The Make Room For Serious Criminals Bill

Medical Marijuana at the U.S. Federal level.

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The Make Room For Serious Criminals Bill

Postby palmspringsbum » Tue Mar 25, 2008 8:03 pm

Hot Air wrote:
Barney Frank to propose marijuana decriminalization?


Hot Air
posted at 9:36 am on March 23, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Can anyone take a statement on Bill Maher’s HBO show seriously? Barney Frank told Maher on <i>Real Time</i> that he would introduce legislation in Congress to decriminalize small amounts of pot, asserting that its illegal status is out of step with the American public. When asked, an aide had heard nothing of it until Frank’s HBO appearance:<blockquote>Rep. Barney Frank will soon introduce legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the Massachusetts Democrat said during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” …

Frank has introduced legislation in previous years to allow the use of “medical marijuana,” although the bills never made it out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Asked by Maher as to why he would push a pot decriminalization bill now, Frank said the American public has already decided that personal use of marijuana is not a problem.</blockquote>Frank claimed he would call it the “Make Room for Serious Criminals” bill. The intent would be to take the burden of marijuana investigations, arrests, trials, and encarceration off of an overtaxed justice system and allow resources to go after more serious crimes. Frank called incarceration for smoking marijuana “silly” and that lawmakers had to catch up to public sensibilities on marijuana.

I’m not necessarily opposed to legalization, but even with that, Frank oversells the concept. Most people caught smoking marijuana don’t serve any jail time at all. In most places, it’s not even a serious misdemeanor, and in many jurisdictions it’s more of an infraction. Convictions for personal use usually result in fines and sometimes in compulsory rehab, but it’s been decades since individual users have been jailed for simply smoking a joint.

The big drain on law enforcement resources come from interdicting the larger traffic in marijuana, at the border and in the interior. It doesn’t sound as though Frank will propose that marijuana becomes completely legal, and so it will do very little to “make room for serious criminals”. It also imposes a forced legalization on states and communities that the federal government has no business mandating. In fact, the only action Congress can take is to remove the federal bans on marijuana, including importation, so that states can make their own decisions on legalization.

Should Congress take that kind of action? The decades of prohibition on marijuana have done little to stem its popularity and abuse. In terms of intoxication, it has no worse effects than alcohol, and some argue considerably less impairment. A regulated marijuana industry could dry up the gang economics in its trade and ensure some safety for the users. It would also free resources to fight the distribution of far worse substances, such as heroin and cocaine. On the other hand, its status as a gateway drug could drive up other forms of abuse, and federal decriminalization could call into question the rest of the war on drugs that has thus far been a failure that has incarcerated large numbers of Americans and driven violent behavior between rival “distributors” in their markets.

We know that what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked. Is it time to acknowledge a new paradigm on marijuana? Perhaps — but what Frank proposed will have no effect at all.

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Time for the ‘Make Room for Serious Criminals’ bill

Postby palmspringsbum » Tue Mar 25, 2008 8:11 pm

The Carpetbagger Report wrote:Time for the ‘Make Room for Serious Criminals’ bill

The Carpetbagger Report
by Steve Benen
Posted March 23rd, 2008 at 10:00 am

It’s hard to imagine a bill like this passing in its first iteration, and it would almost certainly draw a veto from this president, but Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is nevertheless poised to do something interesting. During an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Frank announced that he will soon introduce legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.<blockquote><i>Frank offered no details on his legislation, and it’s not at all clear that he could ever get it to the House floor for a vote. A Frank aide was unaware of his plans other than his statement on HBO.

Frank has introduced legislation in previous years to allow the use of “medical marijuana,” although the bills never made it out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Asked by Maher as to why he would push a pot decriminalization bill now, Frank said the American public has already decided that personal use of marijuana is not a problem.</i></blockquote>“I now think it’s time for the politicians to catch up to the public,” Frank said. “The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly. I’m going to call it the ‘Make Room for Serious Criminals’ bill.”

It sounds like Frank is thinking about this in the right way. I suspect a lot of Americans would like to “make room for serious criminals,” and would shudder if they realized how much it cost (in a time of an economic downturn and tight budgets) to incarcerate non-violent violent offenders who face jail time for possession.

Frank’s bill may take a few tries before it gains serious headway, but why not start the conversation?

Indeed, it’s probably worth keeping in mind that Frank’s position is hardly a fringe one anymore. A few months ago, then-presidential candidate Chris Dodd endorsed decriminalization…<blockquote><i>Bill Maher handed Chris Dodd a smoking fatty during the HuffPost/Yahoo!/Slate Candidate Mashup, asking a surprise question about legalizing marijuana. To his credit, Dodd didn’t pass. He puffed.

