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California going to pot: Crime & non-punishment
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San Joaquin County is a trendsetter when it comes to crime and non-punishment in California.

The county jail was severely overcrowded long before the state lost the judicial lottery and was ordered by the nation’s highest court to release 33,000 prisoners by 2013.

Catch and release replaced catch and incarcerate years ago for a repertoire of serious misdemeanors as well as low-level felonies in San Joaquin County. In such cases unless you had previously ignored an order from a judge you were just cited when caught and then sent on your merry way.

California is quickly headed in that same direction.

Blame it on what you like - the economy, good policing, the U.S. Supreme Court, or non-sense sentencing laws - but there is no more room in the pen.

It means many crimes considered serious are going to have less severe consequences for those found guilty. Freely translated, those involved in property crimes for the most part are going to receive either a get out of jail free card or avoid jail altogether.

There is a sound argument that the Three Strikes law coupled with more effective policing has helped reduce serious crime rates.

Many who embrace Three Strikes view drug crimes as precursor to bigger and “badder” things.

If you doubt that, take a good look at what drugs have done to inner cities and impoverished neighborhoods. It isn’t pretty.

Pot is viewed as a gateway drug not for all but for enough that it creates a serious drug problem,

It is why there is a resistance to weakening criminal sanctions against drugs such as “recreational” marijuana.

It is painfully obvious that punishing such users isn’t doing much good.

Yet you don’t want to give those who use and abuse drugs and commit a horrendous list of other crimes a free pass. In fact, you might actually want to stiffen penalties for those who commit crimes against persons and even property while under the influence whether it is drugs or alcohol.

That is why the time has come to ease the legal restrictions against marijuana use while eliminating diminished capacity defenses for anyone who commits a crime while under the influence of any substance whether it is drugs or alcohol.

Classify marijuana the same as alcohol. Give employers the absolute right to dismiss someone who is under the influence or test at a predetermined threshold. Tax it accordingly and use some of the extra revenue to alleviate the fears of those who believe taking it easy on marijuana users will increase problems.

Spend the money to quadruple the overtime funding of police checkpoints. Anyone under the influence - drugs or alcohol - will get their vehicles impounded automatically not for 30 days but 60 days. And on the second such infraction they get their vehicle taken away forever.

The federal government wouldn’t like it. But here’s the rub. A federal decision by the high court is ultimately going to render marijuana being illegal in California a moot point since even if the laws are enforced there will be no consequences.

It goes against my grain personally to legalize marijuana.

It is abundantly clear, though, that the course we are on ultimately will seriously undermine the viability of the concept of crime and punishment.

It’s time to back off on marijuana punishment and treat users like alcohol consumers before California’s entire criminal justice system goes to pot.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.