ELIMINATION OF MARIJUANA LAWS SMART, BUT WILL FAIL
Matt Jividen claims this legislation can be beneficial, even though it will not pass.
Welcome back, everyone. I assume many of you spent your breaks working on your suntan in some exotic locale. Personally, I stayed in Madison and watched snowfall top the century mark for the season. I did, however, between my long-hibernation-style sleep cycles find the time to watch a rather interesting episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher."
The episode featured a panel discussion, during which Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said the following: "It's time for the politicians to catch up with the public on [the issue of marijuana]." He continued, adding his plans to introduce a bill to address the problem this week.
The proposed legislation, dubbed the "Make Room for Serious Criminals Act," would supposedly end the federal government's ability to arrest and prosecute responsible cannabis users.
The new proposal would eliminate all federal penalties prohibiting the personal use and possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana. Adults who consume cannabis would no longer face arrest, prison or even the threat of a civil fine.
In addition, this bill would eliminate all penalties prohibiting the not-for-profit transfers of up to one ounce of cannabis between adults. This bill will also cease federal law enforcement agencies targeting those using marijuana as a legal medical treatment under California law.
Many are doubtful of the bill's passibility, yet at the very least it is a step in the right direction. Although the medical marijuana issue has been hot as of late, this is the first decriminalization bill introduced in Congress in the last quarter-century.
Even so, on a local and state level, several areas have replaced criminal sanctions with fines, including Madison and Milwaukee. Furthermore, a number of states, which collectively are home to over 1/3 of the nation's population, have passed decriminalization legislation. These include Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon. New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts are expected to join the ranks within the year as well.
Outraged yet? Apparently, you're in the minority. A CNN/Time Magazine poll found that 76 percent of U.S. citizens support changing the marijuana policy so responsible adults who enjoy marijuana are no longer subject to humiliation, arrest and incarceration. Many people support changing marijuana laws on the basis that it is no more dangerous than other state-condoned substances. For others, it is a financial and social issue—perhaps people have realized that taxing a $6 billion-a-year underground industry could be an economic boon in tight financial times.
Others are tired of paying for prosecution and incarceration for nearly 830,000 Americans who are arrested on marijuana charges each year, 89 percent of which are guilty of no more than simple personal possessions. And let's not forget the large number of people who are productive and otherwise law-abiding citizens who don't wish to be marginalized by the outdated and counterproductive prohibition.
In theory, Frank's bill should pass. However, Washington hypocrisy may once again stymie any progress. And before you start pointing any fingers, it is coming from both sides of the aisle.
In theory, Republicans should support this legislation. The bill is, at heart, a state's rights issue. States would be given the autonomy to make decisions based on the general constituency of the state, rather than be limited under the umbrella of federal mandates. Many readers may be too young to remember, but the Republicans are theoretically the party of small government and less federal oversight. The bill would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, yet it would still theoretically leave the states with the final say. For example, there's no federal law against mugging, yet mugging is illegal in every state because of a decision by the individual states. The prohibition on marijuana, on the other hand, is a federal law that supercedes any law made by individual states. Big government, anyone? Unfortunately, I assume the "moral obligations" of congressional Republicans will once again subvert the theoretical foundations of the party.
Did you think I would let the Democrats off that easily? Not a chance. What they have done, in many circumstances, is literally criminal. Remember the 2004 presidential campaign? In a 2003 debate, John Edwards, Howard Dean and John Kerry practically fell all over each other admitting to past marijuana use. Joe Lieberman, who denied any allegations of drug use, did so apologetically. In 2000, Gore openly admitted to frequent marijuana use to calm his nerves while in Vietnam. Before Gore, former President Bill Clinton allegedly would have gotten high had he understood the mechanics of a joint—but, in all fairness, he was only a Rhodes Scholar.
Given the circumstances, how is it then that the law remains? Is it not silly to keep a law on the books that the highest elected officials break with impunity, or even pride? Is it fair that the majority of users are more likely to end up in an eight-by-eight cell, while others unabatedly are free to become president? I would be less upset if these previous users made any attempt at legitimate decriminalization while in office, but, more often than not, the opposite happens. Even Clinton's "attempted" drug use did not stop the marijuana arrests from soaring during his administration, nor did it stop him from signing a bill into law that revoked federal financial aid to students who had been convicted of drug offenses—no matter how small.
Even current Democratic golden boy, presumptive nominee and self-described "frequent inhaler" Barack Obama has been hypocritical and inconsistent on the issue. While running for Senate in 2004, Obama told Illinois college students that he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use. Fast forward to October 2007 when, in a presidential debate, Obama joined other Democratic candidates in opposing the decriminalization of marijuana. I can't remember the 2004 election too clearly, but I believe the Republicans had a hyphenated phrase describing that sort of thing…
Hopefully Frank's proposed legislation will start a long-overdue discussion in the country. Hell, maybe it will pass, but I wouldn't count on it. Regardless, I'll still write my senator and tell him to support the bill—and you should too. On the bright side, even if the bill does go "up in smoke," I'm sure some of the more creative congressional democrats can find some use for all the wasted paper.
Daily Cardinal (U of WI, Madison, Edu)
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