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Could Oklahoma cash in on alternative sentencing and decriminalization of marijuana?


Scott Cooper May 13th, 2010

For 30 years of his nearly half-century medical practice, Dr. Charles Shaw (right) has seen the worst of the worst with drug addiction. A 1961 doctoral graduate from the University of Oklahoma, Shaw h...

DrCharlesShaw-StAnthonySouthMH_7-06x10-55cm
01 to 2005.

But even with its success, Prater has concerns. The program is set up to help those who are facing their third or fourth drug offense and looking at possible prison sentences. He would like to see the state mandate drug treatment after the first offense.

"If the state would mandate drug treatment for first- and second-time drug offenders, we don't get to a point where we have a 30-year addict on his fourth or fifth felony offense where he is going to prison if he doesn't go to drug court," he said. "He will have an extremely difficult time coming off the substances his body is used to having in it."

Weaver said he supports drug courts, but believes a line needs to be drawn.

"If we put everyone in prison who had a drug issue, this state would go broke," he said. "But my major point is, how do we develop personal responsibility within those people? If they don't change, and time and time again they keep getting onto the road high, they keep stealing, somebody is going to get hurt."

Prater fears putting more pot users in prison may happen if the state follows through with mental health department cuts.

"Not only are you going to have more people going to prison, but you are going to have people go to prison who will get back out and re-offend," Prater said. "People in drug court get their children back, many are gainfully employed, they are no longer having substance abuse."

Drug moneyIt's not just that Oklahoma has an abundance of marijuana growers and users, but the money associated with the drug could wipe out any budget deficit.

According to law enforcement officials and reports, the street value of pot seized in Oklahoma ranges from $500 to $4,000 a pound. Homegrown weed has more value because it tends to have a higher drug quality than marijuana shipped in from Mexico.

DrugScience.org estimated Oklahoma's marijuana production value averaged more than $73 million per year between 2003 and 2005.

The value of pot, either as a recreational, medicinal or revenue-enhancing product, is driving the state of California a step closer to total legalization. Californians will vote on the matter this November. Advocates argue taxing the sale of marijuana could help the state dig out of its budget deficit, which exceeds $20 billion.

Weaver said if Oklahoma ever made a move to legalize marijuana for such a purpose, it would be making a pact with Satan.

"We could say we need money so, as I put it, sell your soul to the devil," he said. "We will go ahead and start taxing all these drugs. But what are the long-term public safety consequences?"

Polls show the initiative has support to win the vote in California. And in Oklahoma, there is support to at least consider the idea. A survey conducted by SoonerPoll.com found that 54.4 percent of Oklahomans support voting on the issue of physician-prescribed medical marijuana use. SoonerPoll.com's vice president Keith Gaddie said that should not be interpreted as an endorsement.

"There are two motives to put it on the ballot," Gaddie said. "One is to put it on to approve it; the other is to settle the issue by voting it down.

"You look at medicinal marijuana like a prohibition vote. It's not that you have the votes to overturn prohibition; it's that the public is willing to consider the issue and willing to express their opinion on it."

Gone to potWhile officials agree on drug courts, medical marijuana is another story. There are several studies that support both sides of the argument.

"We've got all these drugs out there to help people get through certain issues," Weaver said. "We've got pharmaceutical companies that spend billions of dollars on research to find the next great drug. Marijuana, I'm not convinced there's much research that goes in that."

Shaw admits marijuana is a powerful drug that could do more damage than tobacco, citing research that concludes four marijuana joints equal a pack of cigarettes. But he still differs from Weaver's position.

"There are 400 different drugs in marijuana," Shaw said. "They have been trying for years to isolate these. They feel like there are some worthwhile drugs in it, if they can just get them out.

"It has definitely proven there is medication to it. It helps with nausea and vomiting, especially for people getting treatment for cancer. It helps stimulate appetite for people with AIDS. Those are some of the medicinal purposes."

All sides agree pot is a gateway drug that can lead to usage of more powerful drugs, like cocaine and meth. And even the doctor knows of marijuana's harmful affects, such as loss of perception and motor function.

But Shaw believes if marijuana became legal, the gateway would close because users would no longer be at the mercy of drug dealers who can provide access to more powerful stimulants.

"You have to go back and compare it to alcohol. When they said
 
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