Congress Sets Sights On Cannabis Prohibition Laws; Major Press Conference Today In Washington

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director July 30, 2008


    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.

    83 responses to “Congress Sets Sights On Cannabis Prohibition Laws; Major Press Conference Today In Washington”

    1. Joseph Hart says:

      Youtube’d Barney Frank’s opinion http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhCBQC0eirQ
      He mentions his neighboring state, my proud state, Rhode Island. 🙂

    2. Gary Storck says:

      Excellent work today Allen, et al!

      I’m pleased my congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin, was one of the first cosponsors of both bills!

      Hopefully both will get a good look next year.

    3. J T Taylor says:

      A step that should have taken place when prohibition ended. Its still going to be a battle, someday it will find its place next to the cigarette packs, or cigars. I just hope that day comes before we all need it instead of wanting it.

    4. David says:

      ONDCP’s David Murray’s attitude “that there is no such thing as the responsible use of cannabis,” is an extension of the “cultural war” that DEA chief John Walters launched against anything that government associates with “marijuana.”

      It doesn’t matter if it’s hempcrete, hemp fuels, fibers, foods, whatever. Government’s agenda is to get the public’s attitude about hemp to at least the same anti-marijuana level as it was in the 1930s “Reefer Madness.”

      Government doesn’t want hemp even considered in the biofuels debate. They don’t want anything associated with medical hemp, much less recreational hemp.

      Government wants to brainwash people into believing that hemp has no value for anything whatsoever.

      Doctors are not allowed to make any positive comments about anything hemp. Not marijuana, not hemp oil, foods, salves, balms–nothing beneficial as a result of using anything hemp.

    5. mark godfrey says:

      I have a vicious bipolar disorder that is cured by Cannabis and long-distance triathlons.

      All I need is the Government to give me a little privacy by getting the fuck out of my life.

    6. Matt Davis says:

      I’m lovin’ this shit, I smell the US Economy getting better already and we’re getting closer to the use of Hemp Oil as well. Screw Runnin’ our soldier’s blood for Foreign Oil. Let’s LEGALIZE “peace” and have a new beginning on THE ENVIRONMENT AND LIVING LIFE.
      -It’s time,
      Phoenix, Az

    7. Way to go Barney Frank, Ron Paul, Barbara Lee, William
      Lacy Clay, the Congressional Black Caucus, Keith Stroup, Allen St. Pierre, NORML, Rob Kampia, MMP, &
      everyone else coming together for this truely historic

      You call for a new concensus of intelligent authority bringing forth a true & meaningful change such
      that people everywhere have the freedom to experience
      that which they have an inalienable right to in the
      first place! (That is, aside from certain restraints placed upon the many by the antiquated laws
      & mindset of a bygone era).

      Years ago i came to the conclusion that there was simply no common sense basis for criminalizing cannabis. Hence the obvious action was to decriminalize & regulate like alcohol, for example.
      Expressed this point of view in a song, “Heaven Sent,”
      which goes, “We so happy we alive, we together can survive. Stop the b.s. stop the lies,
      now’s the time, legalize.”

      Many told me not to put this song out because the
      notion of decriminalizing (i.e. “legalizing” cannabis
      was too scary & not politically correct…many have
      downloaded it anyway, it’s free).

      Perhaps with this new motion, a new notion regarding cannabis use as a basic freedom may emerge, because that’s how it is.

      As a citizen & physician, today more than ever it seems
      we are all on the same page asking ever more clearly
      & concisely for what we want & what we deserve, our
      basic human rights!

      Common sense & common action can eliminate a lot of
      cannabanophobia & other senseless meanderings of politicians into personal space.

      Thanks again to each & everyone of you for making this
      day possible & joining together now one way or another
      for what is best for all.


    8. Phil A. Blunt says:

      LEGALIZE !

      “In a free and democratic society, which recognizes fundamentally but not exclusively the rule of law as the source of normative rules and in which government must promote autonomy as far as possible and therefore make only sparing use of the instruments of constraint, public policy on psychoactive substances must be structured around guiding principles respecting the life, health, security and rights and freedoms of individuals, who, naturally and legitimately, seek their own well-being and development and can recognize the presence, difference and equality of others.”

    9. .Once again you hurt us legal users by pushing ‘your’ agenda ahead of simple descedualization for starters. Mainstreamers see you push us aside for you legalization issue and they realize it is greedy and not humanitarian or patriotic. Get in line. Help the sick first and support our doctors in all 50 states to have the perscription for all members of society without distinction. A doctor’s ability to do this would then set up a template for the rest of the states to add grow laws for the qualified.
      You do us no favors pushing a recreation agenda over those with doctor’s notes in legal states.
      You know darn well Congress would do a simple deschedualization, and you should be smart enough to know that until the deschedualization the Supreme Court suggested happens first, your agenda of legalization does not have a chance in hell and it further mucks the waters and all the efforts of the truly needy to deschedualize. The Rebublicans laugh at you for not taking the Supreme Court up on its suggestion

    10. BugBoy420 says:


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