Esquire: He's Not High – Inside Barney Frank's Plan to Legalize Marijuana

While Congress debates health care, handles the economic downturn, and the quagmire in Afghanistan, Congressman Barney Frank is eyeing America’s draconian pot policies. Read Esquire’s exclusive interview.
By: John H. Richardson, Esquire Magazine
To my shame, I started my interview with Congressman Barney Frank about the legalization of marijuana by apologizing to my subject. “I know you guys have a lot on your plate these days, so I’m sorry to be calling you about something kind of trivial…”Then I did a rapid midcourse correction. “But it’s not trivial, because people go to jail over it.”
“That’s exactly right,” Frank said.
We were talking about the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2009, Frank’s latest attempt to bring sanity to the federal marijuana laws. Currently, pot is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substance under federal law, which makes it worse than morphine, cocaine, amphetamine, and PCP. Possession of a single joint carries a penalty of $1,000 and a year in prison – a charge faced by about 800,000 American citizens every year. This is the government whose judgment on war and economics we are supposed to respect.
So I started the interview over.
ESQUIRE: Could you tell me why you’re doing it at this time? Everybody says you guys have got so much to handle right now.
BARNEY FRANK: Announcing that the government should mind its own business on marijuana is really not that hard. There’s not a lot of complexity here. We should stop treating people as criminals because they smoke marijuana. The problem is the political will.
ESQ: That’s my second question. There’s already been a lot of change in the country. Thirteen states have decriminalized pot. What’s holding up Congress?
BF: This is a case where there’s cultural lag on the part of my colleagues. If you ask them privately, they don’t think it’s a terrible thing. But they’re afraid of being portrayed as soft on drugs. And by the way, the argument is, nobody ever gets arrested for it. But we have this outrageous case in New York where a cop jammed a baton up a guy’s ass when he caught him smoking marijuana.
ESQ: You’re kidding.
BF: Actually, I’ve just been corrected by my partner – it was a radio he jammed up the guy’s ass, not his baton.
ESQ: Small radio, I hope.
BF: By the way, the bill is bi-partisan: I’ve got two Democrats and two Republicans.
ESQ: Who are the Republicans?
BF: Ron Paul. And Dana Rohrabacher from California.
ESQ: Isn’t Rohrabacher pretty hard-right?
BF: He’s a very conservative guy, but with a libertarian streak.
ESQ: That libertarian streak will help you out once in a while. And who’s against it?
BF: Well, Mark Souder from Indiana, who’s very much a proponent of the drug war.
ESQ: When you talk to Souder about it, what does he say?
BF: You don’t waste your time on people with whom you completely disagree.
ESQ: Okay.
BF: Here’s one thing I would say – there’s a great intellectual flaw at work here. People say, “Oh, you want the government to approve of smoking marijuana.” And the answer is, no, there should be a small number of things that the government makes illegal, but the great bulk of human activity ought to be none of the government’s business. People can make their own choices.
ESQ: What about the “public-square” argument that we need to keep prostitutes off the streets and pot-smokers on the run in order to promote a higher level of morality and civic order?
BF: One, I don’t think it’s immoral to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, even though they may make you sick. Morality to me is the way you treat other people, not the way you treat yourself. John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty makes a great deal of sense in that regard. I wish more people read him.
ESQ: My father forced me to read On Liberty when I was fourteen years old. I still haven’t recovered.
BF: He deals very thoughtfully with some of the objections.
ESQ: Then let me ask you from the other side: Why is the bill so modest? You explicitly say you’re not going to overturn state laws.
BF: Because I think it’s important, when you’re confronting political opinions this way, to make it easier for people. This isn’t for drug dealers. Although I do think there’s a logic that once you’ve allowed people to smoke, you’re going to go beyond that.
ESQ: So how far do you really want to go? Decriminalize completely? Tax it, like they’re talking about out in California?
BF: I don’t think that’s a debate I should get into right now.
ESQ: So you want to be a cautious centrist, waiting for the country to come around?
BF: [pause] You think this is centrist?
ESQ: [laughs] Okay, sorry.
BF: I must say, I don’t have a lot of sympathy with people on the left who say, “Oh, I’m not going to settle for some small step, I’m going to take the big step.” I’m doing something I think could be passable. I believe the results of modest beginnings will encourage people to go further. And if the people who disagree with me are right, it won’t go further.
ESQ: Realistically, do you think it’s going to pass?
BF: Not this year, no.
ESQ: How long do you think it will take?
BF: There’s no point in my guessing. Why would I want to guess? We’ll have a rational discussion, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

