Washington, DC: Members of Congress called on lawmakers to enact legislation that would limit the government's authority to arrest and prosecute adults who possess marijuana for their own personal use.
The federal government should “not lock people up or use scarce federal resources to arrest people for using or possessing … marijuana,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday. “The vast amount of human activity ought to be none of the government's business. I don't think it is the government's business to tell you how to spend your leisure time.”
Rep. Frank, along with Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), called on lawmakers to support legislation, HR 5843, which would eliminate federal penalties for the possession and non-profit transfer of marijuana by adults. Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), William Lacy Clay, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Jim McDermott (D-WA) are co-sponsoring the bill, entitled “the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008.”
The legislation is the first proposal to be introduced in Congress in 30 years that seeks to eliminate federal pot penalties.
According to a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates serving time for drug violations are incarcerated for marijuana offenses.
Speaking at the press conference, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said: “With alcohol, we acknowledge the distinction between use and abuse and we focus our law enforcement involvement on efforts to stop irresponsible use. We do not arrest and jail responsible alcohol drinkers. This should be our policy with marijuana as well.”
According to a nationwide Time Magazine/CNN poll, three out of four Americans believe that adults who possess marijuana should no longer face criminal penalties.
Since 1990, more than 11 million Americans have been arrested for violating marijuana laws, according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of those arrested, nearly 90 percent are charged with minor possession - not trafficking, cultivation, or sale. Nearly 75 percent of those arrested are under 30 years of age.
“The federal government's misguided prohibition of marijuana is a war on young people,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “Because of this failed public policy we have alienated an entire generation to believe that the police and the federal government are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.”
House Bill 5843 is currently before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, which is a part of the House Judiciary Committee. In addition, the Bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's.
For more information, please contact NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre at (202) 483-5500. Video footage from the press conference. Additional video is available from CNN. More information regarding HR 5843 is available online via NORML's Take Action Center.