COLUMBIA —An MU law professor challenged the war on drugs and current criminal codes during a speech Saturday at a conference advocating marijuana law reform.
“We warehouse, we incarcerate, that’s what we do,” MU associate law professor S. David Mitchell said. “We don’t treat.”
The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws conference was held in MU's Arts and Sciences Building on Friday and Saturday.
Mitchell is not involved with the organization, but Dan Viets, the coordinator of the organization's Missouri chapter, invited him to speak after seeing a comment he made on a newspaper story about Missouri Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr.
The story quoted a statement Price made about the over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders. Mitchell, who often looks at felon disenfranchisement in his work, responded by mentioning the over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders convicted for drug-related crimes.
In his comment, which he mentioned during the speech, Mitchell said overcrowding in jails is caused by treating all drug users the same, giving jail sentences for both possession and trafficking. He said the country’s war on drugs is a problem because it addresses drug abuse with jail time, not treatment.
Mitchell’s speech, which lasted for about 30 minutes, included an overview of the history of marijuana laws, tracking the drug’s progress from legal to illegal.
He also presented information about the various legal consequences of felony convictions, which may include drug convictions, in place today: lifetime denial of welfare, eviction from public housing, loss of federal financial aid for education and more.
“At the end of the day, when we take a war on drugs, we are taking on the symptom, not the cause,” he said. He advocated taking a look at treatment options and looking for a rational, reasonable way to address the issue.
After the speech, Mitchell took questions from the audience. The 30 to 40 people in attendance asked him questions but also addressed each other, making the period more of a discussion of policies and rights.
After the speech, Mitchell said he had heard interesting things at the conference, such as testimonies from people whose doctors look the other way while they take marijuana for medical relief. Medical marijuana patients spoke on a panel earlier in the day.
Mitchell said while he didn’t know enough about the issue to say if the drug should be legal or not, policymakers should look at how to regulate the drug, when to regulate it, and other related issues.