While We’re Here, One Final Hit on the Topic

Meanwhile, in the wacky world of Republicans who love liberty almost as much as they love prisons, an Illinois congressman named Mark Kirk has proposed a competing law to make selling “this new potent marijuana” punishable by $1 million in fines and 25 years in prison. Apparently Kirk is talking about something called “kush,” which I cannot personally evaluate since I am A) not currently a pot-smoker, and B) too crippled by college bills to afford anything that costs $600 an ounce. But for those old-fashioned reality-based types who care about scientific evidence, here’s what the guys in white lab coats say
PLUS: Why Obama really might decriminalize weed, and what the Bush team knew about legalization

0 thoughts

  1. What does Paul Krugman think of legalization? Milton Friedman, now deceased Noble Prize winner, favored cannabis legalization.

  2. Mr. Frank has my full support. It is only a matter of time now for the truth and scientific fact to expose those who profiteer at the expense of our civil right and liberty. When that day comes we should hold no quarter and be no less aggressive in demanding just compensation for their willful and criminal abuse of our constitution and our founding father’s wisdom. We have been given no quarter, only lies and propaganda. At what point in time do we the people believe in our government again? When they are truthful, fair,equal and just. No political or religious group has the right to dictate to me what I should believe or have a right to vote on. It is my will that will never be swayed from the truth. That is where our strength check mates their greed and desire to hold power unjustly over our fellow citizens. I am ready for this snowball to avalanche over this corrupt system. (added by Mobile using Mippin)

  3. Well …here we are,we’ve stripped down all of prohibitionist reasons for keeping cannabis illegal. Given them no room to move in and it comes down to this….Money and power. The last two things keeping a draconian law intact. Who has whos hands in whos pockets,who is using their political power to keep the taxes flowing into the whos who pockets.
    If money and power are all thats keeping this crappy law intact..well …that says alot about those keeping cannabis illegal.
    Hypocritical power mongers…thats what it says.

  4. I urge members of Congress to pass two bills (neither of which deals with marijuana directly).
    1) State and Government Agencies (Police, DEA, ONDCP, etc.) can not in any way or form lobby political employees. *** I just thought that politicians being lobbied with tax payer dollars is kind of ridiculous.
    2) Pharmaceutical Corporations must stop and can not advertise their products to the public. This means the end of television and newspaper/magazine articles for pills.
    UNTIL THESE ARE PASSED… marijuana will never be legal.

  5. (I posted this on the previous blog)
    Rick/tenn activist @ 114:
    Wow rick! I think thats the first time I’ve seen you so verbal! I feel like that always! What do these pricks care bout us. Long as they keep us under boot, they could care less. FFS you see states that cant make thier budget and what do they do first? They start cutting the poor and education. NOT thier pet projects,not their 6 figure incomes or entitlements…the poor. Tell us to tighten our belts while they let theirs out a notch.How much of a raise did our leaders give themselves this last time? 17% ? Dont hear that on mainstream media do we?
    Something thats bothering me is some of the laws they have or are slipping passed everyone. Obama said no taxes on those that make 250k or less? Well thats funny, they change some wording then introduce a bill called cap and trade,other wise known as a tax on everyone for everything they buy. But they refuse to tax cannabis? WTF is going on in this country?
    I believe in our fight here,but, I see our leaders moving us toward total ban on all things deemed bad for us,alcohol and tobacco included. I see our laws becoming tighter and stricter via laws we know nothing about. How many times of late have laws been signed that nobody even read?How many of the masses REALLY had a say or agreed to these bils and laws? I dont like to sound biblical, I question things of that nature as much as I do every thing else around me,but if there is an end coming many of the things happening sure point to it.
    There are many countries around the world that are laughing…LAUGHING at us here in the US. They see how our leaders are driving us into the ground,they see how our leaders self importance is ruining this great land.They and our enemies dont need to attack us,we are detroying ourselves. Our leaders ,I feel ,Dont think their ‘RULE’ can end. It can…swiftly.
    Where do we go from here? One day at a time til the truth is revealed, for the lust for greed and power will surely take this country there.
    I must sign off now…

  6. Barney Frank has my full support. Smalls steps towards progress – small – but still a step forward.
    Keep up the good fight everyone!

  7. 3 Cliff…May I refer you to 114 Simple Marijuana Bust Leads to Government Banning Free Speach. I hope that does it for you.

  8. It’s all about getting votes isn’t it folks? Barney Frank is tapping into 60% of American voters who favor marijuana legalization, that’s a smart move politically.
    The point that Barney makes that the government has too much say in what we choose for ourselves is a profound statement and rightfully so. What kind of defense is that against being busted for MJ? I think we have a long road to travel on MJ issues. I’m not being sarcastic when I say, I believe the end of the world will come first before Americans legalize MJ.

