State lawmakers recently advanced a reckless bill that would make possession of 15 grams of marijuana, or approximately 30 joints, punishable by fines similar to those for driving up to 20 mph over the speed limit. As someone who has long advocated for treatment rather than jail for nonviolent drug offenders, I am concerned this fine is akin to legalizing marijuana.

A “slap on the wrist” approach will only further reinforce the misconception that marijuana is not a gateway to drug addiction. At Sunrise Detox, a large number of patients have admitted marijuana was a gateway drug that helped encourage them to experiment with stronger recreational drugs. Those who think a half-ounce of marijuana is a nominal amount are kidding themselves.

Some members of our state Legislature are being hypocritical: Last year, they advocated for a universal ban of synthetic marijuana because of its deadly effects and gateway drug tendencies. Now, they are telling us marijuana should be decriminalized. Which is it?

This legislation calls for a maximum $500 fine for third and subsequent offenses. The question is, when does treatment enter the picture? A structured penalty system, including early treatment, must be established before considering this law.

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