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One national media view on pot decriminalization, repercussions

Although today's post tangentially touches upon the recent fatal police shooting and connected aftermath in Charlotte that is currently commanding widespread national attention, it is more acutely focused on a peripheral subject that has progressively garnered increased attention across the country in recent years.

That is this: the decriminalization of marijuana, that is, the liberalized view of criminal enforcers that downplays an official hard-line response in many instances where pot possession is suspected.

As noted in a recent Washington Post article, decriminalization is intended to reduce police/citizen interaction and thus drive down the potential for conflict. Additionally, its many adherents note its salutary effect on reducing court clogging brought about by minor transgressions, its role in enabling individuals to avoid criminal records, and its freeing up of police resources to focus upon truly serious criminal matters.

The Post references the recent shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, along with a number of other instances across the country in which adverse outcomes ensued following police-citizen encounters.

In Scott's case, the paper points out, as well as all the others noted from different states, relevant law provides for the decriminalization of marijuana, which essentially puts low-level pot possession matters on par with a parking ticket. The Post notes details indicating that Charlotte police officers suspected Scott was using marijuana when they observed him nearby while working on another case, but that they "did not consider [his] drug activity to be a priority at the time." What their incident summary states ultimately led to an encounter was a "combination of illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession."

A central point sought to be made by the Post is that, notwithstanding decriminalization laws on the books (as well as strong evidence confirming that treating small amounts of pot possession as noncriminal offenses yields fewer arrests and related social costs), tragic pot-related outcomes still occur. Officers still have discretion to encounter individuals.

"Decriminalization doesn't eliminate violent encounters," notes the Post, which is the reason why myriad reformers insist that marijuana legalization -- as already exists in some states -- needs to be broadly in effect across the country to materially lessen the potential for fatal outcomes.

Views on legalization diverge widely, of course, with the debate on the matter being both lively and strident.

Fatal outcomes in pot-related cases will assuredly keep the discussion ongoing and under a relentless spotlight.

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