7 US Reps. Support Marijuana Legalization Bill

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(APN) ATLANTA — A resolution before US Congress that would decriminalize marijuana possession and use for responsible adults now has six co-sponsors, including crucial support from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

US Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), sponsor of HR 5843, held a press conference July 30, 2008, in Washington, D.C., with fellow lawmakers and advocates from organizations working to reform U.S. drug laws, in order to speak on the legislation.

The co-sponsors are US Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Ron Paul (R-TX).

US Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) withdrew as a co-sponsor on July 31, 2008. According to the Congressional Record, Lofgren did not give a reason when asking the Speaker to remove her name from the bill. Lofgren’s press secretary did not immediately return a call seeking comment. About two years ago, Lofgren removed her name from a bill to look into the grounds for impeaching President Bush.

US Rep. Clay told The Hill newspaper that when US Rep. Frank asked him to co-sponsor the bill, he was not aware it was to decriminalize marijuana, but thought it was to allow medical marijuana. However, he said he has received such enthusiastic support from constituents he decided to remain a co-sponsor.

“I don’t think it is the government’s business to tell you how to spend your leisure time,” Frank said.

“This notion that we somehow have to either approve or criminalize all human activity is a great misunderstanding of what’s needed for a liberal, in the broad sense, government — in which people are free to do as they wish unless they are damaging somebody else or unless, in rare cases, you believe they are so out of control that they can’t be trusted to make their own judgments,” Frank said.

HR 5843 would eliminate all federal penalties for possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana and the not-for-profit transfer of one ounce or less.

Frank said if states wish to use their resources to crack down on drug possession, then they should be free to do so.

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.

But Frank noted the Bush Administration has used law enforcement to crack down on citizens in these states who are obeying the law.

“What we’ve had is, particularly under this Administration, the spectacle of people who believe in limited government and states’ rights sending federal law enforcement people in to prosecute people who have used medical marijuana in conformance with their own states’ laws,” he said.

A companion resolution, HR 5842, 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. That resolution now has 17 cosponsors.

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.

US Reps. Clay and Lee, two HR 5843 cosponsors and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said federal dollars could be better spent in other areas besides drug busts.

“We need to stop wasting federal tax dollars to punish responsible adults who use small, personal amounts of marijuana,” Clay said.

“The federal government has better things to do than prosecute sick people who are following their doctors’ orders and obeying the states’ laws,” Lee said. “This legislation will bring relief to persons suffering excruciating pain from debilitating illnesses and redirect scarce law enforcement resources to combating criminal activities that pose a serious threat to public safety.”

A July 30, 2008, online CNN poll found that 76 percent of respondents favor the legalization of marijuana as opposed to 24 percent against. The Washington Examiner, in a July 31 online poll, found that 75 percent favor legalization, versus 25 percent who are against it.

Allen St. Pierre, a spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), noted law enforcement should respect responsible users of marijuana in the same way they respect responsible users of alcohol.

“We do not arrest and jail responsible alcohol drinkers,” St. Pierre said. “This should be our policy with marijuana as well. As President Carter said in a message to Congress almost 31 years ago to this day, ‘Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to the individual than the drug itself.’ Nowhere is this more clear than the laws against possession of marijuana in private, for personal use.”

Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Director of National Affairs Bill Piper noted that people arrested for marijuana violations often lose their jobs and are denied school loans in addition to other public assistance funds.

Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said ending arrests for personal possession of marijuana is “key to marijuana policy reform.”

“There are far too many arrests in this country for marijuana,” he said. “There’s actually more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.”

Police arrested nearly 830,000 people in the United States in 2007 for marijuana law violations, according to DPA. Personal possession accounted for nearly 90 percent of those arrests.

US Reps. Frank and Paul introduced HR 5843 and HR 5842 in April and the bills are now before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, and the House Subcommittee on Health, respectively.

Frank noted during the press conference that neither resolution is likely to come to full committee votes until well into 2009 when it is possible there could be a Democratic President and a greater Democratic majority in Congress.

In the meantime, supporters are urging citizens to contact their representatives about becoming cosponsors on the resolutions. Cosponsors of the Congressional resolutions are expected to send letters to House colleagues in the near future about signing on.

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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