Although state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery/Delaware, has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana, the regional director of the Attorney General's Office's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation doesn't agree.
"I am no scientist, but I have a lot of experience on the street. I have talked to hundreds of heroin addicts, and they all started on marijuana," Tony Sassano said Thursday during Operation Our Town's annual presentation to the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club. "Legalizing marijuana seems like a stupid idea to me."
Sassano, who is also a former Altoona police detective, said while marijuana remains a problem in Blair County, it is not the biggest problem.
"The most abused drug we've been buying is heroin, followed closely by opiates. Prescription drug abuse is also a problem. We also have a problem with suboxone and methadone used in the treatment of heroin," Sassano said, speaking at the event at The Casino at Lakemont Park. "We are still seeing crack cocaine and powder cocaine, but the purchases have been less."
Marijuana is still present and, to a lesser degree, methamphetamines, Sassano said.
He noted that in buy-busts, officers have to prioritize what drugs they are buying.
"We only have so many dollars to spend on drug enforcement. Marijuana is not killing people. Heroin and cocaine are what we are focusing on," Sassano said. "If we spent all of our money on marijuana, we would spend our budget in half a year."
Founded in 2006, Operation Our Town is a partnership of businesses and the community aimed at taking neighborhoods back from drugs and violent crime through law enforcement as well as proven treatment and prevention techniques.
"Operation Our Town has come a long way since 2006 when Michael Fiore [Operation Our Town president] got up at a banquet and said there is a problem in the community with drugs and we have to do something about it," said Philip Devorris, organization secretary.
Sassano said the organization has been approached by the City of Reading, because officials there want to start a program based on Operation Our Town.
"Why? Because they have seen the results here. It is effective," Sassano said.