“We’re cluttering up our prisons, frankly, when we draw distinctions” between booze and pot, Dodd said. “So I would decriminalize, or certainly advocate as president, the decriminalization of statutes that would incarcerate or severely penalize people for using marijuana.”</i></blockquote>…and Barack Obama appears to be on the right track, too.<blockquote><i>The Washington Times reports that Barack Obama, who told an audience of college students when he was running for the U.S. Senate in 2004 that he favored decriminalizing marijuana, still holds that position, although he opposes complete legalization. […]

Given what Obama seems to mean by decriminalization, this position is not exactly radical. About a dozen states are said to have decriminalized marijuana, which generally means that possession of small amounts for personal use does not result in arrest and can be punished by a modest fine at worst. Possession is still illegal in almost all of those states, the conspicuous exception being Alaska, where possession of a few ounces in one’s home does not trigger any penalty at all. Possessing more than the limit (usually an ounce), growing marijuana, or selling it remain crimes even in so call decrim states.</i></blockquote>A sleeper issue for the ‘08 campaign?

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Rep. Frank defends proposal to decriminalize marijuana

Postby palmspringsbum » Tue Mar 25, 2008 8:18 pm

7 News Boston wrote:
Rep. Frank defends proposal to decriminalize marijuana


<span class=postbigbold>Rep. Frank says he'll file bill to legalize marijuana</span>

7 News Boston
March 23, 2008


BOSTON -- Rep. Barney Frank is defending a bill he plans to file this week decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, saying the federal law unfairly targets those using medical marijuana in California.

Frank, who filed a bill to decriminalize marijuana as a member of the Massachusetts Legislature in the 1970s, said the decision whether to make possession of the drug illegal should be left up to the states.

He also said the federal government shouldn't have a law on the books that is rarely enforced and which doesn't make sense to large portions of the public.

"Do you really think people should be prosecuted for smoking marijuana? I don't think most people agree with that. It's one area where the public is ahead of the elected officials," Frank said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It does not appear to me to be a law that society is serious about."

Frank said he was particularly troubled by federal law enforcement agencies targeting those using marijuana as a legal medical treatment under California law.

"I don't think smoking marijuana should be a federal case," he said. "There's no federal law against mugging."

Marijuana use is illegal under U.S. law, which does not recognize the medical marijuana laws in California and 11 other states.

The Drug Enforcement Agency and other U.S. agencies have been shutting down major medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California in the last two years and charging their operators with felony distribution charges.

Frank first announced the bill on the HBO show "Real Time," hosted by Bill Maher.

Frank's comments come as pro-marijuana activists are pushing a ballot question that would decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Instead of facing a criminal record, those caught with a small amount of marijuana for personal use would instead pay a civil fine of $100 -- much like a traffic ticket.

Supporters say the measure would save the state millions of dollars in law enforcement costs and spare thousands of state residents from the burden of a criminal record.

Critics, including the head of the anti-drug education group DARE-Massachusetts, say they oppose decriminalizing any amount of marijuana because it could send a signal to children that smoking pot is no big deal.

They say they while not everyone who smokes pot will end up shooting heroin, almost no heroin addicts begin with the more dangerous drug.

Activists pushing the initiative point to more than two dozen nonbinding referendum questions placed on local ballots in Massachusetts in the past six years. In each, a majority of voters supported the idea of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

About a dozen states have already adopted similar laws.

Asked about the marijuana ballot initiative last December, Gov. Deval Patrick said he had to consult with his Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke and Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby before staking out a position.

"I think they are both skeptical," he said at the time.

The ballot question isn't the only effort under way to ease the state's drug laws.

A bill working its way through the Statehouse would also decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of the drug, but set a higher fine of $250.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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OUR VIEW: Medical injustice, 03-26-08

Postby palmspringsbum » Tue Mar 25, 2008 11:35 pm

The Herald News wrote:
OUR VIEW: Medical injustice, 03-26-08


The Herald News
Posted Mar 25, 2008 @ 06:09 PM


What if there were a natural medicine that could help reduce pain, relieve nausea, increase appetite and decrease stress, all with minimal side effects?

What if it could help cancer patients deal with the impacts of chemotherapy, help glaucoma patients retain their sight by relieving pressure around the eyes, help AIDS sufferers maintain their strength by stimulating their appetites, and ease the effects of multiple sclerosis.

What if research of the drug, say by the prestigious Scripps Research Institute, demonstrated it slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Not only does that medicine exist, it is abundant and affordable, even for those who lack health insurance.

So why don’t more people take it (or at least admit publicly to doing so)? Because the federal government won’t let them.

Marijuana has been outlawed since the 1930s when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics designated it a narcotic, putting it on par with cocaine, heroin and morphine.

