate them and want them to learn from their behavior,” Spratt said.

Student affairs works alongside the University Police to make sure students abide by the rules and regulations of the university and of the United States.

“All 42,000 students have to abide by the student code of conduct. If a student is arrested for a drug violation, they have to go through the legal system, and if it happens on campus they are referred to here,” Spratt said.

No matter one’s opinion on the issue of legalization, Klingebiel said for now, the law is the law.

“We enforce the laws, not get into the debate whether or not laws are effective or not, Klingebiel said.