Want a better world? Listen to your opponents
|March 1, 2008||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Want a better world? Listen to your opponents
Making Pot Legal: We Can Do It — Here’s How
We trim this article posted on AlterNet February 12, 2008. The author, senior policy analyst for the NORML, is an expert in the field of marijuana policy, health and pharmacokinetics who has testified before several state legislatures and federal bodies and assisted dozens of criminal defense attorneys in cases pertaining to the use of medicinal cannabis.
By Paul Armentano
Criminalizing marijuana results in the arrest and prosecution of more than half a million Americans every year for possessing even small amounts of herb.
While a majority of Americans do not support legalization, reformers have made progress. To date, 12 states — almost one-third of the US population — have enacted versions of decriminalization (exempting adult cannabis users from incarceration, but not necessarily arrest, under specified circumstances). Twelve states have also adopted versions of medicalization (exempting certain state-authorized medical patients from state-specific criminal sanctions).
To advance, what must reformers do?
They must provide consistent and resonant messages to reporters, as well as establish relationships with key journalists and opinion makers. Advertising campaigns could offset the federal government’s anti-drug advertising budget of some hundred millions in taxpayers’ dollars each year.
In the media and as witnesses at government hearings, cops are the most vocal opponents of reform. Last year in Texas, state politicians passed a law allowing police to ticket, rather than arrest, minor marijuana offenders nearly unanimously, but so far cops have implemented it in only one county. Reformers must recruit active members of law enforcement.
Penalties for a minor marijuana arrest include probation and mandatory drug testing, loss of employment, loss of child custody, removal from subsidized housing, asset forfeiture, loss of student aid, loss of voting privileges, loss of adoption rights, and the loss of certain federal welfare benefits such as food stamps.
Thousands of Americans suffer such sanctions every day — at a rate of one person every 38 seconds. Our movement must circulate a poster child to humanize this issue, emphasizing the personal stories and tragedies. We must recruit high-profile celebrities and human rights advocates to publicly speak out on these victims’ behalf.
According to a 2005 study, 74% of all Americans busted for pot are under age 30, and one out of four are age 18 or younger. Though the young suffer the most, they lack the financial means and political capital to effectively influence politicians.
Adult African-Americans account for only 12%of marijuana users but comprise 23% of all marijuana possession arrests. In some jurisdictions, such as New York City, minorities comprise more than 80% of all individuals arrested for pot offenses.
Reformers must do a better job of engaging the parents of young people and organizations speaking on behalf of youth and working toward racial equality.
Cannabis prohibition is responsible for driving marijuana underground where suppliers produce pot of unknown quantity and sell it in an unrestricted market to customers of any age. By contrast, a regulated and restricted system would limit the supply of cannabis to young people, while bringing the production and sale of pot for adults within an accountable marketplace. Reformers must tell parents that legalizing marijuana makes it easier to control its use.
According to government data, the majority of Americans who use pot do so intermittently — not daily — and most voluntarily cease their habit by time they reach their early 30s. (Compare this pattern to most people’s use of cigarettes, a habit that often continues unabated throughout one’s lifetime.)
Recently, a regional education campaign comparing and contrasting pot use with alcohol launched by Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation resulted in a majority of Denver voters electing to do away with minor marijuana law enforcement within the city’s limits.
Reform campaigns should target younger drivers as this group is most likely to use cannabis then operate a motor vehicle. The development of THC-sensitive technology, such as a roadside saliva test, would help law enforcement identify potentially intoxicated drivers. Reformers’ endorsement of these and other traffic-safety specific campaigns will increase support among the public.
The reform movement needs to move beyond offering criticism and begin providing solutions. We have a model of legalization — state-mandated age controls and pot sales restricted to state-licensed stores .
Marijuana law reform is often advanced for secondary reasons (e.g., “Hemp can save the planet!”). But at its core, reform is an effort to bring civil justice to millions of Americans who chose cannabis rather than alcohol to relax. Once this movement addresses the objections of opponents, reformers can end the arrest of responsible adult pot smokers and enact a regulated system of cannabis access and sales.
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