  9. Hahahaha. Frank’s such a bad ass. His feelings on the passing of the bill are a little disheartening, but his passion and realistic view on it (One step at a time) is equally encouraging.

  10. We may have won so many people who get refused medical will now be able o treat themselves if passed. Now let’s hope it passes within the fiscal year

  11. Hell yeah Mr Frank I wish u were our govnr here in iowa but time is everything,n its coming

  12. Mr. Frank is exactlly the kind of politician we should all be supporting in his efforts to bring back our freedoms. His statement about what people choose to do should not be the governments business is absolutely correct. Everything he said in this interveiw was right on the mark. I will be contacting his office to see what I can do to help. I hope ypu will all do the same. Mr. Frank, Mr. Paul and Mr. Webb all deserve our thanks and any help we can provide them. Thanks NORML for a great and inspiring article.

  13. more people die a year from cigarettes and alcohol than have ever died from marijuana so y not legalize it because cigarettes and alcohol are legal and kill people all the time..and marijuana has not harmed anyone and is illegal…..something is wrong with that picture right

  14. This dude also sponsered hr 875 witch is any herb smokers worst nightmare . He only seeks votes. GET YOUR HAND OUT MY POCKET!!!!!

  15. ok here is what confuses me when norml and mpp called for a boycott kellogs for dropping their sponsership of phelps kellogs consumer rating droped severly.why not just say if the marijuana laws don’t change don’t plan on being re-elected

  16. Can we clone this guy and replace the representatives that still advocate putting more of us in jail? For simply feeling we should have freedom of choice!!

  17. We are so used to slamming the opposition, we sometimes get carried away. If you think we anti-prohibs have it tough trying to make a point…can you imagine how tough it is for him to “STAND UP” in the middle of all those ??????? and fight for whta’s right. Let’s give him, at least credit for doing so, even if he has alterior motives. Remember…he is a politician. If he fucks up…we can always reconsider our vote. For our sake, let’s hope he doesn’t…and
    …is sincere. He has my vote. But remember too…we voters can be very fickle.

  18. ..maybe by 2137….after 200 years of prohibition, will anything change. Just not in our lifetime. Sorry, truth hurts.

  19. “BF: I must say, I don’t have a lot of sympathy with people on the left who say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to settle for some small step, I’m going to take the big step.’ I’m doing something I think could be passable. I believe the results of modest beginnings will encourage people to go further. And if the people who disagree with me are right, it won’t go further.”
    What is he talking about here? What qualifies as a modest beginning? What does he mean, “And if the people who disagree with me are right, it won’t go further.”
    This is not an issue that is available to social progress or ending poverty or any such massive kind of change requiring epochs of confrontation. All it takes is a few things done right the first time. The whole “medical marijuana” thing has done nothing but make things worse.
    Does Barney Frank think that the people who disagree with him about decriminalization might be right? Is that what he is talking about? If he is going to concede that, he should explain exactly where he thinks they might be right so that he can be set straight.
    Barney Frank needs to demonstrate that as far cannabis is concerned, he is willing to take on some real responsibilities and not just look for attention.

  20. Barney just said what I’ve been saying all along. This little step forward is not so little when you consider that it is a step that leads to other larger steps. Without this smaller step first, the larger steps will NEVER come to light. This small step un-locks and opens the door so to speak, a door that has been closed for decades. Once the door is opened, larger steps can be taken as we enter thru the opened door.

  21. Abso-freaking-lutely Chris @19 , Thats what many of us are saying , If they dont change the laws, they wont get re-elected. Here is a saying we could use… re-legalize….re-elect, no legalize…no elect. Just a thought.

  22. Barny Frank is actually an idiot. However even a broken clock is right twice a day. Keep the ball moving, even if these bills do not pass the pressure is getting cranked up on the people standing in the way of legalization.

    LEGALIZE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    LEGALIZE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. It’s kinda a shame that Barney Frank is the one who is spearheading this movement in Congress. The guy is a complete scumbag. Back in the 90s, he was caught by law enforcement running a male child prostitution ring OUT OF HIS OWN HOME, but curiously he was never acquitted, the whole thing just went hush hush. His list of clients included many prominent people, so it is no surprise that this was swept under the rug.
    On a brighter note, at least SOMEbody is getting the job done!

