Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Dispatch on whether marijuana is a gateway drug:
For almost 50 years, there's been a debate about whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug.
More and more, public opinion suggests it isn't, even as studies continue to produce mixed results on the question.
The question has emerged as more and more states legalize marijuana for either medical use (33 states) or recreational use (eight, plus the District of Columbia).
During the recent election cycle, candidates have been asked their views on the subject. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden made news most recently with his assertion that marijuana does lead to use of other, more dangerous drugs such as cocaine or opioids. Likewise, Andy Taggart, who ran for Mississippi Attorney General, also stated his view that marijuana is a gateway drug. Taggart's views were influenced by the suicide of his son in 2012, who had struggled with addiction.
Closer to home, Eddie Hawkins won the Lowndes County Sheriff's race in November. He has gone on record as saying marijuana is a gateway drug based on his 20 years of services as Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent.
More and more, however, that view is trending toward outlier status.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 1 in 3 people in the U.S. oppose legalized marijuana compared to 1 in 2 just nine years ago. What's more, of those who do approve of legalization, 91% say it should be approved by both medical and recreational use while just 32% say it should be legal for medical use only.
Just 8% say marijuana should remain illegal.
Your view also may be influenced by your age, the research shows.
Biden, Taggart and Hawkins are all over age 50. At 77, Biden's views are consistent with his Silent Generation peers for whom approval of legal marijuana is lowest at 33%. Taggart and Hawkins are among the 44% of Baby Boomers opposed to legal marijuana.
Meanwhile, Millennials support legalized marijuana by a 4-to-1 margin, the Pew Research shows.
The shifting attitudes toward legalized marijuana shows less faith in the gateway drug argument that was long the best argument against legalization.
But those are perceptions. What does the data say?
There are arguments made on both sides, based on data compiled from states where legal marijuana exists.
In Colorado where recreational marijuana was approved in 2013, DUI arrests are down 15% between 2012 and 2017, based on the Colorado Department of Public Safety's study. Marijuana use increased only marginally over that period (0.3%) and usage among Colorado high school students was actually lower in 2017 than the national average (by 0.4%).
On the other hand, organized crime -- primarily illegal growing and sales of marijuana -- quadrupled over that five-year period.
Violent crimes and property crimes were not significantly impacted, according to the study.
It does not seem likely, based on what we know, that marijuana is the menace it was once perceived to be.
Yet the question remains: Is marijuana a gateway drug?
If you believe it is, you'll point to the evidence that shows that the majority of those who are cocaine or heroin users say their first exposure to illegal drugs was marijuana.
If you believe it isn't, you'll point to the Pew research data that shows 95% of marijuana users do not go on to use harder drugs.
So, it really may be a matter of perception.
And if that's the case, it seems almost certain that marijuana will someday be legalized throughout the country.
The (Tupelo) Daily Journal on secure voting systems:
Election security requires that voters trust the results. But many electronic voting systems are clearly insecure, and untrustworthy. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, our country faces a voting security crisis. Here’s why – paperless voting machines are just waiting to be hacked in 2020.
Amid ongoing anxiety about election hacking and foreign interference, Lee County continues to use what many experts deem the most secure voting system: the paper ballot, as reported by Daily Journal staff writer Caleb Bedillion.
Only a dozen or so counties still use paper ballots, while the rest of the state’s 82 counties use fully electronic voting systems. Lee County Circuit Clerk Camille Roberts Dulaney says hand-marked ballots build voter confidence and ensure the integrity of the election.
While electronic voting is much more convenient in today’s tech-savvy world, the consensus of cyber security experts encourage the use of paper-based voting machines. Electronic machines leave no paper trail and there’s no way to reliably audit the results should an error occur.
The system in Lee County starts on paper, but contains an electronic component. Once the paper ballot is marked, a voter inserts the ballot into a machine that scans the ballot and electronically records the candidate selections made on that ballot, a faster process than paper balloting and counting. This system also ensures paper ballots remain on hand to be rescanned or consulted if any issues arise.
In the months remaining before the next election, it is important that state and local election officials ensure adequate preparations are in place to quickly and effectively recover if prevention efforts are unsuccessful.
While speeding up the process, glitches will occur, as noted in Bedillion’s story, but the paper trail ensures that any questions about the accuracy of the count could be answered by a second look at the paper ballots.
It’s also important to note that Mississippi does not require post-election audits before certification of election results. However, there is nothing stopping counties from conducting such audits. The audits would not prevent successful attacks against electronic voting machines, but would provide states with the opportunity to catch such attacks and then use the paper ballots to correct totals to reflect voters’ choices.
Faster, electronic methods have their advantages and are seen as progress. But having a reliable paper trail isn’t a step backward, and can provide needed voter confidence.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on drug courts:
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph is on a campaign to secure more funding for the state’s drug courts, which he says have shown outstanding success in addressing one of society’s most vexing problems.
Randolph talks about the state’s history of trying to fight the drug problem, saying in the early years it was easy for prosecutors to get a drug conviction and send the person to the state Penitentiary at Parchman. As that didn’t work, the state doubled down and started sending people guilty of drug-based offenses to prison for twice as long. But that began costing too much and wasn’t redeeming the people addicted to drugs, Randolph says.
So some 20 years ago, Keith Starrett, then a circuit judge in the McComb area and now a federal judge, started the state’s first drug court. That system keeps offenders whose crimes are fueled by their addiction out of jail, while using a system of rewards and punishments to keep them clean. Those enrolled in drug courts must stay sober for three to five years and attend weekly meetings with a judge. Usually they pay a participant fee of about $75 per month, which gives them some skin in the game.
Randolph calls it the most effective program of his lifetime. He says 5,475 people have graduated from the state’s drug courts over the past five years, saving taxpayers $457 million that it would have cost to house those people in prison. The graduation rate of drug court is about 50%, which Randolph says compares favorably to the success rate of private drug treatment programs.
Everyone should agree by this point that the “lock ’em up” approach to the drug war hasn’t worked well. Drug courts have proven more effective and aren’t as expensive.
Randolph says for $2 million more, the state could start 19 pilot programs that would include three new drug courts plus extend the same idea to help treat other societal problems, including mental health and veterans issues.
Better to invest $2 million in drug courts now and actually change some lives than pay far more than that in the long run keeping addicts behind bars for the crimes they often end up committing.