Voters shrug at lawmaker's marijuana-smoking charge
Nov 22, 2010 - Jason Cato PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
State Rep. Paul Costa's citation for smoking marijuana at a Steelers tailgate party isn't exactly a burning issue in his district.
"To me, it doesn't in any way affect his performance," said Jim Curcio, 59, of Wilkins.
Costa, D-Wilkins, is scheduled to appear Wednesday in Municipal Court on allegations he smoked a joint with another man Oct. 3 near Heinz Field. Costa, 51, denied the accusation through his attorney. Pittsburgh police charged him with prohibited acts, a misdemeanor.
Curcio, a pharmacist, said he favors amending marijuana laws to make situations such as Costa's moot.
"I wouldn't say necessarily that I'm for legalization, but I'm for decriminalization," Curcio said. "It should be like a speeding ticket."
A Gallup poll released in late October shows Curcio is not alone.
The poll found that 46 percent of Americans -- an all-time high -- favor legalizing pot. That figure was 31 percent in 2000. The number opposing legalization -- 50 percent -- was an all-time low.
"If the trend of the past decade continues at a similar pace," Gallup officials said, "majority support could be a reality within the next few years."
A poll by The Associated Press and CNBC in April found similar results, though with a smaller percentage of people supporting legalization.
In that poll, 33 percent favored a change, and 55 percent supported current laws. Fifty-four percent of people younger than 30 supported legalizing marijuana. Those older than 65 were strongly against legalization, with 73 percent in opposition.
Count Sam Haver among them.
Haver, 74, of Swissvale said he could support legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes but nothing more.
"It's still a drug, as far as I'm concerned," he said.
But Haver does not think the accusation against Costa would become a fatal blow to the legislator's political career. Costa was first elected in 1998 to represented the state House 34th District, which includes Edgewood, Forest Hills, North Versailles, Swissvale, Wilkins and Wilmerding.
"He's accused of smoking pot. That doesn't mean he's useless," Haver said. "But government officials should think twice."
Local advocates for legalizing marijuana say they hope this episode persuades Costa to support such measures in the future. Costa did sign on as a co-sponsor of a failed bill this past year that would have legalized pot for medical use.
"God forbid he came into contact with the devil's weed and now faces a misdemeanor charge and public censure," said Patrick Nightingale, a Downtown lawyer and executive director of Pittsburgh NORML. "Maybe this incident will give people another opportunity to have an intelligent discussion about the use of cannabis. ... It's an everyman's crime, and nobody cares."
Venki Narayani, 28, of Wilkins certainly doesn't. He supports legalizing marijuana -- and Costa getting his day in court.
"He's innocent until proven guilty," Narayani said.
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