  26. The reality is Mr. Frank was a key player in the destruction of the housing market with his insistence on the softening lending rules the ruined economy that followed…Yeah, “Rah-rah-rah legelize blah-blah-blah”
    Becareful of who you wave a flag for and who you want to represent the cause, it may just further erode our argument. His credibilty is shit imho.
    Thats like having Ted Kennedy represent the loosening of alcohol laws…bad idea.
    We are gaining momentum and at this point don’t have to ride the jock of any “official” that happens to agree with us. We must be selective and strategic to sway the majority.
    As in, if Al Franken shows interest in the cause…RUN THE OTHER WAY!

  27. Wake up people…..the good book says, all seed bearing herbs should be used for your food, and medicine, what would Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, have to say? Land of the FREE??? I’m sure they are rolling over in their graves!!!!!!!!!!

  28. I agree with post 19.
    We should organize a boycott of these officials letting them know that if they don’t vote for the bill too not count on being re-elected.
    We also need to make sure they understand; this isn’t about stopping the drug war completely this is about keeping sick and pain stricken patients from living in agony. It’s also about; getting the research done, that needs to be done, to most effectively treat illnesses using Medical Cannabis.
    These politicians could be effectively prolonging the existence of some afflictions just by the fact that Medical Cannabis has been found, in ancient and modern studies, to treat a wide range of symptoms and to control inflammation better than most/or-all known agents.
    That right there proves that real research needs to be done and that maybe the reason it’s not being done has to do with someones pockets getting lined as long as we all stay sick… If that’s true then there needs to be a big change in what’s allowable in running this country because at this point it’s like there’s know oversight by the general public. All we can do is complain and open cases with the supreme court in hopes that someone will listen. If everyone we’re trying to get to listen is being controlled by money and influence it’s a sad day in this country.
    I really wish Washington could have had is voice heard more clearly when he said the two party system would be the downfall of the country. I really wish the things he wanted written into the constitution that would have guaranteed the government’s limits, to control what a citizen can and can’t do; would have been put in… I wish the government would stop trying to mother people using the laws, and start focusing on running the country and the safety of the citizens. That doesn’t mean you go as far as to tell them what they can and can’t put in their own body, it means; You keep murderers and rapists off the streets, you start inner-city programs to give kids and teens something to do other then joining a gang, You actively teach teens the dangers of being in a gang, and help people that want to get off of drugs do so without locking them up when they ask for help, and making sure there are set places where the so called taboo behavior is okay. That would be like the red light district in Amsterdam. See the difference is, you don’t have to allow the activity to spill into the streets or women in windows, you can set restrictions on what the area can look like, what ages are allowed in the areas without an adult and what is allowed behind closed doors.
    You see there all afraid that allowing use would eventually mean everything would be okay, but even if it is, it was none of there business in the first place. The government isn’t here to be mommy and daddy to everyone, it’s here to keep the citizens safe from other citizens and hostile people outside the country, not keep citizens safe from themselves. If someone is only putting there self at risk and no one else, even unknowingly, then there is no reason to try to stop them from doing what they’re doing unless they ask for help. If someone asks for help and you can and want to help then by all means help, but don’t base the rights of the many on the actions of the few. Just because some idiot smokes too much weed and was doing it just to get high and then moves on too harder drugs, doesn’t mean everyone else is going too. Things need to be looked at in more of a case by case outlook.
    The people stopping this movement are keeping sick, tortured, and dieing patients from getting the alternative care they need.
    There are a lot of patients in the USA that are getting sicker from the medications they’re using, when they could move off of those medications and focus on alternative medicine.
    There are so many cases of people that had medically documented visible issues that were treated just by using Medical Cannabis, and they just keep ignoring them.
    We need to find a way to show them all these positive cases of people who were at their worst and then had their life turn around for the positive after getting off of toxic medications and onto Medical Cannabis. There are people that run large businesses that use MC just about every day and are perfectly capable to do their job.
    These people in most cases are just trying to control symptoms not escape reality. They are coherent and most are actually more productive because their symptoms that usually give them so much trouble are controlled.
    We need to get this out there and change the way the public views Medical Cannabis patients and Medical Cannabis in general. At this point every time Medical Cannabis is mentioned to a conservative mind; they picture wood stock then move the people off of the field and into the streets of a major city or town. I know it’s stupid to you guys and myself because most of the off the wall stuff going on at woodstock was Heroine and strong-Opiate-painkiller driven (ie., Morphine).
    One day that conservative view will be changed, but not until we prove to them that; that is just not the way we are. We need to prove: we’re just normal citizens in a lot of pain and excess discomfort, that are looking for an alternative way out. We need to prove that: we plan to run legitimate businesses, that don’t bring the quality of the neighborhood they’re in down but, that actually fit in to the area they’re in and are respectfully run.
    We need to change ourselves so that we’re more friendly and trusting like we used to be.
    I’ll end with this.
    “You get more flies with Honey”
    “Kindness Breeds Kindness”

  29. Barney Frank is a OWNED by the international banksters. If he can stop the Audit the Fed bill that has by partisan support and is co-sponsered by over 200 memebers of the house then he can get a decrim bill through, but apparentally he doesnt want to. This bill basically is all show. How many people get busted with less than 100 grams by the federdal govt each year ? Its very very low. Most possession charges are from state and local police, so his bill will do very little and wont effect almost any smokers. Frank and his bill are WEAK SAUCE !

