Decriminalize pot, dont make it legal

A vote for nationwide legalization of marijuana is looming on the horizon – 14 states and the District of Colombia have already legalized the drug for medicinal use. However, with California’s Proposition 19, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, on the Nov. 2 ballot, it seems the drug’s potential for widespread legalization is a very real possibility.

If passed, Proposition 19 will make California the first state to legalize marijuana for more than medical purposes. Medicinal use is understandable. According to the National Cancer Society, marijuana eases otherwise untreatable side effects of chemotherapy, but use in this manner is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and overseen by a doctor.

Recreational use of marijuana, however, is not as easy to accept or regulate.

According to the website for the California Independent Voter Network, 56 percent of those polled in California said they would vote “Yes” for legalization.

But marijuana, a mind-altering drug, should not be legalized in California or anywhere else. Instead, it should be decriminalized, making the possession of personal sized amounts result only in a civil fine.

Even though we live in a country founded on free will, where personal beliefs do not interfere with government beliefs, a mind-altering drug should not be legalized regardless of the potential for tax revenue and regulation. It has the potential to be an addictive drug as well as a gateway drug – a precursor to harder drugs.

In a society where nearly one-third of traffic-related deaths involve alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s website, American’s do not need another intoxicant to be wary of while driving.

Marijuana, when smoked, pollutes the lungs with 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Considering recent cigarette smoking bans, it does not make sense to legalize a substance that emits more harmful chemicals. It can also cause lifelong brain damage and leave the smoker in a sort of permanent haze.

It can cause distorted perception, loss of coordination, increased heart rate and more. It should not be legalized.

But it should be decriminalized.

In the state of Florida, possessing more than 20 grams of marijuana is considered a felony – less is considered a misdemeanor – meaning that if caught, a user could be put on probation or imprisoned. Users also risk being labeled as a felon, something that limits job opportunities, voting rights and ability to serve in the military.

There is great potential to irreparably damage the reputation of young, or even one-time, users with criminal charges.

If marijuana use was decriminalized, the punishments would be less severe and have less capacity to ruin a young life. Making marijuana possession a civil violation keeps the substance illegal for recreational use but lessens the consequence. In doing so, the stigma and punishment that surrounds the drug would still exist, but would be slightly more transparent.

Louisa Lundgren is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.