Opinion and Forefront

KRULL: The war against marijuana isn't working

December 15, 2012

John KrullIndiana seems to be experiencing a fresh outbreak of reefer madness.

And it may be just the time for it.

The most recent symptom came when the head of the Indiana State Police testified before members of the State Budget Committee.

State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell told the panel he would legalize marijuana in Indiana if the decision were left up to him.

“My thought is, toward the zenith of my career, it is here. It is going to stay,” Whitesell said about pot. “That’s an awful lot of victimization that goes with it.”

“If it were up to me, I do believe I would legalize it and tax it—particularly in sight of the fact that several other states have now to that part of their legal system, as well.”

Whitesell’s pronouncement—which his press officer was quick to call philosophic musing, not a call to action—came on the heels of voters in Colorado and Washington opting to legalize recreational use of marijuana. That prompted several Indiana lawmakers to say they would consider making Indiana’s marijuana laws less restrictive.

Doubtless, there are going to be people who will spin Whitesell’s statement and the legislators’ willingness to consider alternatives as a softening on crime.

That’s not how I see it.

Through what has turned out to be a decades-long war on drugs, we too often have taken extended furloughs from reality. And the reality is that much of what we have been doing just has not worked.

We now have more of our people behind bars than any other industrialized nation in the world—including many totalitarian or police states. Every person we imprison costs us between $40,000 and $80,000 per year. If the person we lock up was employed when he or she was caught with marijuana, we also lose that person’s productivity and taxes paid—so the actual cost of incarceration may be much higher.

Just as troubling, our preoccupation with banning marijuana has warped our legal system.

There are many places in this country where a person will serve more time behind bars for getting caught with a pound of marijuana than he or she will for killing another human.

Worse, we have established a huge black market economy that creates a profit motive for many young people to terrorize and kill one another.

To sum things up, we as a nation have crafted a marijuana policy that depletes our treasury, robs us of the contributions of many of our citizens, and has turned parts of our country into the equivalent of free-fire zones.

No wonder Whitesell and some lawmakers think it might be wise to go another way.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have a solution to America’s drug problem. I also will admit that drug consumption in this country is a huge problem—that drugs destroy lives every day, every hour, every minute.

But the first step toward solving a problem involves acknowledging it—and acknowledging failure.

That’s what the state police superintendent and several Indiana lawmakers are doing. They’re not saying they approve of marijuana consumption.

What they are saying is that the way we have been using the law to discourage people from using marijuana just has not worked. The cure has been at least as bad as the disease.

Whitesell and the lawmakers are right.

Our approach to marijuana hasn’t worked.

When sane people encounter failure on a scale this spectacular, they search for another solution.

That is what we Hoosiers should do.•

• Krull directs Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, hosts the weekly news program “No Limits” on WFYI-FM 90.1, and is executive director of The Statehouse File. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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