Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Connecticut State Senate Bill 349

SB 349 would change possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor (punishable by jail time) to an infraction, which would be merely ticketed.

I followed some link and sent my state senator, Toni Boucher, an e-mail asking her to support SB 349, which has passed the senate's Joint Committee on Judiciary. Senator Boucher wrote back and relayed her testimony before the Committee against the bill.

What follows is my response to her, on which I CC'd Governor Jodi Rell.

Thanks very much for writing back. I respect that your views differ from mine. It's why I voted for the other guy in November. But the way I understand it, you represent me nonetheless. So I hope you will not impose your own views on the state, but rather aim to represent the majority's will. You might know that a Quinnipiac University poll this year indicated that 58 percent of Connecticut voters favor SB 349.

It would be even better if I could sway you by illustrating where your thinking is, in my opinion, misguided. Since you were kind enough to relay your views to me, I offer the following rebuttals.

You cited a couple, many years ago, who lost their son to drugs. You do not say that the drug on which the son overdosed was marijuana, and I imagine that's because it wasn't the drug on which he overdosed. To my knowledge, marijuana has never killed anyone. This, of course, is not true of alcohol or tobacco, two legal substances. In fact, you call marijuana a gateway drug, and say it was identified by the parents as "the real killer," which again I assume is merely evidence that it was not the real killer. Perhaps you also favor illegalization of alcohol and tobacco, as any 15-year-old can tell you that these are the gateways to marijuana use. Most people against marijuana legalization don't favor outlawing cigarettes and alcohol, and therefore are guilty of hypocrisy. Perhaps you are the exception; I have not researched your views. But the state of Connecticut has not outlawed alcohol or tobacco; it instead has satisfied itself with laws governing the two substances' use.

The same should be true for marijuana. It is not physically addicting, the way tobacco and alcohol are, and so there is no evidence that there would be health issues -- especially where marijuana is potent enough to deliver its effects with minimal substance ingestion. If one could feel the effects one desired from as little alcohol or tobacco, there would be no health issues with those substances either. I'm afraid any studies you cite are going to be of extremely limited value; most are conducted or sanctioned by the federal government, which outlaws marijuana in the first place, and what few remain relied on government-supplied marijuana, which of course is not representative of the many strains available to users. Have the studies looked at both indica and sativa strains? For what other variables have these supposedly scientific studies accounted? I also find that critics draw highly spurious conclusions from these studies, like the 40 percent statistic you cite. If marijuana increased the risk of developing mental disorders by 40 percent, there would be a great many college graduates with mental disorders in this country. Assuming relationships to be causative is a fallacy that extends far beyond drug studies, but it certainly is a popular one among anti-marijuana lawmakers.

There absolutely are people who have other issues -- motivational, organizational, social -- related to their marijuana use. Marijuana does not cause these issues. It sometimes enables them. A shut-in who doesn't answer the door because he's high would be a shut-in without marijuana. And he likely would seek some other substance instead -- doubtlessly a more dangerous substance, since marijuana is the least dangerous of illicit substances. Rather than trotting out a story of a couple, many years ago, who lost their son to some other substance, I suggest you talk to more marijuana users. You can find many of them achieving at the highest levels of our country -- although some are not free to admit their use, thanks to stigma of the drug's illegal status -- as well as working at the nearest Burger King. Talk to former users, too, including those who say their lives were miserable while they used. Many of them will tell you that they came to realize that the drug made it easier for them to avoid working out the issues that challenged them, but that in most cases, when they stopped smoking, they still needed to work out those issues. And while you're talking to them, see if those serious and costly long-term health effects you presage have come to pass. I also would love to the the sourcing for much of what you cited in your testimony to the Joint Committee. Sixty percent of Connecticut drug treatment center admissions are for marijuana addiction? I'd love to hear more about that.

You worry that SB 349 will overturn decades of progress "combat[ing]" marijuana use. How are you measuring that progress? Is progress combating measured in arrests? In prison sentences? This kind of "progress" is easy to achieve. Do lower percentages of the population use marijuana? Impossible to measure, of course, since respondents would need to admit to lawbreaking. But anecdotally, I can tell you there has not been significant progress of anything. I can direct you to any number of peers who use habitually, and others who did for years before stopping. They are not in hospice care, or mental wards. If you are against adults' being legally allowed to smoke marijuana, I assume you are not aware which of your friends and family are smokers (although if you did know, I imagine you would prefer they be ticketed for marijuana use, and not put into the criminal system). I urge you, for the purposes of researching this issue, to widen your circle. And the percentages of college kids who smoke marijuana today will not be appreciably lower (if, in fact, they're not higher) than they were 20 years ago when I was in college. So I wonder what kind of progress you had in mind.

I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt regarding the statistics and purported evidence you cited in your testimony. But it is not easy. It reads like the boilerplate claims I've seen elsewhere so many times from other lawmakers who were closed on the issue. These "facts" fit their argument, and these were the "facts" they were sticking with. I hope you will consider it your responsibility to seek out the other side of the story. I suspect it would lead you to question some of the "evidence" that seems so compelling to you now. I believe you owe it to yourself, and I am certain you owe it to me and the rest of your constituents.

Yer pal


Megan said...

Well done. Massachusetts just passed roughly the same law by referendum in November, by a pretty overwhelming majority, against the wishes of virtually every actual politician, including the governor. That kind of thing should give politicians pause when they decide that supporting this kind of measure is political suicide. (And I'm convinced that's almost always what it is-- that, and the unwise assumption that everyone who supports these laws is a pothead, and that potheads don't vote.) I mean, do they believe their own arguments? I don't think a rational person could.

Jeremy Blutstein said...

You tell 'em Troy. I wrote to Toni Boucher too. She sent me the same letter. Do you have any idea idea when this bill is going to be voted on?

troy said...

Unable to find any developments in the last month. The hearing to which Toni Boucher alluded seems to have been back in March.

Toni responded to my e-mail generously, and encouraged me to call her office. I declined, and have had some pangs of guilt, but I wasn't gonna sway her, and she knows how I feel now. I actually walked past her either on Election Day or the evening before when she was looking for hands to shake at my train station.