Congress To Consider Legislation To End Minor Pot Arrests — First Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Over Two Decades To Be Filed Imminently

Washington, DC: US Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) will introduce legislation in Congress to strip the federal government of its authority to arrest responsible cannabis consumers. Representative Frank made the announcement last week on the nationally syndicated television show, “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

“It’s time for the politicians to catch up with the public on this [issue],” Frank told host Bill Maher, who sits on NORML’s Advisory Board. “The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly.”

Frank’s pending bill seeks to eliminate all federal penalties prohibiting the personal use and possession of up to 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) of marijuana. Under this measure, adults who consume cannabis would no longer face arrest, prison, or even the threat of a civil fine. The bill also eliminates all penalties prohibiting the not-for-profit transfers of up to one ounce of pot.

NORML Legal Counsel Keith Stroup, who worked closely with Frank’s staff to draft this legislation, said, “If passed by Congress, this legislation would legalize the possession, use, and non-profit transfer of marijuana by adults for the first time since 1937.”

The bill incorporates the primary recommendations of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (also known as the Shafer Commission), which affirmed to Congress 36 years ago, “The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

Currently, 12 states and numerous municipalities have enacted versions of marijuana decriminalization, eliminating criminal penalties for minor pot violations. Passage of these laws has not led to increased marijuana use.

To date, the only US government study ever commissioned to assess whether the enforcement of strict legal penalties positively impacts marijuana use found, “Overall, the preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people.”

Similar statewide legislation is pending in New Hampshire and Vermont. Additionally, Massachusetts’ voters will likely decide on a statewide decriminalization measure this November.

According to a nationwide CNN/Time Magazine poll, more than three-quarters of American adults favor decriminalizing marijuana.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel or Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.