By Matt Kelly, Staff Writer
Some of you may remember the particularly tragic murder case of Cassandra Killpack from 2002. Cassandra lived in Provo with her foster parents, one of whom was Jennete Killpack who was eventually convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison for killing four-year-old Cassandra by means of water intoxication. Cassandra was forced by her foster mother to drink water until her developing brain swelled and the electrolyte levels in her body dropped to fatal levels.
What you may not remember was the resulting public outcry against water, followed by the passing of the Cassandra Act by the Utah state legislature limiting the amount of water one Utah resident can legally own to one liter. You don’t remember these things because thank goodness they never happened.
We don’t punish people for owning water simply because it has the potential to be misused. A pencil is an innocuous writing utensil for the average person, but in the hands of a creative convict it becomes a deadly weapon. Yet somehow we survived another year in a world where the pencil market remained unregulated.
Another news story you didn’t hear was the rise in marijuana overdoses last year. The number of people who overdosed from marijuana worldwide in 2012 was the exact same as the number who overdosed in 2013, zero. The marijuana overdose rates are pretty easy to keep track of since Richard Nixon declared them to be public enemy number one in 1971.
It has been zero every year since the war on drugs started. But credit for this encouraging statistic cannot rightfully be claimed by the war on drugs, because zero was also the number of people who overdosed in 1970. And 1969. In fact there is no confirmed overdose attributable solely to marijuana in the roughly 10,000 year recorded history of its use.
The federal mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of one gram of marijuana is 5 years. The average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in fiscal year 2011 was $28,893.40. When you combine this with the fact that the United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country in the history of the world, you are faced with a staggeringly expensive public policy.
Concerns are often raised that decriminalizing marijuana would be seen as the government endorsing its use. This is no truer than the government encouraging alcohol consumption by ending its prohibition in 1933. In America, your right to completely abstain from drinking alcohol for your entire life is equal to your right to die an unrepentant and raging alcoholic. Neither of those life choices is any of the government’s business.
This is not a case for our right to own alcohol, which is indisputably responsible for thousands of deaths every year. This is making a case to decriminalize a substance arguably safer than water.