Working to reform marijuana laws

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Marijuana laws are 'complete lunacy'
Last December, the Georgia Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) introduced Proposition 42 before the Athens city council. Modeled after a document overwhelmingly passed by Seattle voters in 2003, it outlines a measure to effectively enforce marijuana law without prosecuting nonviolent offenders.
April 6th 2009

Last December, the Georgia Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) introduced Proposition 42 before the Athens city council. Modeled after a document overwhelmingly passed by Seattle voters in 2003, it outlines a measure to effectively enforce marijuana law without prosecuting nonviolent offenders.

Prop. 42 will make possession of less than seven grams of marijuana a criminal infraction punishable by a fine of $100. Local courts and law enforcement are currently burdened by the procedure of arresting and jailing violators before releasing them on bond pending a criminal investigation and trial. By eliminating arrests and court appearances for such offenses, and eliminating jail-time and/or probation.

Since 1973, 14 state legislatures and 8 cities- Denver, CO, Carbondale, IL, Lawrence, KS, Ann Harbor, MI, Columbia, MO, Seattle, WA, Milwaukee, WI, and Madison, WI-have successfully enacted measures similar to Proposition 42.

Through a series of articles, I will demonstrate why this measure is sound, and why it is the best method for Athens to handle the crime of marijuana possession. Our goal is to see this measure placed on the 2010 ballot, and passed by popular vote. It is our hope that this article, and those that follow, will help garner the support of Athens residents for our campaign.

The History of the Marijuana Law

Historically, marijuana drug laws are the product of uninformed decisions, and what must either be described as propaganda or complete lunacy. Prior to the federal Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, 27 states had laws against Marijuana. According to The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge: An Inquiry into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition -the first major study history of the marijuana law by Professor Richard J. Bonnie & Professor Charles H. Whitebread of the University of Virginia -those states could be categorized into three groups: Southwestern, Northeastern, and Utah.

Looking at the legislative record, it's obvious the Southwestern states outlawed marijuana to control an undesired Mexican population. It wasn't marijuana that legislatures were fighting, it was its users. Congressmen rallied around statements such as, "All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy", and "Give one of these Mexican beet field workers a couple of puffs on a marijuana cigarette and he thinks he is in the bullring at Barcelona."

Northeastern states had entirely different reasons for the ban. According to a 1919 New York Times editorial, "No one here in New York uses this drug marijuana. We have only just heard about it from down in the Southwest, but we had better prohibit its use before it gets here. Otherwise all the heroin and hard narcotics addicts...and all the alcohol drinkers...will substitute this new and unknown drug marijuana."

Utah, however, enacted marijuana law for its own reasons. When the Mormon Church decreed polygamy a mistake in 1910, those in disagreement fled to Mexico. Failing to establish settlement, the group returned to Utah in 1914 with marijuana. The Church, opposed to euphoriants of any kind, declared marijuana prohibited and wrote it, with other religious prohibitions, into the state's criminal law.

With 27 states prohibiting marijuana, it wasn't long until federal legislation tried to control this "growing problem". Not yet able to mandate criminal law, a common states' rights issue of the time, the legislation came in the form of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 moved through congress very quickly. The Congressional committee hearings lasted one hour each over two days. The hearings featured several testimonies: Harry Anslinger (the newly named Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics), industry spokesmen for rope, paint, and birdseed, and medical Drs. James C. Munch and William C. Woodward.

Each argument can easily be paraphrased. Mr. Anslinger essentially said that marijuana was a "national menace". The paint and rope spokesmen didn't care; they could use other resources. The birdseed spokesman claimed they absolutely needed marijuana seeds to produce shiny coats, and to this day possess an exemption to use "denatured seeds". Dr. Munch conducted an experiment, from which he couldn't draw a conclusion. Dr. Woodward, a representative of the American Medical Association, stated, "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug".

The bill went to the Congressional floor on Aug. 20; it was there for less than two minutes. When asked what the bill concerned, the Speaker replied, "I don't know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it's a narcotic of some kind."

When asked if the AMA supported the bill, one member of the committee replied, "They support this bill 100 percent". This was a lie, but the bill passed anyway. It then cleared the Senate without debate, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law.

Afterward, Mr. Anslinger named Dr. Munch his expert witness; a position he held until 1962. During that time, Dr. Munch went on to repeatedly testify, "After two puffs on a marijuana cigarette, I was turned into a bat," and claimed that he flew around the room for fifteen minutes before finding himself at the bottom of a two-hundred-foot high ink well.

