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Cuomo’s plan is a step in the right direction

In a recent Another Voice, Dr. Robert Whitney of the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse opposed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to decriminalize relatively small amounts of marijuana in public view to reduce discriminatory drug arrests targeting minorities. Whitney described marijuana as a “dangerous substance” prone to abuse, neglecting to mention that it’s less dangerous than legal alcohol and tobacco and that most adults can enjoy it responsibly.

I don’t encourage drug use, but like a majority of Americans, I recognize that it’s time to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol and tobacco products. We should do this to make our laws on recreational drugs fair and consistent and to end government over-reach into our private lives – thus respecting our constitutionally guaranteed rights of personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But marijuana prohibition is part of a much larger problem – the “war on drugs.” Annually, we spend billions of tax dollars on this war, yet illegal drugs are still readily available and drug violence is rampant. Failed and costly drug policies have also produced the mass incarceration of citizens rightly called “The New Jim Crow.”

The United States now imprisons 2.4 million people, more people than any other country and a 600 percent increase since the war on drugs began 40 years ago. We have 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. Our imprisonment rate is six times that of communist China. People of color represent 60 percent of those imprisoned in the United States and 65 percent of those incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses. Among African-American men in their 20s, one in nine is locked up.

Our ineffective, harmful and profoundly unjust drug laws must be completely overhauled. Cuomo’s modest proposal is a step in the right direction.

Walter Simpson

Amherst