July 30, 2008, Washington, D.C,: Today something rather historic on a number of counts occurred in the nation’s capital. Firstly, Congress is for the first time in a generation (1978) taking a serious look at reforming components of cannabis prohibition laws. In today’s Congress, the support of the Congressional Black Caucus is pivotal to passing any substantive cannabis law reform. So I was so very heartened that Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and William Lacy Clay (D-MO) joined us on this very hot and oppressively humid day in DC, along with the always jocose Barney Frank (D-MA), the bill’s primary sponsor (along with Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX).
Second, the media attending today’s press conference on HR 5843, a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession and use for responsible adults, fairly captured the event’s narrative, i.e., ‘it makes no sense to treat cannabis consumers like criminals’ and ‘why not start controlling cannabis in the same way society (and government agencies) already control alcohol products?’ with no double entendre or goofy ‘stoner stupidisms’. You can view a CNN video of the press conference here. Also, you can check out some YouTube footage here of my opening remarks.
Bill Piper from the Drug Policy Alliance spoke about the collateral effects that happen to citizens arrested for minor amounts of cannabis including, but not limited to: loss of student loans; denial to public housing, food stamps and job training; and denial of entry into the military and some government service jobs.
Rob Kampia from the Marijuana Policy Project discussed the broader implications of the federal government passing decriminalization legislation and how it could affect state efforts to reform cannabis laws, notably this November’s decriminalization initiative on the ballot in Massachusetts.
As has been noted by others who attended today’s press conference, there was a certain air of desperation coming from the part of the government who is responsible for supposedly ‘controlling’ currently illicit drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)chief propagandist David Murray attended the press conference, making himself available for questions afterwards and handing out his latest anti-cannabis handywork, and he seemed absolutely befuddled that anyone on the face of the planet could possibly compare cannabis and alcohol policies, and that there is no such thing as the responsible use of cannabis. Period. Even for medical purposes with a physician’s recommendation. Period.
Wow. Can you say, ‘flat earth’?
Indeed, there is much work to be done in cannabis law reform in the Executive Branch (which, astonishingly, is where ONDCP resides) and so-called anti-drug agencies. The tale of Hercules and the cleansing of the Augean stables immediately comes to mind…
As Chairman Frank noted in his prepared remarks, HR 5843 (and similar legislation HR 5842, which regards medical marijuana rescheduling) are not likely to come a full committee for vote until well into 2009. Given this candid assessment by Rep. Frank, for NORML members and advocates of cannabis law reform, there are still important phases that we can all help accomplish that will hasten passage of these important and reform-minded bills.
Rep. Frank and the other current co-sponsors of HR 5843 will be sending around a ‘Dear Colleague” letter soon encouraging other members of the House to join them early on in support of their bill for the decriminalization of cannabis for responsible adult use and, therefore, like all legislation in the Congress, the more co-sponsors of a legislative bill, the better chance the bill’s chance of passage.
With the change of presidency in the wings and a likely increase in the number of Democratic members being elected to the House of Representatives, NORML’s expectations for HR 5843 is for there to be both subcommittee and full committee votes on Judiciary regarding this important legislation late into 2009.
Importantly, NORML members and advocates of cannabis law reform, for the next six months, need to truly concentrate their advocacy efforts on actively recruiting each of our elected members of Congress to become co-sponsors of HR 5843. Of the many lobbying and advocacy efforts one can employ to advance cannabis law reforms in America, getting a federal cannabis decriminalization bill passed and signed into law is the single most politically achievable public policy advance that is likely to happen in Congress in the next few years.
As our democracy prescribes, states will continue to largely serve as the catalyst of change and innovation in public policy making regarding cannabis, and this is very likely going to continue to happen with more and more municipalities and states passing progressive cannabis laws—at some point, ultimately, positively affecting the federal government.
At least that is how it is supposed to work, right?
Stay tuned to NORML!
Update: a one-day CNN online poll on 7/30 asked citizens if they support legalizing cannabis: 76% in favor, 24% against. On July 31, the Washington Examiner in DC ran an online poll, resulting in a similar spread: 75% in favor, 25% against.