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Petitioning United States of America Federal Government

Sorry guys im STILL illegal after all these years. -MJ

AN END TO Marijuana Prohibition
The drive to legalize picks up
E T H A N A   NA D E L M A N N:

NEVER before have so many Americans supported
decriminalizing and even legalizing marijuana. Seventy-two percent
say that for simple marijuana possession, people should not
be incarcerated but fined: the generally accepted definition of
“decriminalization.” Even more Americans support making marijuana
legal for medical purposes. Support for broader legalization
ranges between 25 and 42 percent, depending on how one asks the
question. Two of every five Americans—according to a 2003
Zogby poll—say “the government should treat marijuana more or
less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it,
tax it, and only make it illegal for children.”
Close to 100 million Americans—including more than half of
those between the ages of 18 and 50—have tried marijuana at
least once. Military and police recruiters often have no choice but
to ignore past marijuana use by job seekers. The public apparently
feels the same way about presidential and other political candidates.
Al Gore, Bill Bradley, and John Kerry all say they smoked
pot in days past. So did Bill Clinton, with his notorious caveat.
George W. Bush won’t deny he did. And ever more political, business,
religious, intellectual, and other leaders plead guilty as well.
The debate over ending marijuana prohibition simmers just
below the surface of mainstream politics, crossing ideological
and partisan boundaries. Marijuana is no longer the symbol of
Sixties rebellion and Seventies permissiveness, and it’s not just
liberals and libertarians who say it should be legal, as William
F. Buckley Jr. has demonstrated better than anyone. As director
of the country’s leading drug-policy-reform organization, I’ve
had countless conversations with police and prosecutors, judges
and politicians, and hundreds of others who quietly agree that
the criminalization of marijuana is costly, foolish, and destructive.
What’s most needed now is principled conservative leadership.
Buckley has led the way, and New Mexico’s former
governor, Gary Johnson, spoke out courageously while in
office. How about others?

Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal
laws. No other law is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet
deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace. Police make about 700,000 arrests per year for marijuana
offenses. That’s almost the same number as are arrested each year
for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, and all other illicit
drugs combined. Roughly 600,000, or 87 percent, of marijuana
arrests are for nothing more than possession of small amounts.
Millions of Americans have never been arrested or convicted of
any criminal offense except this. Enforcing marijuana laws costs
an estimated $10-15 billion in direct costs alone.
Punishments range widely across the country, from modest
fines to a few days in jail to many years in prison. Prosecutors
often contend that no one goes to prison for simple possession—
but tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people on probation
and parole are locked up each year because their urine tested positive
for marijuana or because they were picked up in possession
of a joint. Alabama currently locks up people convicted three
times of marijuana possession for 15 years to life. There are probably—
no firm estimates exist—100,000 Americans behind bars
tonight for one marijuana offense or another. And even for those
who don’t lose their freedom, simply being arrested can be traumatic
and costly. Aparent’s marijuana use can be the basis for taking
away her children and putting them in foster care.
Foreign-born residents of the U.S. can be deported for a marijuana
offense no matter how long they have lived in this country, no
matter if their children are U.S. citizens, and no matter how long
they have been legally employed. More than half the states revoke
or suspend driver’s licenses of people arrested for marijuana possession
even though they were not driving at the time of arrest.
The federal Higher Education Act prohibits student loans to
young people convicted of any drug offense; all other criminal
offenders remain eligible.
