DC feeling effects of marijuana movement

Recently Washington, D.C. decriminalized the use of marijuana. From inner cities to local playgrounds, marijuana use is on the rise according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Supporters of decriminalization believe that people shouldn’t be locked up for simple possession while those against it believe that it is a gateway into harder drugs. With new leniencies on pot regulation, the opposition may go up in smoke.

Those in favor argue that the decriminalization of marijuana would save vital police resources and keep many people out of prison for what they consider a drug not harmful enough to warrant such heavy enforcement.

“I think that the law enforcement and social consequences of heavy enforcement of marijuana laws have been catastrophic,” AP Government teacher Mark Faust said. “I think that we need to get away from putting people in jail and giving them criminal records because they have records of simple possession of marijuana.”

Faust does not believe that people should smoke marijuana, especially high schoolers, but does not agree with the heavy enforcement of it, he said. Faust said a minor civil offense would be better than to separate people from their families and keep them from being employed in the future due to a criminal offense.

“To me, it makes more sense to treat this as a civil offense akin to a heavy traffic ticket perhaps than as a criminal matter,” Faust said. “I think that it is way past time that we actually do decriminalize it.”

Even with sweeping changes in the United States, many are still against marijuana.

“I think decriminalizing pot is kind of stupid.” senior Brian Thompson said. “I think it’s very illegal, I don’t think it’s something people should be getting into.”

Thompson said that decriminalization will make it easier for adolescents to gain access to pot and feels as though it doesn’t promote a healthy environment. Marijuana is considered a “gateway” drug by many, as the majority of users of other harder drugs like cocaine or heroin started out smoking pot according to a study conducted by Yale.

“Whether it’s not as bad as other drugs as some people say, it really doesn’t matter,” Thompson said. “So I don’t think it’s a very good idea.”

In a survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 71 percent of Virginians support the legalization of medical marijuana with a prescription. The use of medical marijuana for the treatment of cancer or glaucoma is legal in Virginia. Possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia can cost a person a $500 fine or 30 days in jail for the first offense. For a second offense, that number rises to a $2500 fine or one year in jail.

The argument over the decriminalization of pot also boils down to racial profiling in the punishment of those found possessing it. Federal data shows that African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites even though the two groups use marijuana at the same rate.

“Drug laws tend to fall much harder in the way the system works on racial minorities and on people who are poor,” Faust said.

As many states are loosening their laws on the possession and consumption of marijuana, Virginia, unlike D.C.  so far seems unlikely to roll out a new marijuana law of its own.