Barney Frank Wants You to Smoke Marijuana

Barney Frank Wants You to Smoke Marijuana

There are currently two pretty major pieces of legislation before the Federal government related to marijuana. From the political right comes a motion by an Illinois congressman named Mark Kirk. Kirk wants to make the sale of a particularly potent new strain of marijuana (known as “kush”) punishable by fines up to $1 million and a prison term up to 25 years long. I went to college, and I’ve been to my share of parties after those heady years at University, and I’m a bit familiar with this “kush” strain — yes, it is much stronger than your dad’s stash, and the stuff is so popular people willingly pay as much as $600 for a single ounce of it. Put into perspective, an ounce of low grade marijuana can go for as little as $45 or $50 in my home state.

At the same time as Kirk’s fearmongering boost to the “War on Drugs”, Congressman Barney Frank (D – Massachusetts) produced the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2009. This bill is the big time version of many college NORML group’s biggest complaints about marijuana related legislation — Frank is attempting to add a little sanity to the debate about marijuana.

Currently, all forms of pot are classified as Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substances under federal law. What does Schedule 1 mean? For starters, it makes the possession of weed worse than that of morphine, cocaine, amphetamine, or PCP. That’s right — having a bag of ganja on you when you get pulled over is “worse” in the eyes of the law than illicit possession of morphine.

In fact, if you were to get caught with a single joint, you could face a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in prison. Last year, about 800,000 American citizens faced this penalty, clogging up our prisons and our justice system. Meanwhile, pot dealers are stacking cash and laughing at a Federal government that can’t figure out how to make money off those of us who want to smoke a little reefer.

This is the Federal government whose opinions on the economy can have a serious impact on our lives. Ask the millions of people without work how good our Federal government is at economics. Ask millions of Americans who have lost their homes.

Frank’s point appears to be that the Federal government should mind its own business when it comes to responsible adults who wish to use marijuana. Frank has been quoted as saying that the government should stop treating marijuana users as criminals — think of the number of people who go out every night to use another intoxicating drug (alcohol), on which they pay taxes and have to follow certain restrictions from the government. Why shouldn’t marijuana smokers be able to do the same thing?

Wouldn’t a debt ridden state like California profit pretty heftily from the sale of marijuana? What about our national deficit — couldn’t potheads smoke a nice dent into that number?

Thirteen US states have made major moves toward decriminalizing pot. There’s a proposal in Colorado to reduce the fine for simple possession of marijuana to $1, payable with the ease of a traffic ticket. In certain states, like California and New Mexico, people with certain medical conditions (from cancer to work related stress) can receive “reccomendations” from their physician to legally procure medical marijuana. I’ve heard of some counties in California where police look the other way when it comes to pot. The point is that the country’s policy towards marijuana is changing on a state by state basis. So what’s holding up the Congress from making some kind of change?

According to Frank and other colleagues interested in reducing the government’s involvement with marijuana, the problem at the Federal level is a “cultural lag”. Senators and members of the House are afraid of being seen as “soft on drugs”, though many (in private) will apparently admit that they don’t see the use of marijuana as a terrible thing. Often, the argument I hear from people about why marijuana politics don’t need changing is — “Nobody gets arrested for it anyway!” but the opposite is true. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are arrested every year for simple possession of weed.

Frank’s bill is bi-partisan in an era when almost nothing else is. Frank and a fellow Democrat have joined forces with two Republicans to propose some big changes to this country’s policy on marijuana. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul is one of the Republicans — Dana Rohrabacher (from California) is the other.

Frank has plenty of opposition to contend with — much of it in the form of Mark Souder, comngressman from Indiana, who is the poster child for the drug war. Souder (and others who feel the way he does) makes what is known as the “public-square” argument against drugs and other vice — that argument says that the Federal government should keep things like prostitution and drugs off the streets in order to “promote a higher level of morality and civic order”.

The title of this article is obviously a joke. Barney Frank is not actually encouraging people to get high any more than he is suggesting that the government should tax and regulate drugs. Frank’s bill stops far short of the kind of talk going on in California right now, where members of that state’s government see marijuana as a way out of their financial troubles. In fact, Frank’s bill doesn’t suggest any changes to individual state’s legislation.

While Barney Frank is not usually one to take baby steps towards a larger goal, he seems to believe that changes to this country’s attitude toward soft drugs like marijuana will come a tiny bit at a time.

When will changes to our country’s war on potheads arrive? Probably not any time soon. For the time being when you get high you’ll still have to look both ways, feel the twinges of paranoia, and hide your pipes and bongs from your landlord. But stay tuned, because when issues start popping up at the national level, progress usually follows.