Senate Bill 197, a bill that would decriminalize marijuana, has been proposed in the state Legislature. The introduction of this legislation coincides with the annual Hash Bash, which will take place April 5. This is an opportunity for University students to support the Senate bill and to support liberalized marijuana policies.
Senate Bill 197 does not attempt to legalize marijuana, but it would drastically decrease the legal repercussions of using the drug. Decriminalizing marijuana would benefit Michigan’s tight budget situation, as it is estimated that the state spends between $7.5 and $10 billion every year to arrest and prosecute marijuana law offenders. Law enforcement officials arrested over 700,000 people in 2001 for marijuana violations – far more than were arrested for all violent crimes combined. The billions of dollars spent on marijuana-related arrests could be allocated to areas in the state that are underfunded, including education.
The bill states that, instead of arresting and prosecuting individuals who violate marijuana laws, law enforcement officials could only exercise a maximum penalty of a ticket and a small fine. This decriminalization would be a great improvement over the current system and would set an example for other states with precarious budget situations to follow.
Unfortunately, this bill will not seriously be considered by the state Legislature unless the constituents of representatives show considerable support for the plan. Hash Bash presents an opportunity for the University community to offer support for the bill and to promote greater changes to state and national drug policy.
Although in the past Hash Bash has been criticized for lacking a political agenda, hopefully this year will bring a renewed sense of purpose to the campus tradition. The anti-drug advertisements that the federal government has aired on television have created a large response to the misrepresentation of the effects of marijuana. The ads present marijuana as the sole cause of blurred judgment, ignoring that legal substances, like alcohol, may be more likely to have the same results. Ads suggesting that marijuana supports terrorism or causes pregnancy are absurd, and Hash Bash this year will bring the public together against these false implications. The combination of this war on drugs with the Justice Department’s disregard for civil liberties as part of the anti-terror efforts has resulted in a reduction of individual privacy rights.
While the state Senate is paying at least minimal attention to the issue of marijuana decriminalization, University students should come out and support Hash Bash in order to show their support for 197. 197 needs the encouragement of constituents in order to pass through the state Legislature, and students can do their share by advocating for drug law reform in the Diag.