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Legalizing Marijuana: The Dividing Line

Wed, 12 Feb 2003 - Valencia Source (FL)
Contact: rvancour@atlas.valenciacc.edu - Website: www.valenciasource.com
Author: Rebecca Van Cour

Students and faculty debate the legalization of narcotics

"Where do we draw the line?" asked Jack Chambless as he addressed students and faculty expressing his support for the legalization of marijuana.

We are allowed to have abortions, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and eat at Burger King all day, every day if we choose, yet we cannot use drugs in the privacy of our own homes.

Chambless spoke at the forum on legalizing drugs sponsored by the Students for Liberty on Jan. 30, advocating that people should be able to put whatever they want in their bodies as long as what they put in does not harm anyone else.

Christa Watson of Students for Liberty said the club is not for or against the legalization of drugs. "We all have separate opinions," said Watson, "But we do feel that the information should be out for people to make their own decisions."

The group selected the speakers for the forum, including their own advisor, Jack Chambless.

Deborah Orr of the Center for Drug Free Living said that marijuana cannot be legalized because though the economy would benefit financially from drug tax money and through money saved on convicted drug offenders, the cost to society greatly outweighs the benefits.

"This is not about morals," said Orr. "Once you take the lid off of cocaine, crack, ecstacy, etc., the economy will go up, but increased health and social costs will rise over the savings. Medically, when you legalize drugs, you increase diseases like HIV in society."

John Chase, a retired engineer and an adviser of the November Coalition helping families of drug victims, told students and faculty about two chronic pain patients who were on trial for possession and trafficking of percocet pills.

In Florida, possession of as few as 13 percocet pills can incur a sentence of 25 years in prison.

"If they are acquitted," Chase said, "the government will go after their doctors who prescribed the pills, and they will be even more limited in prescribing drugs for pain relief."

Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition supports legalization because her brother was charged for cocaine possession and put in prison for over twenty years.

While visiting her brother in federal prison, she noticed that most of the people in jail with him for drug possession were minorities and low-income workers. "The rich people who become addicted [to drugs] get checked into the Betty Ford Clinic," said Callahan. "The poor just go to jail."

Lisa Merlin, co-founder of the Lisa Merlin House rehabilitating young girls addicted to drugs and alcohol opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs. "There is a difference between use and abuse," she said.

When Merlin was 14 years old, she started drinking socially and said that eventually she upgraded to pills and other drugs turning to prostitution to pay for them. "I became totally powerless to these drugs and it ruined my life," said Merlin.

At 29, Merlin went through rehab, and now leads a drug-free life. She said that she is baffled by the support of legalization.

Merlin agreed that what you do behind closed doors is your business, but once you get behind the wheel, it becomes society's business.

"Nobody is out in the streets shooting each other over buying and selling alcohol because it is legal," said Chambless.

Following the speakers, the forum was opened to comments from students and faculty. Students involved had so many questions, that after the forum had officially ended, many stayed for half an hour later and continued the debate.

"If we can take the luster off the drugs, then the drugs will take care of themselves," said student Loyd Cadwell who felt that if drugs become legal, the fun and danger of these substances will lose popularity.

To reassure people who were worried that drugs being sold in an honest market would tempt more people to use them, Chambless used an example of members of the forum who chose not to smoke cigarettes.

"If a pack of cigarettes went down to five cents tomorrow, how many of you would start smoking?" Chambless felt his point was made when nobody in the room raised their hands.

Both sides agreed that with rights come responsibilities.

Chase, in answering a question from the floor about religious views on marijuana said "We have a natural right to life liberty and property. Young people today who like the legalization part don't like the responsibility part. We need to accept both."

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