More Arizonans die from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses combined. In 2013, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) reported 1000 deaths from prescription drug overdose, 100 deaths from heroin overdose, and 0 deaths from marijuana. So, why is law enforcement wasting time and money busting and jailing people for marijuana? 

I believe that law enforcement and prevention efforts should focus on the drugs that actually kill and addict people– like prescription opiates, meth, heroin, cocaine, and designer drugs.

Arizona has one of the worst drug overdose and prescription drug abuse records in the US. Since 2010, drug overdose deaths–from legal and illegal drugs– have surpassed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in Arizona. In fact, a national report said that Arizona is among nine states with the fewest “promising strategies” to combat prescription drug abuse.

The opiate epidemic has made it to the national political stage with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the US Senate now talking about it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strategies to help doctors recognize patients who may be abusing drugs, and there is continuing medical education available for doctors. We need to beef up prevention and treatment efforts in Arizona– in addition to enforcement.

Furthermore, in October 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that states with medical cannabis had a 25% lower overdose mortality rate from opioid prescription drug overdose when compared with states where marijuana is illegal. So– legalization of marijuana could be part of our strategy to combat prescription painkiller overdose deaths.

I believe that Arizona should legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana. Arresting and jailing people for using marijuana does nothing more than feed the private prison industry, add to our mass incarceration problem, waste taxpayer money on prisons, and ruin people’s lives. Also, it has been shown that incarceration for marijuana is often discriminatory. Blacks and whites illegally use marijuana at about the same rate, yet black people are far more likely to be jailed for the same crime.

Marijuana legalization is a win-win-win situation because it would not only raise money in sales taxes and create an economic boon for our state, but it also would save law enforcement and incarceration funds and reduce drug-related border crime. This savings could be applied to our real drug problem– opiates.

It’s time to stop jailing citizens for using a plant that never killed anyone. We should focus prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts on the drugs that are addicting and killing our citizens.