From that point on, when the public perceived an increase in drug use, the answer was new criminal law with harsher penalties in every offense category. When the federal government discovered that organized crime was funded through illegal narcotics, even harsher penalties were enacted. Through repetition of this pattern, drug penalties increased eightfold over 20 years. The war on drugs had begun.

Check out original documents of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:
http://www.druglibrary.net/schaffer/hemp/taxact/taxact.htm

Or read The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge online:
http://www.druglibrary.net/schaffer/Library/studies/vlr/vlrtoc.htm


- Nick Panetta is the public relations director for UGA NORML.

Marijuana prohibition a failed policy
During alcohol prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, the U.S. saw a tripling of alcohol-related deaths and the rise of organized crime. A federal review by the Wickersham Commission of 1930 documented an increase in use of distilled liquors and rampant abuse by minors.
March 17th 2009

During alcohol prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, the U.S. saw a tripling of alcohol-related deaths and the rise of organized crime. A federal review by the Wickersham Commission of 1930 documented an increase in use of distilled liquors and rampant abuse by minors.

Amateur distilling operations often created dangerous, methanol-containing products; corruption of public officials was rife; taxpayer-funded court and prison systems struggled to meet a crushing demand.

Alcohol prohibition, once known as the "Noble Experiment," ended with many former advocates convinced the effects of the ban were more harmful than alcohol.

Prohibition of marijuana, which remains intact, also has been harmful. In fact, more than 50 major government-sponsored studies have denounced marijuana prohibition.

In 1961, the Joint Committee of the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association on Narcotic Drugs conducted a major, combined study of drug policy. These experts note prohibition is based on the misconception that marijuana itself is responsible for criminal behavior.

They contend, rather, that high prices in the illicit market are the primary stimulus for drug-related crime. That illicit market is a direct result of marijuana prohibition.

The AMA and ABA emphatically warn that the U.S. must adopt a different approach to marijuana control.

The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs, one of the most comprehensive drug policy studies ever performed, was published in 1972. This report recommends the immediate repeal of all federal laws governing the growing, processing, transportation, sale, possession and use of marijuana. Suggesting taxation and regulation as more productive in solving potential abuse-related problems, the report explains that tax proceeds would be devoted primarily to credible drug abuse prevention and education programs, as well as research.

Audio recordings from the 1972 Nixon White House demonstrate how President Nixon, infuriated with the conclusions of previous studies, contrived a commission to support his own prohibitionist agenda.

In the tapes, Nixon makes it clear he wants a report that supports his views and bolsters policies perceived to be "tough on crime." Comprised of scholars selected by Nixon, the U.S. National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse spent more than a year studying numerous aspects of marijuana.

When Nixon learned the Commission deemed prohibition to be a failed policy, and even outlined a detailed plan for decriminalization, he refused to read it. Proclaiming, "We need all out war on all fronts," Nixon instead initiated the "War on Drugs."

Economically, this "war" has been a nightmare for taxpayers, costing billions of dollars per year. With the U.S. domestic marijuana crop conservatively valued at $35.8 billion dollars annually, marijuana is easily our nation's top cash crop - generating billions of dollars more than corn and wheat combined.

Under prohibition, federal and state governments fail to benefit from this lucrative industry, and instead allow gangs and cartels to prosper.

In an open letter to Congress, 500 prominent economists, including three Nobel Laureates, support the legalization of marijuana. Citing a report by Harvard University Professor Jeffrey A. Miron, The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition, these economists assert that legalization "would save $7.7 billion per year in state and federal expenditures on prohibition enforcement, and produce tax revenues of at least $2.4 billion annually."

The letter goes on to insist, "If marijuana were taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco, it might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually."

Society must understand drug abuse is a serious reality with which every American should be concerned. However, for decades public policy analysts have deemed our marijuana prohibition to be a contributing factor to problems associated with drug abuse, rather than a mitigating force.

Just as it failed to control alcohol, prohibition is failing to control marijuana. The scientific majority has determined we can safely decriminalize marijuana; it is time for a change of policy.

- Nick Panetta is the public relations director for UGA NORML.

reform the law

UGA Norml endorses responsible marijuana use for adults. Drug abuse is a problem we are all concerned about.

If there is a better method of enforcement, we want it!

Copyright 2009 NormlUGA Inc. All rights reserved.