This is clearly an overreaction on the part of government. No
drug is perfectly safe, and every psychoactive drug can be used in
ways that are problematic. The federal government has spent billions
of dollars on advertisements and anti-drug programs that
preach the dangers of marijuana—that it’s a gateway drug, and
addictive in its own right, and dramatically more potent than it
used to be, and responsible for all sorts of physical and social diseases
as well as international terrorism. But the government has
yet to repudiate the 1988 finding of the Drug Enforcement
Administration’s own administrative law judge, Francis Young,
who concluded after extensive testimony that “marijuana in its
natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances
known to man.”  Is marijuana a gateway drug? Yes, insofar as most Americans
try marijuana before they try other illicit drugs. But no, insofar as
the vast majority of Americans who have tried marijuana have
never gone on to try other illegal drugs, much less get in trouble
with them, and most have never even gone on to become regular
or problem marijuana users. Trying to reduce heroin addiction by
preventing marijuana use, it’s been said, is like trying to reduce
motorcycle fatalities by cracking down on bicycle riding. If marijuana
did not exist, there’s little reason to believe that there would
be less drug abuse in the U.S.; indeed, its role would most likely
be filled by a more dangerous substance.
Is marijuana dramatically more potent today? There’s certainly
a greater variety of high-quality marijuana available today than 30
years ago. But anyone who smoked marijuana in the 1970s and
1980s can recall smoking pot that was just as strong as anything
available today. What’s more, one needs to take only a few puffs
of higher-potency pot to get the desired effect, so there’s less wear
and tear on the lungs.
Is marijuana addictive? Yes, it can be, in that some people use
it to excess, in ways that are problematic for themselves and those
around them, and find it hard to stop. But marijuana may well be
the least addictive and least damaging of all commonly used psychoactive
drugs, including many that are now legal. Most people
who smoke marijuana never become dependent. Withdrawal
symptoms pale compared with those from other drugs. No one has
ever died from a marijuana overdose, which cannot be said of
most other drugs. Marijuana is not associated with violent behavior
and only minimally with reckless sexual behavior. And even
heavy marijuana smokers smoke only a fraction of what cigarette
addicts smoke. Lung cancers involving only marijuana are rare.
The government’s most recent claim is that marijuana abuse
accounts for more people entering treatment than any other illegal
drug. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that tens of millions of
Americans smoke marijuana while only a few million use all other
illicit drugs. But the claim is spurious nonetheless. Few
Americans who enter “treatment” for marijuana are addicted.
Fewer than one in five people entering drug treatment for marijuana
do so voluntarily. More than half were referred by the criminal-
justice system. They go because they got caught with a joint
or failed a drug test at school or work (typically for having
smoked marijuana days ago, not for being impaired), or because
they were caught by a law-enforcement officer—and attending a
marijuana “treatment” program is what’s required to avoid expulsion,
dismissal, or incarceration. Many traditional drug-treatment
programs shamelessly participate in this charade to preserve a
profitable and captive client stream.
Even those who recoil at the “nanny state” telling adults what
they can or cannot sell to one another often make an exception
when it comes to marijuana—to “protect the kids.” This is a bad
joke, as any teenager will attest. The criminalization of marijuana
for adults has not prevented young people from having better
access to marijuana than anyone else. Even as marijuana’s popularity
has waxed and waned since the 1970s, one statistic has
remained constant: More than 80 percent of high-school students
report it’s easy to get. Meanwhile, the government’s exaggerations
and outright dishonesty easily backfire. For every teen who
refrains from trying marijuana because it’s illegal (for adults),
another is tempted by its status as “forbidden fruit.” Many
respond to the lies about marijuana by disbelieving warnings
about more dangerous drugs. So much for protecting the kids by
criminalizing the adults.
The debate over medical marijuana obviously colors the broader
debate over marijuana prohibition. Marijuana’s medical efficacy
is no longer in serious dispute. Its use as a medicine dates back
thousands of years. Pharmaceutical products containing marijuana’s
central ingredient, THC, are legally sold in the U.S., and
more are emerging. Some people find the pill form satisfactory,
and others consume it in teas or baked products. Most find smoking
the easiest and most effective way to consume this unusual
medicine, but non-smoking consumption methods, notably vaporizers,
are emerging.
