US Marijuana Legalization Bill Picks Up Two Co-Sponsors

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(APN) ATLANTA — US Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced two bills in the US House on April 17, 2008, that address federal penalties for possession of marijuana and the use of medical marijuana, respectively.

HR 5843, cosponsored by Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and William Lacy Clay (D-MO), would eliminate all federal penalties, including arrest, jail time, and civil fines, prohibiting the personal use and possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana.

This is the first decriminalization bill introduced in Congress in 24 years.

“It is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime something which in fact society does not seriously wish to prosecute,” Congressman Frank said in an April 17, 2008, statement.

“Having federal law enforcement agents engaged in the prosecution of people who are personally using marijuana is a waste of scarce resources better used for serious crimes,” Rep. Frank said.

A Time/CNN poll released in October 2002 found that 72 percent of respondents believe adults who use marijuana recreationally should be fined but not jailed, while 40 percent favored the legalization of a small amount of pot. This is double the number that favored such a measure in 1986.

“I don’t think Congress can ignore it much longer,” Keith Stroup, legal counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Atlanta Progressive News. “I don’t think our opponents can maintain marijuana prohibition much longer.”

There are currently 12 states that have passed laws decriminalizing marijuana for personal consumption: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon.

Statewide legislatures in New Hampshire and Vermont are considering similar measures while Massachusetts voters will decide in November on a statewide decriminalization proposal, according to NORML.

Meanwhile, US Rep. Frank’s other marijuana-related bill, HR 5842, cosponsored by Reps. Paul, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Sam Farr (D-CA), would force federal authorities to respect states’ current laws on medicinal cannabis and end DEA raids on facilities distributing medical marijuana legally under state law.

“When doctors recommend the use of marijuana for their patients and states are willing to permit it, I think it’s wrong for the federal government to subject either the doctors or the patients to criminal prosecution,” Frank said. “The norm in America is for the states to decide whether particular behaviors should be made criminal.”

The 2002 Time/CNN poll found 80 percent of respondents support the legalization of medical marijuana.

There are currently 12 states that have laws protecting medical marijuana patients from prosecution: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Nevertheless, the DEA continues to raid medical marijuana dispensaries operating in these states.

Democratic Primary Presidential candidates, US Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) have both said they would end these raids should they become President of the US.

Michigan voters will decide on such a proposal in November while the Minnesota Legislature is considering enacting similar legislation, according to NORML.

Both bills have been referred to committee but are unlikely to receive formal hearings this Session, Stroup told APN.

He attributed this to the fact that lawmakers are queasy about tackling controversial issues in an election year.

“If Democrats are able to hold both chambers…and especially if Democrats take the White House, I think we can get committee hearings on these bills [next year],” Stroup told APN.

The decriminalization bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“We think it is a major step forward [and] we’re going to try to build up momentum,” he added.

In the meantime, NORML is asking supporters to contact their representatives and ask for their support.

Stroup said he expects US Reps. Frank and Paul to circulate the legislation with letters to their colleagues in the coming days.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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