Guest Opinions

Cristina McNeil: Reform criminal justice system and legalize recreational marijuana

The Idaho Statesman asked the candidates in major statewide races to submit guest opinions explaining their stances and why they should earn your vote. Their columns will run throughout this week. Read opponent Russ Fulcher’s guest opinion here.

We imprison more people than every other nation even though our crime rate is decreasing. Our state is in the top 10 for incarceration rates and has the fourth-highest rate for incarcerating women. Idaho locks up 1 in every 28 adults, a rate higher than every state except Georgia. Additionally, contracts with private prisons and detention centers create pressure for keeping beds filled.

Our criminal justice system must reflect justice in our federal and state prisons. Laws created in the drug epidemic days of the 1960s must be reformed. Mandatory minimum sentencing, overcrowded prisons, limited access to health and mental health services, insufficient educational and rehabilitation programs return offenders to their communities who struggle to rebuild their lives. Families and communities suffer.

Congress should prioritize reform of our criminal justice system — reform that protects the public, establishes community rehabilitation options and ends our reliance on the one-size-fits-all sentencing to expensive prisons. Sentencing should be proportionate to the crime committed with the goal of rehabilitation, restorative justice and humanity. Our system must be based on current research and best practices that cast aside outdated attitudes, documented biases and ineffective practices. Reform will save our nation money and better serve our people and communities.

We need a criminal justice system where laws are created fairly and enforced fairly. Community policing works in partnership with the people they serve to reduce crime and take appropriate action when laws are violated. Victims deserve justice. Defendants deserve reasonable bail and speedy trials. Public defenders need adequate resources to do their job. Fairness balances the legal system.

The people of the United States are ahead of their elected representatives concerning marijuana. They discovered that marijuana is an effective remedy for some chronic medical conditions. Recreational marijuana should be legalized, taxed with added revenues use for public needs and reducing the federal deficit. The use of marijuana by those over 21 must be regulated similarly to alcohol to protect the community from impaired drivers. I support legalizing cannabis and its derivatives for those with medical needs. I support legalization of recreational marijuana. I support legalization of hemp crops for farmers.

Law enforcement, legal, criminal justice and chemical dependency professionals, as well as the people, call for change. Address drug use as a public health issue and make government work for the people.

Democrat Cristina McNeil, a real estate agent and chairwoman of the Idaho Democratic Party Latino Caucus, is running for U.S. House in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District.
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