Federal law still prohibits medical marijuana. But every state
ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved,
often by wide margins—in California, Washington, Oregon,
Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, and Washington, D.C. State
legislatures in Vermont, Hawaii, and Maryland have followed
suit, and many others are now considering their own medicalmarijuana
bills—including New York, Connecticut, Rhode
Island, and Illinois. Support is often bipartisan, with Republican
governors like Gary Johnson and Maryland’s Bob Ehrlich taking
the lead. In New York’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, the conservative
candidate of the Independence party, Tom Golisano, surprised
everyone by campaigning heavily on this issue. The
medical-marijuana bill now before the New York legislature is
backed not just by leading Republicans but even by some
Conservative party leaders.
The political battleground increasingly pits the White House—
first under Clinton and now Bush—against everyone else.
Majorities in virtually every state in the country would vote, if
given the chance, to legalize medical marijuana. Even Congress is
beginning to turn; last summer about two-thirds of House
Democrats and a dozen Republicans voted in favor of an amendment
co-sponsored by Republican Dana Rohrabacher to prohibit
federal funding of any Justice Department crackdowns on medical
marijuana in the states that had legalized it. (Many more
Republicans privately expressed support, but were directed to
vote against.) And federal courts have imposed limits on federal
aggression: first in Conant v. Walters, which now protects the
First Amendment rights of doctors and patients to discuss medical
marijuana, and more recently in Raich v. Ashcroft and Santa Cruz
v. Ashcroft, which determined that the federal government’s
power to regulate interstate commerce does not provide a basis for
prohibiting medical-marijuana operations that are entirely local
and non-commercial. (The Supreme Court let the Conant decision
stand, but has yet to consider the others.)
State and local governments are increasingly involved in trying
to regulate medical marijuana, notwithstanding the federal prohibition.
California, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, and Nevada
have created confidential medical-marijuana patient registries,
which protect bona fide patients and caregivers from arrest or
prosecution. Some municipal governments are now trying to figure
out how to regulate production and distribution. In California,
where dozens of medical-marijuana programs now operate openly,
with tacit approval by local authorities, some program directors
are asking to be licensed and regulated. Many state and local
authorities, including law enforcement, favor this but are intimidated
by federal threats to arrest and prosecute them for violating
federal law.
The drug czar and DEA spokespersons recite the mantra that
“there is no such thing as medical marijuana,” but the claim is so
specious on its face that it clearly undermines federal credibility.
The federal government currently provides marijuana—from its
own production site in Mississippi—to a few patients who years
ago were recognized by the courts as bona fide patients. No one
wants to debate those who have used marijuana for medical purposes,
be it Santa Cruz medical-marijuana hospice founder
Valerie Corral or NATIONAL REVIEW’s Richard Brookhiser. Even
many federal officials quietly regret the assault on medical marijuana.
When the DEA raided Corral’s hospice in September 2002,
one agent was heard to say, “Maybe I’m going to think about getting
another job sometime soon.”

The bigger battle, of course, concerns whether marijuana prohibition
will ultimately go the way of alcohol Prohibition,
replaced by a variety of state and local tax and regulatory policies
with modest federal involvement. Dedicated prohibitionists see
medical marijuana as the first step down a slippery slope to full
legalization. The voters who approved the medical-marijuana ballot
initiatives (as well as the wealthy men who helped fund the
campaigns) were roughly divided between those who support
broader legalization and those who don’t, but united in seeing the
criminalization and persecution of medical-marijuana patients as
the most distasteful aspect of the war on marijuana. (This was a
point that Buckley made forcefully in his columns about the plight
of Peter McWilliams, who likely died because federal authorities
effectively forbade him to use marijuana as medicine.)
The medical-marijuana effort has probably aided the broader
anti-prohibitionist campaign in three ways. It helped transform
the face of marijuana in the media, from the stereotypical rebel
with long hair and tie-dyed shirt to an ordinary middle-aged
American struggling with MS or cancer or AIDS. By winning first
Proposition 215, the 1996 medical-marijuana ballot initiative in
California, and then a string of similar victories in other states, the
nascent drug-policy-reform movement demonstrated that it could
win in the big leagues of American politics. And the emergence of
successful models of medical-marijuana control is likely to boost
public confidence in the possibilities and virtue of regulating nonmedical
use as well.
