Should Missouri's marijuana laws be eased, perhaps to the point of decriminalization?
Proponents of relaxing marijuana laws have been hosting forums around the state, with a goal of receiving serious consideration from state lawmakers when they convene in January.
Although the topic is not foreign to legislators, previous proposals have received a chilly reception. A decriminalization bill filed last year did not receive a hearing until the regular session's final day.
Proponents argue their case largely on the basis of economics and criminal justice.
We oppose marijuana decriminalization, primarily based on social and public safety concerns.
The economic argument is legalizing marijuana opens a market for sales and taxation. This contention is not without some merit.
The criminal justice claim opposes burdening our court system with cases involving casual marijuana use. As a practical matter, that burden has dwindled as enforcement focuses more on drug sales and drug-related violence.
Our objection is inviting greater impairment.
Marijuana proponents have been known to make a comparison with alcohol, a legal substance that, in sufficient quantities, causes impairment.
And people who use mood-altering substances in moderation complain they should not be compared with others who use those substances irresponsibly.
We understand that objection, but irresponsible use of mood-altering substances - legal or otherwise - is a major social problem.
Law enforcement officials estimate drugs and alcohol are linked to a majority - more than 80 percent - of criminal acts.
Casual marijuana users may contend they are not criminals; they are only seeking to get "mellow," just as their drinking beer seeks a "buzz."
Impaired judgment caused by casual use, however, can lead to abuse, which can lead to driving while impaired, inappropriate behavior and violent tendencies.
Problems associated with mood-altering substances - addiction as well as crime - already drain civic resources and afflict society.
We see no social benefit to upping the ante by decriminalizing marijuana laws.