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

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director July 14, 2009

    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

    49 Responses to “Esquire: He’s Not High – Inside Barney Frank’s Plan to Legalize Marijuana”

    1. Tim says:

      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.

    2. Anonymous says:

      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.

    3. David says:

      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..

    4. Anonymous says:

      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!”

    5. Ugh says:

      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.

    6. dave says:

      BF is a a complete fuck. this is the only issue he has common sense with.

    7. Brinna says:

      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.

    8. Da Vinci says:

      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 !

    9. Ron Niehouse says:

      Please support this bill. Help California and its people. Write to your Representatives PLEASE!

    Leave a Reply