In this regard, the history of Dutch policy on cannabis (i.e.,
marijuana and hashish) is instructive. The “coffee shop” model
in the Netherlands, where retail (but not wholesale) sale of
cannabis is de facto legal, was not legislated into existence. It
evolved in fits and starts following the decriminalization of
cannabis by Parliament in 1976, as consumers, growers, and
entrepreneurs negotiated and collaborated with local police,
prosecutors, and other authorities to find an acceptable middleground
policy. “Coffee shops” now operate throughout the
country, subject to local regulations. Troublesome shops are shut
down, and most are well integrated into local city cultures.
Cannabis is no more popular than in the U.S. and other Western
countries, notwithstanding the effective absence of criminal
sanctions and controls. Parallel developments are now underway
in other countries.
Like the Dutch decriminalization law in 1976, California’s
Prop 215 in 1996 initiated a dialogue over how best to implement
the new law. The variety of outlets that have emerged—
ranging from pharmacy-like stores to medical “coffee shops” to
hospices, all of which provide marijuana only to people with a
patient ID card or doctor’s recommendation—play a key role as
the most public symbol and manifestation of this dialogue. More
such outlets will likely pop up around the country as other states
legalize marijuana for medical purposes and then seek ways to
regulate distribution and access. And the question will
inevitably arise: If the emerging system is successful in controlling
production and distribution of marijuana for those with a
medical need, can it not also expand to provide for those without
medical need?
Millions of Americans use marijuana not just “for fun” but
because they find it useful for many of the same reasons that people
drink alcohol or take pharmaceutical drugs. It’s akin to the
beer, glass of wine, or cocktail at the end of the workday, or the
prescribed drug to alleviate depression or anxiety, or the sleeping
pill, or the aid to sexual function and pleasure. More and more
Americans are apt to describe some or all of their marijuana use
as “medical” as the definition of that term evolves and broadens.
Their anecdotal experiences are increasingly backed by new scientific
research into marijuana’s essential ingredients, the
cannabinoids. Last year, a subsidiary of The Lancet, Britain’s
leading medical journal, speculated whether marijuana might
soon emerge as the “aspirin of the 21st century,” providing a
wide array of medical benefits at low cost to diverse populations.
Perhaps the expansion of the medical-control model provides
the best answer—at least in the U.S.—to the question of how best
to reduce the substantial costs and harms of marijuana prohibition
without inviting significant increases in real drug abuse. It’s analogous
to the evolution of many pharmaceutical drugs from prescription
to over-the-counter, but with stricter controls still in
place. It’s also an incrementalist approach to reform that can provide
both the control and the reassurance that cautious politicians
and voters desire.
In 1931, with public support for alcohol Prohibition rapidly
waning, President Hoover released the report of the Wickersham
Commission. The report included a devastating critique of
Prohibition’s failures and costly consequences, but the commissioners,
apparently fearful of getting out too far ahead of public
opinion, opposed repeal. Franklin P. Adams of the New York
World neatly summed up their findings:
Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
We like it.
It’s left a trail of graft and slime
It don’t prohibit worth a dime
It’s filled our land with vice and crime,
Nevertheless, we’re for it.
Two years later, federal alcohol Prohibition was history.
What support there is for marijuana prohibition would likely
end quickly absent the billions of dollars spent annually by federal
and other governments to prop it up. All those anti-marijuana ads
pretend to be about reducing drug abuse, but in fact their basic
purpose is sustaining popular support for the war on marijuana.
What’s needed now are conservative politicians willing to say
enough is enough: Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars down the
drain each year. People losing their jobs, their property, and their
freedom for nothing more than possessing a joint or growing a
few marijuana plants. And all for what? To send a message? To
keep pretending that we’re protecting our children? Alcohol
Prohibition made a lot more sense than marijuana prohibition
does today—and it, too, was a disaster.

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