OPINION: Don’t expand jail until after vote on marijuana

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There is presently a big push to increase the number of beds for prisoners in Flathead County. I believe we should stop and think before we spend the money.

Before we build another jail, let us see if the voters pass CI-115 and decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana. According to reports from around the country, the legalization of marijuana likely will decrease the number of people we need to put into jail. In an article published by the Drug Policy Alliance titled “Marijuana Legalization in Colorado After One Year of Retail Sales and Two Years of Decriminalization”:

• According to data from the Colorado Court System, marijuana possession arrests have dropped 84 percent since 2010.

• In the first 11 months of 2014, the state had 436 traffic fatalities, a 3 percent drop from the 449 fatalities in the first 11 months of 2013. The decline in fatalities in 2014 marks a continuation of a 12-year-long downward trend in traffic fatalities in the state of Colorado.

• Colorado has the fastest growing economy in the United States, and Colorado’s unemployment rate is at a six-year low.

• The state of Colorado has allocated more than $8 million in retail marijuana tax revenue for youth prevention and education, mental health and community-based developmental programs. In addition to the $2.5 million allocated to fund health workers in Colorado schools, $2 million of marijuana tax revenue has been allocated to help fund community-based youth services programs that offer mentoring and focus on drug prevention and school retention, and over $4.3 million will fund school-based outreach programs for students using marijuana.

Experts consider opioids such as OxyContin, a gateway to other drugs. The Novus Medical Detox Center states: “The new ‘gateway drug,’ especially to heroin, is the prescription narcotic OxyContin, and its active opioid ingredient, oxycodone.” The White House Office on National Drug Control Policy reported, “nearly one-third of people who used an illegal drug for the first time began by misusing prescriptions.”

According to the documentary, “Chasing Heroin” on the PBS show “Frontline,” Purdue Pharmaceuticals by 2001 was selling $1 billion of OxyContin per year.

After our young people become addicted to pharmaceuticals, the pharmaceutical companies make another fortune selling methadone and Suboxone through our public health system. President Obama’s deputy drug czar, Tom McClellan, Ph.D., states the relapse rate of hard drug addicts is 50 percent within 90 days after discharge of treatment.

But we can make a difference. According to a 2014 study published in JAMA, “medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.”

I have friends who have raised wonderful families while consuming marijuana; I also had a friend found dead with a needle sticking in his arm after overdosing on hard drugs.

President Obama states, “more Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do from motor vehicle crashes; more than they do from car accidents. The majority of those overdoses involve legal prescription drugs.”

According to ABC News, “the United States makes up only 4.6 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 80 percent of its opioids — and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, the opiate that is in Vicodin.” I am sure a large part of this consumption is paid for by our government. I would much rather have the public consume marijuana and pay for it out of their own pocket.

Hopefully, if the voters of Montana decriminalize the use of marijuana, the use of hard drugs will decline, our tax dollars will not be spent providing so many drugs for addicts, our prison population will go down and fewer people will die from drug-related overdoses. Let’s hold off on expanding our county jail at this time and see if this happens.

See http://montanalegalwriting.com/Commentary/tabid/2575/Default.aspx for this article with hyperlinked references.

Jerry O’Neil is a resident of Columbia Falls.

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