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Pot perhaps okay?

America may be coming around, and signs are starting to show in Massachusetts.

The towns of Ispwich, Framingham, Winchester and Harwich have reduced penalties for marijuana possession to consequences similar to those for a traffic violation. This decriminalization mirrors legislation being passed or considered in communities and states nationwide as lawmakers wake up to a question too many people have traditionally answered with aggressive condemnation: what is wrong with the big bad weed?

Why should the penal system be overloaded with nonviolent drug offenders, when more-dangerous cigarettes are audaciously lit, inhaled and enjoyed in public places everywhere? Why should a distinction be made between marijuana and tobacco? Perhaps since tobacco had early on been more profitable, as such profit makes a product socially acceptable or appealing. As long as an industry pays its taxes to the government, it can do no wrong in the eyes of lawmakers.

Is marijuana a gateway drug? Perhaps it may act as one, since its criminal status exposes users to an already illegal environment where other controlled substances are abused. Is marijuana highly addictive? The most commonly cited study, involving spider monkeys trained to self-administer doses of various drugs, has been determined by prominent scientists to be decidedly invalid. Finally, is marijuana a serious enough crime to justify minimum mandatory sentencing, prison overcrowding and condemnation of millions who have smoked up with no malicious intent? All this rhetoric can be argued over and over, with no side claiming a logical conclusion of correctness.

However, the indisputable fact remains that there is no death due to marijuana overdose on record, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. No marijuana opponent can claim that there have been no deaths related to tobacco or alcohol use and abuse.

Four towns in Massachusetts think the reasons for harshly punishing marijuana users are not good enough. Perhaps their decriminalization, stopping at fines instead of going all the way to legality, was also not good enough. But at least these communities are joining in the progression toward a society where harmless practices are accepted.

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