Yet, 11 states — including Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont and most notably California — have legalized the use of marijuana as a treatment for disease. But the federal government refuses to acknowledge the state laws, instead specifically targeting law-abiding citizens providing the medicine for patients. Especially in California, the Drug Enforcement Agency is shutting down "grow houses" and medicinal marijuana dispensaries, and charging their operators with federal felonies.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is trying to stop that injustice. He says the decision whether to allow the use of marijuana should be up to the states, not a federal mandate. Frank plans this week to file legislation decriminalizing on the federal level the possession of small amounts of marijuana. That would leave states like Rhode Island and California to allow patients to receive treatment without worrying about ending up in jail for following their doctors’ orders.

"I don’t think smoking marijuana should be a federal case. There’s no federal law against mugging," Frank said. "It does not appear to me to be a law that society is serious about. It’s one area where the public is ahead of the elected officials."

Not only is the federal government behind the times, it’s hypocritical.

The Food and Drug Administration approves use of Marinol, which is a synthetic version of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Marinol is prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting for cancer patients and to stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients, according to the drug’s Web site. But patients report it is not as effective as natural THC.

Marinol lacks several therapeutic benefits of natural cannabis and costs significantly more — upwards of $800 a month, compared with less than $100 a month for marijuana. Legalizing medicinal marijuana, which can be grown easily and inexpensively, would undoubtedly hurt the pharmaceutical companies that produce synthetic THC for profit, perhaps betraying the federal government’s true motives behind the ban.

It is unfair for the federal government to continue prosecuting sick people whose states tell them they are legally treating the symptoms of their diseases. Granted, there are a myriad of issues involved in legalizing, or even decriminalizing, marijuana. But, those are issues that are more easily and appropriately hammered out at the state level.

-The Herald News
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Postby palmspringsbum » Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:34 pm

The Providence Journal wrote:
Bob Kerr: Time to legalize marijuana

The Providence Journal
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Marijuana can get silly. Sure, it can do damage when it becomes a constant alternative to reality. But in too many ways it has become a slapstick prop, causing people in uniform to run around and around until they fall down. Or run into each other. And that’s without smoking it.

The funniest movie about marijuana is Reefer Madness. It features an actor who sucks madly on a joint, then turns into a crazed killer.

That image is decades old and comically out of touch. But it is one that some people cling to even today in trying to give marijuana a place in the war on drugs that is totally unjustified.

The best thing about this product of the earth is that it makes people who feel lousy feel better. People with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, all kinds of painful conditions, find relief in the smoke.

There is no official medical explanation for why puffing makes the pain go away. It just works better than manufactured pharmaceuticals. In some enlightened corners, including Rhode Island, lawmakers have made medical marijuana legally available. It improves lives.

It also gets people sent to the slammer. The very plant that brings relief for some can bring prison time for others.

It is part of the schizoid place marijuana continues to hold. People in jump suits still jump from police vans in pursuit of it. And people in private corners still fire it up to get through the day.

It is way past time for some common sense, for some balance between the brain-twisting devil weed and reality. Marijuana has drawn resources and consumed court time and cell space to an extent far beyond its threat to public well-being. People have suffered ridiculous penalties for possession of something with less mind-altering potential than a six-pack of beer.

Which is why it is so good to see one of the brightest minds in Congress offer some sanity.

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said in a statement yesterday that he will introduce legislation to remove federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana.

“For highly trained federal law enforcement agents to spend time prosecuting people for smoking marijuana is a diversion of scarce resources from their job of protecting public safety,” said Frank.

Hallelujah!

Frank is saying what a lot of people, including some police officers, have been saying for a long time — to make a federal case out of smoking marijuana is “wholly disproportionate to the activity involved.”

“Criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise, when the choices involved have no effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society,” said Frank.

It sure isn’t. To impose archaic drug laws on recreational, at-home marijuana smokers is a waste of all kinds of things, including time and money and gas for whatever urban assault vehicles are used to reach the designated drug den.

One of the best things about what Frank is proposing is that it would lift the ridiculous threat of arrest from those who take their marijuana for pain. For even though Rhode Island and other places have had the compassion and good sense to approve the use of medical marijuana, federal laws do not allow for it.

A multiple sclerosis sufferer could, for example, buy marijuana under the state law, then walk down the street and get busted by the feds.

It’s not likely to happen, but it is an example of what a silly muddle marijuana is in.

Barney Frank is trying to make it a little less silly.

bkerr@projo.com

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Elimination of marijuana laws smart, but will fail

Postby palmspringsbum » Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:07 am

The Daily Cardinal wrote:
Elimination of marijuana laws smart, but will fail

By: Matt Jividen /The Daily Cardinal - March 26, 2008
<span class=postbigbold>
Matt Jividen claims this legislation can be beneficial, even though it will not pass.
</span>
Welcome back, everyone. I assume many of you spent your breaks working on your suntan in some exotic locale. Personally, I stayed in Madison and watched snowfall top the century mark for the season. I did, however, between my long-hibernation-style sleep cycles find the time to watch a rather interesting episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

The episode featured a panel discussion, during which Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said the following: “It’s time for the politicians to catch up with the public on [the issue of marijuana].” He continued, adding his plans to introduce a bill to address the problem this week.

