Relating To The Personal Use of Marijuana
By Paul Armentano
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
I thank the members of the House Judiciary Committee for their consideration of House Bill 699, which seeks to regulate the consumption and distribution of marijuana by adults. As Deputy Director of NORML - the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws - I take a keen interest in this measure and its intent to stop criminalizing those age 21 and older who engage in the responsible use of cannabis.
Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation's nearly century-long experiment with marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a system of pragmatic regulation. The historic votes on Election Day in Colorado and Washington -- where, for the first time ever, a majority of voters decided at the ballot box to abolish cannabis prohibition -- underscore this political reality.
The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant's medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Furthermore, the criminalization of cannabis simply doesn't work. Since 1970, over 21 million US citizens have been cited or arrested for violating marijuana laws. Yet despite this vigorous criminal enforcement, over 100 million Americans - including the President - acknowledge having consumed cannabis, and one in ten admit that they use it regularly. Marijuana prohibition hasn't dissuaded the general public from consuming cannabis or reduced its availability, especially among young people. But it has damaged the lives and careers of millions of people who were arrested and sanctioned for choosing to ingest a substance that is safer than alcohol or tobacco.
A majority of Hawaii's voters support regulating the adult consumption of cannabis. A statewide poll of Hawaii citizens conducted this month reports that 57 percent of voters believe that marijuana should be "taxed, regulated, and legalized for adults." This percentage mimics national support among the general public for legalizing marijuana.
Despite more than 70 years of federal marijuana prohibition, Americans' consumption of and demand for cannabis is here to stay. It is time for state lawmakers to acknowledge this reality. It is time to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises and it is time for lawmakers to impose common-sense regulations governing cannabis' personal use by adults and licensing its production. House Bill 699 will amend state cannabis laws in a manner that seeks to cripple the existing criminal market and promote public safety. A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for limited, licensed production and sale of cannabis to adults -- but restricts use among young people -- best reduces the risks associated with the plant's use or abuse.
I urge the members of this committee to vote 'yes' on this legislation.
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, 1600 K St. NW, Mezzanine Level, Washington, DC 20006-2832.