In opposing marijuana legalization, as they did on Feb. 4, the Catholic Bishops of Illinois are abandoning the best of their tradition when it comes to social justice. They think that recent sentencing reforms have taken discriminatory enforcement against poor people of color off the table. They could not be more wrong.
Three years ago, Illinois decided to treat low-level marijuana possession as a civil, not criminal offense — like littering or a traffic ticket. The technical name is “decriminalization.” Individuals with less than 10 grams receive a fine of $200 and no jail time.
Why does decriminalization not eliminate the harmful effects of marijuana laws primarily on minority communities? Fines hurt poor people. The government shutdown showed how many of us live from paycheck to paycheck. The Federal Reserve Board has estimated that 40 percent of Americans don’t have enough money to cover an emergency expense of $400.
Decriminalization provides law enforcement an excuse to target poor communities of color. We are seeing even in legalizing states that law enforcement continues to discriminate. Changing this will be even harder until marijuana becomes legal in all states.
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Arrests continue to fall in states that have legalized marijuana. The amount of marijuana one can possess with legalization is higher, usually 30 grams, rather than 10 grams under decriminalization. In Washington, marijuana convictions decreased by 76% from 2011 to 2015 and by 96% in Oregon between 2013 and 2016.
Finally, legalization is prompting us to make amends for our shameful national past: by expunging the records of those with marijuana arrests and convictions, insisting on diversity hiring in new marijuana enterprises, and other measures.
In short, marijuana legalization does indeed serve social justice. In failing to recognize this, the Catholic Bishops of Illinois are, at best, woefully uninformed.
Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, executive director, Clergy for a New Drug Policy
Don’t tax retirees
Again the issue of taxing retirement income raises its ugly head, all due to the insane public pension program. Why can’t the politicians understand that the system is not sustainable? Not only is it out of balance with anything in the private sector, the COLA (cost of living adjustment) is out of balance as well. The age of retirement should also be linked to Social Security’s retirement ages. Most of the the people I know that receive public pensions move ASAP to avoid Illinois’ high property taxes.
Robert Buonadonna, New Lenox
Raising the minimum wage is good for the economy
Every time someone proposes raising the minimum wage, the business-friendly voices shriek “Businesses will close,” “They won’t expand,” “It will destabilize the economy.” Let’s step back for a minute and realize our current situation. First, the average wage for workers, adjusted for inflation, hasn’t increased since the 1980s, while basically all our economic growth has been pocketed by the rich. Second, roughly 40% of our workers live from paycheck to paycheck. Third, companies now pay so little that their employees have to rely on welfare, which comes out of our pockets. We are essentially subsidizing those corporations.
Those voice screamed out when Seattle first proposed a $15 minimum wage but, surprisingly, with the increase, in some cases more people got hired and the businesses actually expanded. A low minimum wage allows businesses to avoid paying a wage that our economy requires to function properly.
Lee Knohl, Evanston