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The Marijuana Conversation

Our newspapers have replaced the barbershops and 10-cent stores of yore as places where citizens meet up to air their opinions about controversial issues. And the editorial pages have been hot with the topic of marijuana legalization. The latest example, in the Daily Republic, started with an article by Mitchell School Superintendent Joe Graves.

In his opinion piece, Dr. Graves laid out his objections to marijuana legalization, centered around his job and experience with young people. He sees marijuana legalization as an unwarranted stamp of approval for an untested substance and an erosion of societal values.

Soon enough, the opinions appear in the opposite direction. One from Robert Sharpe, a policy analyst with Common Sense for Drug Policy in Washington, D.C., claims that keeping marijuana illegal doesn’t decrease use, comparing US rates to those in more permissive European countries. A second opinion piece, a week later, from Clifford Schaffer, Oakhurst, CA., gives several sources showing that prohibition may be doing more harm than good.

It seems the out of state experts are ready and willing to dip into the conversation here in South Dakota and make their case. And it’s great to see the conversation in progress, both the pro and the anti side of the issue.

What may be missing in the conversation is any middle ground. The arguments are framed as either being for the status quo (often called prohibition) and legalization (at least for adult use). But shouldn’t other solutions be offered up as well?

For example, what about simply lowering the penalties so they are commensurate with whatever perceived harm marijuana causes? This would allow many of the injustices the pro side rail about to be addressed while retaining some of the caution from the anti side. We also hear little about treatment for marijuana addiction in parallel with decriminalization. Regardless of what is said about the addictive nature of marijuana (usually as compared to alcohol or tobacco), shouldn’t we be thinking about those who find it hard to stop using for whatever reason? There are those in addiction programs who have a hard time kicking marijuana. Any change ought not to ignore this pragmatic side.

The conversations will continue, and they should. Let’s hope that making a sound-bite gives way to finding compromise and a middle ground.

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