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Welcome to The Seattle Times' online letters to the editor, a sampling of readers' opinions. Join the conversation by commenting on these letters or send your own letter of up to 200 words

September 19, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Crime and punishment: the war on drugs

Posted by Letters editor

Marijuana is the key

The drug war is largely a war on marijuana smokers [“It’s high time we changed the country’s wrongheaded policy on marijuana,” Opinion, Sept. 5].

In 2008, there were 847,863 marijuana arrests in the U.S., almost 90 percent for simple possession. At a time when state and local governments are laying off police, firefighters and teachers, this country continues to spend enormous public resources criminalizing Americans who prefer marijuana to martinis. The end result of this ongoing culture war is not necessarily lower rates of use.

The U.S. has higher rates of marijuana use than the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available. Decriminalization is a long-overdue step in the right direction. Taxing and regulating marijuana would render the drug war obsolete. As long as organized crime controls distribution, marijuana consumers will come into contact with sellers of hard drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. This “gateway” is a direct result of marijuana prohibition.

— Robert Sharpe, policy analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, D.C.

‘Three strikes’ law unjust

Recognizing injustices is paramount to removing them. We have a continuing injustice with our “three strikes” law when we have some people incarcerated for life for less serious offenses that do not merit such harsh punishment.

One “three striker” was a heroin addict at 15. Seattle streets were his home; prostitutes and drug addicts were his family. He could count to three but not coherently. He is clean today ... but incarcerated.

Another was introduced to drugs by his baby-sitter. They smoked marijuana regularly. He was doing cocaine intravenously at 12. He wonders what his life would be like had he received proper treatment. He can only speculate ... he is incarcerated.

Another got drug money by asking for it menacingly. His last victim would not relinquish his money. He later said, “We aren’t willing to do for these kids when they’re young and we can make a difference, but we’re willing to throw them away in prison for 10 times the cost.”

Most anyone can rise above their given circumstances with enough opportunity. Prisons should be places of learning where the incarcerated are prepared for re-entry into society rather than warehouses to confine them for their entire lifetime.

— Chloe Bell, Seattle

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