The proposed legislation, dubbed the “Make Room for Serious Criminals Act,” would supposedly end the federal government’s ability to arrest and prosecute responsible cannabis users.

The new proposal would eliminate all federal penalties prohibiting the personal use and possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana. Adults who consume cannabis would no longer face arrest, prison or even the threat of a civil fine.

In addition, this bill would eliminate all penalties prohibiting the not-for-profit transfers of up to one ounce of cannabis between adults. This bill will also cease federal law enforcement agencies targeting those using marijuana as a legal medical treatment under California law.

Many are doubtful of the bill’s passibility, yet at the very least it is a step in the right direction. Although the medical marijuana issue has been hot as of late, this is the first decriminalization bill introduced in Congress in the last quarter-century.

Even so, on a local and state level, several areas have replaced criminal sanctions with fines, including Madison and Milwaukee. Furthermore, a number of states, which collectively are home to over 1/3 of the nation’s population, have passed decriminalization legislation. These include Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon. New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts are expected to join the ranks within the year as well.

Outraged yet? Apparently, you’re in the minority. A CNN/Time Magazine poll found that 76 percent of U.S. citizens support changing the marijuana policy so responsible adults who enjoy marijuana are no longer subject to humiliation, arrest and incarceration. Many people support changing marijuana laws on the basis that it is no more dangerous than other state-condoned substances. For others, it is a financial and social issue—perhaps people have realized that taxing a $6 billion-a-year underground industry could be an economic boon in tight financial times.

Others are tired of paying for prosecution and incarceration for nearly 830,000 Americans who are arrested on marijuana charges each year, 89 percent of which are guilty of no more than simple personal possessions. And let’s not forget the large number of people who are productive and otherwise law-abiding citizens who don’t wish to be marginalized by the outdated and counterproductive prohibition.

In theory, Frank’s bill should pass. However, Washington hypocrisy may once again stymie any progress. And before you start pointing any fingers, it is coming from both sides of the aisle.

In theory, Republicans should support this legislation. The bill is, at heart, a state’s rights issue. States would be given the autonomy to make decisions based on the general constituency of the state, rather than be limited under the umbrella of federal mandates. Many readers may be too young to remember, but the Republicans are theoretically the party of small government and less federal oversight. The bill would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, yet it would still theoretically leave the states with the final say. For example, there’s no federal law against mugging, yet mugging is illegal in every state because of a decision by the individual states. The prohibition on marijuana, on the other hand, is a federal law that supercedes any law made by individual states. Big government, anyone? Unfortunately, I assume the “moral obligations” of congressional Republicans will once again subvert the theoretical foundations of the party.

Did you think I would let the Democrats off that easily? Not a chance. What they have done, in many circumstances, is literally criminal. Remember the 2004 presidential campaign? In a 2003 debate, John Edwards, Howard Dean and John Kerry practically fell all over each other admitting to past marijuana use. Joe Lieberman, who denied any allegations of drug use, did so apologetically. In 2000, Gore openly admitted to frequent marijuana use to calm his nerves while in Vietnam. Before Gore, former President Bill Clinton allegedly would have gotten high had he understood the mechanics of a joint—but, in all fairness, he was only a Rhodes Scholar.

Given the circumstances, how is it then that the law remains? Is it not silly to keep a law on the books that the highest elected officials break with impunity, or even pride? Is it fair that the majority of users are more likely to end up in an eight-by-eight cell, while others unabatedly are free to become president? I would be less upset if these previous users made any attempt at legitimate decriminalization while in office, but, more often than not, the opposite happens. Even Clinton’s “attempted” drug use did not stop the marijuana arrests from soaring during his administration, nor did it stop him from signing a bill into law that revoked federal financial aid to students who had been convicted of drug offenses—no matter how small.

Even current Democratic golden boy, presumptive nominee and self-described “frequent inhaler” Barack Obama has been hypocritical and inconsistent on the issue. While running for Senate in 2004, Obama told Illinois college students that he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use. Fast forward to October 2007 when, in a presidential debate, Obama joined other Democratic candidates in opposing the decriminalization of marijuana. I can’t remember the 2004 election too clearly, but I believe the Republicans had a hyphenated phrase describing that sort of thing…

Hopefully Frank’s proposed legislation will start a long-overdue discussion in the country. Hell, maybe it will pass, but I wouldn’t count on it. Regardless, I’ll still write my senator and tell him to support the bill—and you should too. On the bright side, even if the bill does go “up in smoke,” I’m sure some of the more creative congressional democrats can find some use for all the wasted paper.

Matt Jividen is a senior majoring in history. Please send responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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