Saturday, April 26, 2008
Bill to Legalize Marijuana Offered in U.S. House
Rep. Frank seeks to end Fed war on pot.
Nobody expects it to pass except its most ardent enthusiasts, but H.R. 5843, a bill "To Eliminate Most Federal Penalties for Possession of Marijuana for Personal Use, and for Other Purposes," sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep Ron Paul (R-TX), was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 17. It is not the first such attempt, nor is it likely to be the last.
The bill would remove federal penalties for personal possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, or roughly 3 1/2 ounces. Not-for-profit transfers of up to an ounce of pot would also be legal under the statutes. A civil penalty of $100 would be levied for public use of marijuana.
The bill would not affect federal laws prohibiting major drug dealing, nor would it interfere with or hinder federal agencies prosecuting the cultivation and export of cannabis. In addition, the bill does not seek to alter the legal status of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
The bill is an a rational attempt to break through the confusion surrounding the various laws passed in at least twelve states that allow people to use marijuana for certain medical purposes. The confusion reached a peak last year when several medical marijuana dispensaries--operating legally under California statutes--were raided and their owners arrested by Federal drug enforcement authorities. The message from the hard-line Feds was: Even if it's legal in your state, it's not legal to us.
Rep. Frank has taken on this issue before. In 1970, he filed a bill to decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts. He has also argued before NORML--the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws--that such issues rightly belong to the states.
In a letter to the Providence Journal, Frank also vowed to introduce a new version of his "State's Right to Medical Marijuana Act," which he has offered as legislation "every year since 1997."
"If the laws I am proposing pass," Frank explains at Daily Kos, "states will still be free to treat marijuana as they wish. But I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals. Federal law enforcement is a serious business, and we should be concentrating our efforts in this regard on measures that truly protect the public."
Rep. Frank said on "Real Time with Bill Maher" that the new bill could be called the "Make Room for the Serious Criminals" act.
In a prepared statement, Rep. Frank said: "I think 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." The Massachusetts congressman added that "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."
Sarah Rubenstein of The Wall Street Journal reports that groups such as the Massachusetts branch of D.A.R.E. and the Drug Enforcement Administration continue to oppose the legalization of marijuana because it would signal to children that the drug is benign.
Frank also noted in his letter to the Providence Journal that "bipartisan amendments have been introduced by my colleagues, Representatives Maurice D. Hinchey (D-NY) and Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) every year since 2003 to preclude the use of federal funding to prosecute medical-marijuana patients by the Department of Justice. Each time the amendment has been voted on, it has failed in the House."
Photo Credit: Medical Marijuana Blog