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Legal doobies long way off

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

HARRISBURG

A former hot dog vendor, turned city activist and eventually Philadelphia state senator, in 1983 proposed legislation to legalize marijuana. Milton Street's idea was to levy a tax on pot to boost revenue for the state.

Street didn't last long in the Senate (one term) and was convicted in 2008 of three counts of tax evasion.

It's been 30 years since Street proposed legalizing grass, and not much has happened in Pennsylvania, despite changes in other parts of the United States.

Colorado and Washington state legalized marijuana in November. The smoke is so thick in California that it might as well be legal there.

About 18 states and the District of Columbia have approved legalization of marijuana for medical use. Last session, state Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, approved using small amounts of pot for medical reasons (pain relief).

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, has a medical use bill, as well as a bill to legalize marijuana overall. He argues the “War on Drugs” has been an abysmal failure at enormous expense on human lives and government resources.

“For the past 75 years, our marijuana policy has been foolish, ill-conceived, costly and destructive, and it must end,” Leach said last week in seeking co-sponsors. “We have been waging a ‘War on Drugs' that includes treating the use of marijuana as a matter for the criminal justice system. We have spent billions of dollars investigating, prosecuting, incarcerating and monitoring millions of our fellow citizens who have hurt no one, damaged no property, breached no peace. Their only ‘crime' was smoking a plant which made them feel a bit giddy.”

Leach might be right about occasional users. But it's not always that simple. There are billions of dollars involved in the marijuana trade.

Noted a 1996 Washington Post story:

“Eric Lorenzo Dean was clutching a bag of marijuana and another lay a few feet away when he died June 5, shot in the back of the head on a Southwest Washington street. On Aug. 22, a Leesburg man was fatally shot just a block away. Police said he was there to buy marijuana.”

If marijuana is legalized, you take away the illegal incentives that drive crime like this. But it's not always as simple as marijuana advocates make it out to be.

I asked gubernatorial press secretary Kevin Harley last week if, in the extremely unlikely event the Pennsylvania Legislature would send him a bill legalizing marijuana, would Gov. Tom Corbett consider signing it. Harley fired back a short one-word answer: “No.”

Corbett is a former state attorney general, former U.S. attorney and former county assistant district attorney who has seen the ugly underbelly of the drug trade.

Pennsylvania is a state that does not like change. People who are born here tend to die here.

It could be another 30 years before marijuana is legalized in Pennsylvania. Even legalizing marijuana for medical use is years away. It's the kind of vote they hate in the Legislature.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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