By Aaron James
The prohibition on marijuana prohibition dates back to the mid-1930s with the ‘Marijuana Tax Act.’ This law effectively made possession and distribution of marijuana a felony. Since this time we have made great strides correcting this flaw. Currently, simple possession of marijuana is no longer a felony charge in any state of the United States. Currently, according to Wikipedia, 13 states have decriminalized marijuana, making simple possession not “illegal.” However, the distribution of the product is still illegal.
In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld in a 6-3 decision (Gonzales v. Raich) that the federal government has the right to ban the use of cannabis, including medical use, even if local laws allow it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Places_that_have_decriminalized_non-medical_cannabis_in_the_United_States) And the federal Judicial Department continues to prosecute states.
Even so, on Nov. 4, 2008, the people of Massachusetts voted to decriminalize marijuana with a fine of $100. The law became effective in January 2009. Did we slap the Supreme Court in the face by doing so? Do we have the right to do this? Apparently, we can go a step further.
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst and Rep. Frank Smizik of Brookline have co-sponsored a Medical Marijuana Bill. If passed, Massachusetts would become the 17th state to pass such legislation. Again, it is a slap in the face to our judicial system. While the hearing that took place at the State House on June 30 is critical to our state’s movement for sensible drug laws, and the testimony of the patients who desperately could use medical marijuana was heart breaking, it sadly failed to address the underlying issue, which is the prosecution from Washington, not Beacon Hill.
Most of us here in Massachusetts get it, according to the results of our state initiatives; we want personal freedoms, a police force focused on violent criminals, jobs and opportunities. We have come to tolerate marijuana in our society.
And while President Obama had publicly stated he supports the idea of medical marijuana, it simply is not true. On June 29, the Justice Department sent out a memo instructing the Drug Enforcement Administration to treat medical marijuana shops as a top priority, “Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.” The memo goes on to read, “State laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law with respect to such conduct, including enforcement of the CSA.” (http://reason.com/blog/2011/06/30/white-house-overrides-2009-mem).
Prior to this memo, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas introduced a bill in the U.S. House. The legislation would put an end to federal prosecution of states who decide to legalize or decriminalize. It was introduced just a week after the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s declaration of “war on drugs.” It is the first bill introduced to Congress that would allow states to write their own marijuana laws. It is the bill that needs to pass.
Both bills are important, vitally, and huge accomplishments if passed. Regulation of marijuana use after decades of prohibition includes many roadblocks. How is marijuana and driving going to be regulated, if at all? Will it be legal for a doctor to prescribe it and for what? Or will it be sold like alcohol? So many questions and issues, and one size does not fit all, which is why marijuana regulation should be left at the state level of government, not federal.
I would love nothing more than to be as excited as many folks are about the bill here in Massachusetts. I am not excited at all. Year after year we have heard of the federal busts in California, the arrest of our beloved marijuana figurehead for many years, Tommy Chong, and seen the burning fires of fields of state-grown marijuana by our federal government. Such a tragedy somehow relayed through our media as a success.
Massachusetts is overall a liberal state. We want our social freedom from our federal government while at the same time welcome and need the economic assistance. The federal government was never designed by our founders to regulate such issues. It is unconstitutional, as far as I am concerned, for the federal government to prosecute states for trying to regulate marijuana.
Put rather nicely by one advocacy group, “Americans need to take democracy more seriously … if they had devoted more of their time to informing themselves about the world around them, they would have known what the real issues were. Instead they read the tabloids…we can see clearly that (Prohibition) had nothing to do with public safety, or national security, or what have you. By all rights, marijuana should not have been made illegal in the first place. If today prohibition still has no rational basis to stand on, then let us repeal it.” (http://www.splifr.com/how-and-why-was-hemp-made-illegal-part-3/#more-585)
And repeal it where it needs to be repealed. If you feel Massachusetts should have the right to legalize marijuana for Medical purposes e-mail your U.S. Congressman, be active, take democracy seriously.
I want to dig deeper into both bills. In my next article I will dig deeper into the Congressional bill, what exactly is in the legislation and how likely is it to pass? I will examine deeper Congressman Frank’s thoughts on both the national and state Bills. I will examine what repercussions Massachusetts could face if we pass our medical bill and the national one fails, which very well could happen by that time.
Most important, I believe, is our individual activism. Each and every one of us who is sick of hiding every time we may smoke marijuana needs to speak out and not be afraid. Here in this state, we are a majority that support reformed marijuana laws. Support Masscan and Norml by signing petitions and staying updated. Voices for repeal are in office, we need to support these folks so sensible drug policies can finally become reality.
AARON JAMES is a vendor/writer for Spare Change News.
When will It Stop?- It is Time for Action! (Source: Norml.Com)
– California saved near a billion dollars from 1976 to 1985 by decriminalizing possession of one ounce according to a study of the state justice department budget.
– 60,000 individuals are behind bars for marijuana offenses at a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion per year.
– Police arrest more Americans per year on marijuana charges than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault).
– Marijuana violations constitute the fifth most common criminal offense in the United States.
– Since 1992 nearly 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana. That’s greater than the population of Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington DC and Wyoming combined.