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Catarina Riggi

April 21, 2015

Dear fellow Dukes,


Through my time at James Madison University I have been afforded the opportunity to
learn and grow both academically and personally. I have been privileged with the ability to wake
up every morning and stare into the hazy blue Shenandoah Mountains on my way to class, or
take an afternoon stroll downtown amongst faculty and friends. My education at JMU began
with the institutions summer of 1787 orientation. It was there I was encouraged to be the
change I wish to see in the world, just as our founding fathers created the change they wished to
see in the world through the ratification of the United States Constitution.
For quite some time I thought, What is there to change about a beautiful community like
ours? I see now how blind and naive I was to the injustices occurring on our own campus, and
around the country, due to the unfair laws imposed by the state of Virginia and our national
legislatures. To put it simply, the criminalization of marijuana is ruining lives. Marijuana
prohibition has been an utter failure. I implore you, as participants in and supporters of higher
education, to examine the problem and consider the facts surrounding our countrys
condemnation of marijuana use, then support legislative reform.
Between 2011 and 2013 there were 176 drug related arrests on JMUs campus with an
additional 363 arrests occurring off campus. The majority of these arrests were related to the
possession or use of marijuana. In Virginia, possession of a few grams of marijuana intended for
personal use can carry a penalty of up to 30 days in prison accompanied by a $500 fine for the
first offense. For offenses the state defines as more severe, such as distribution of large
quantities of marijuana, convictions can carry life sentences without parole and fines up to one
million dollars. Serving jail time for a non-violent act that is not considered a criminal offense in

Catarina Riggi
April 21, 2015

the minds of most of the general public seems absurd; especially after considering the damage
possessing a criminal record does to the offender.
A conviction on an individuals record will restrict their access to jobs, insurance, loans,
and travel long after they have finished serving time. For college students, a conviction means
potentially throwing away the hard work we have done to make ourselves respectable and
appealing to professors and future employers. For professors or staff, a marijuana conviction
could mean the end of a career and the inability to support oneself. Unfortunately, the
consequences of getting caught with marijuana are felt by more than just the offender. The
Harrisonburg jail is currently operating at 204% of its capacity. Because of this, inmates
experience over crowed living conditions, less accesses to treatment programs, and increased
violence from other inmates. The overcrowding also puts guards and other jail staff in more
dangerous situations and prevents them from doing their jobs effectively.
The devastating effects created by harsh marijuana laws are not unique to the JMU or
Harrisonburg community. According to The Sentencing Project, there are 2.2 million Americans
currently incarcerated: a reflection of the 790% increase in the federal prison population since
1980. Over a quarter of these inmates are drug offenders, most of who were convicted of
marijuana related crimes. Considering it costs an average of $31,000 a year to keep an inmate
incarcerated, the money required to enforce unnecessary drug laws is extremely high. All
together, the War on Drugs has cost the United States over one trillion dollars. This is money
that could be better spent improving education, health care, and the status of the national debt.
For many years, marijuana has been openly demonized by the government, public school
systems, and many other presumably reputable institutions. The drug has been pegged for

Catarina Riggi
April 21, 2015

inducing psychosis, rotting the brain, and creating unmotivated or incapable people. The truth is,
marijuana is much safer than many substances that are perfectly legal in the United States
including alcohol and tobacco. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Alcohol has
accounted for approximately 88,000 deaths per year between 2006 and 2010. Tobacco
prematurely kills more than 443,000 people every year. That is more deaths in a single year than
all illegal drugs combine have caused in the last century. You may now be asking how many
total deaths has marijuana caused? According to the CDC, none, nobody has ever died from
using marijuana. So, why is it that any college kid can walk into most bars, restaurants, and gas
stations to purchase alcohol and tobacco but can potentially be locked in a cage for possessing a
much safer plant?
Not only is marijuana safer than many of the substances popularly used by Americans, it
has beneficial medical and spiritual value. Medical marijuana can be used to treat ailments such
as chronic pain associated with cancer and AIDS as well as eating disorders, personality
disorders, post-traumatic stress, nausea, and much more. Marijuana is also a powerful tool for
encouraging creativity and introspective thoughts. A 2002 study conducted by the Department of
Psychology at Carleton University administered an IQ test to 70 people between the ages of 9
and 12. The researchers then administered another IQ to the same group of people once they
were between the ages of 17 and 20. The study found people who currently or formerly used
marijuana moderately had significantly higher gains in IQ scores than people who had never
smoked marijuana. While it is understood correlation is not the same as causation, this study
does, at the very least, provide evidence that marijuana does not create lasting brain impairments.
Instead, it provides evidence that responsible marijuana use may help improve intelligence.

Catarina Riggi
April 21, 2015

In order to create necessary changes to attitudes and policy regarding marijuana it is


important to encourage and support legislative reform. There are currently several reform
options on the table at both state and national levels that could make large improvements for
over-crowded prisons and marijuana users. Among them is the Compassionate Access, Research
Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS) proposed by Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker,
and Kirsten Gillibrand. This Act would make production, distribution, and possession of
marijuana that is legal in any given state legal at the federal level as well. It would also remove
barriers to scientific research on the drug, which are currently restricted because of marijuanas
schedule I drug assignment. CARERS would lift the gag order currently placed on physicians of
the Veterans Administration preventing them from discussing or recommending marijuana as a
treatment options for their patients. Finally, the CARERS Act would allow interstate transport of
marijuana products and allow ensure legitimate marijuana related businesses were taxed fairly
and had access the United States banking system, which it currently does not. The CARERS Act
is accompanied by companion bill in the House of Representatives H.R. 1538.
By contacting your states Senators and House Representatives you can encourage much
needed reform. It is important to stay up to date and speak out on legislative action regarding
marijuana to help both members our own JMU community and members of our Nation who are
suffering unreasonable consequences to reasonable actions.
Thanks for helping to make a difference,

Catarina Riggi
JMU Class of 2015

Catarina Riggi
April 21, 2015

References
Deaths and Mortality. (2015, February 6). Retrieved April 18, 2015, from
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm
Drug Laws. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 9, 2015, from https://www.aclu.org/issues/massincarceration/war-drugs/drug-laws
Illnesses Treatable With Medical Cannabis. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 8, 2015, from
http://www.unitedpatientsgroup.com/resources/illnesses-treatable
James Madison University Clery Annual Crime Statistics. (2014, January 1). Retrieved April 8,
2015, from http://www.jmu.edu/pubsafety/crimestatistics.shtml
Marijuana Policy Project. (2014, January 1). Retrieved April 10, 2015, from
http://www.mpp.org/our-work/federal-policy/
Sledge, M. (2014, April 8). The Drug War And Mass Incarceration By The Numbers. Retrieved
April 10, 2015.