  30. First, to all you Barney Frank bashers: just what have you been doing with YOUR time?
    Secondly, the most important comment here was one made by Plain and Simple:
    1) State and Government Agencies (Police, DEA, ONDCP, etc.) can NOT be allowed to lobby political employees.
    2) Pharmaceutical Corporations must be prohibited from advertising their products directly to the public.
    I fully support eliminating these two practices. They hold prohibition in place, an are questionable at best.
    The first puts children (and adults) at risk for pharmaceutical drug abuse, the second is arguably an unconstitutional conflict of interest.
    To this list I would add immediate repeal of the seizure and forfeiture laws.

  31. Even though he is more progressive than many, Mr. Frank is still a politician, read his responses closely and you will see. Why is it that such an issue as this is not put to the popular vote? I remember in college my teacher told me that public health issues were delegated to the states by the Constitution. It seems to me that the Constitution is abused wholesale today, touted by the powers that be when it is convenient, and ignored when it contradicts their current agenda.

  32. Gee! I thought everyone was on common ground. Vote yes on cannabis, or dig a political hole. PROHIBS have to know that though. Be verbally active to them. We can’t turn our anger on ourselves.
    The payola PROHIBS are getting from the pharma-beast is going to be 100% of nothing. Can’t get it if they’re not in office. I wouldn’t think for a New York minute PROHIBS are unsophisticated enough to stand against an 85% of the voting public in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana. There’s some pissed-off puppies out there, and their vocabulary is containing more and more everyday, words like CIVIL WAR…REVOLT…and things you just never hear from law abidding citizens. Mr. & Mrs. PROHIBITIONIST… as the X’ers (born between 1960-1980…85 million of them…the largest voting block in the U.S.A.) say “DEAL WITH IT!”

  33. I think we should start a national petition of citizens that want sanity brought back to Washington. When we’ve gotten all the signatures we can; we should go public with the numbers sending the petition to every major media outlet, and the house and senate as well. If we make it obvious that this isn’t going away they may actually start listening.
    So far the FBI/DEA have been taking matters into their own hands because they are allowed because of the classification of Cannabis, but Ugh said it best :
    Quote[Ugh]: “I remember in college my teacher told me that public health issues were delegated to the states by the Constitution. It seems to me that the Constitution is abused wholesale today…”
    Yes Ugh my US Gov. Teacher told us the same thing soon after Bush made the comments that He could Federally disregard California’s Medicinal Cannabis laws because of Marijuana’s classification under controlled substance laws. The FBI/DEA under control still by former administration advisers is continuing this anti-democratic escapade. That’s why this law needs to pass so that the FBI/DEA can not use the current gray area against state law abiding citizens; just because they don’t agree with the state laws.
    Also we need to work out something to have better guidelines surrounding Co-ops and dispensaries because the places that are getting hit are the ones pushing the limits too far or not doing things that would keep them out of trouble in the first place.
    Patients need safe access to there Medical Cannabis the FBI/DEA need to stop taking these places down unless they are trafficking Cannabis grown by these Mexican Cartels. If they are then make sure they know what they’re doing is hurting our security and watch them for a while to make sure they don’t buy off of known cartel brokers. The best way to keep the Cartels out of the Market is to let the US growers know that as long as they aren’t selling on the street to non-patients; that they don’t have anything to worry about. Also we should maybe start a grower registration program so that growers can be checked to make sure they don’t have Cartel or Gang ties.
    Just a thought..

  34. Every time I see this guys Elmer Fudd face, or hear his Elmer Fudd voice, I am taken back a step or two, especially because I know his complete background, and it isn’t one that I real in favor of. But…he is a soldier in this cause, and for that I consider the merit of his actions. Be verwy, verwy quiet…I’m hunting wabbit, aka marwywanna.

  35. Booze will mess you up a lot more than pot. If the government legalized it and taxed it, we would have no deficit and quite a healthy country bank roll.

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