It was a curious coincidence last month, that as PBS was broadcasting the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, Prohibition, describing the Hoover Justice Department’s last-gasp crackdown on alcoholic beverages in the late 1920s, prosecutors in the Obama Justice Department were announcing a crackdown on medical marijuana in California, threatening to confiscate the property of people “involved in drug trafficking activity,” which is fedspeak for providing pot for sick people.
After nearly a decade under the Volstead Act, the utter futility of enforcing public abstinence from alcohol was evident to all but prohibition’s stakeholders – chiefly police, prosecutors and bootleggers. Despite the draconian penalties imposed by the 1926 Jones Act, which turned Volstead violations into felonies, booze remained generally available. Similarly, despite the draconian penalties of the Nixon-era Controlled Substances Act, and nearly a million arrests annually, marijuana has proven itself ineradicable, and, indeed, has become a part of our culture. (more…)
As voters in several states head to the polls today to decide Governor and city council races it seems appropriate to ask: “Why are most politicians still inexplicably silent on marijuana law reform?”
The recent legislative hearings on cannabis regulation in Massachusetts and California notwithstanding, the fact remains that these debates are the exception, not the rule. In fact, voters in Maine and Colorado will decide on marijuana law reform ballot proposals today (Note: Check back here tonight for the results.) precisely because their elected officials outright refused to vote on the issues when they were put before them.
In short, prominent politicians continue to run away from sensible marijuana law reforms at the same time that the public is demanding them. Two longtime NORML allies, former High Times editor Steve Wishnia and former NORML Board Member Richard Evans, recently explored this phenomenon and offer some insight and possible explanations:
Almost every voter under 65 in this country has either smoked cannabis or grew up with people who did. Among its erstwhile users are the last three presidents, one Supreme Court justice and the mayor of the nation’s largest city. The pot leaf’s image pervades popular culture, from Bob Marley T-shirts to billboards for Showtime’s Weeds.
So why is actually legalizing it still considered a fringe issue? Why haven’t more politicians — especially the ones who inhaled — come out and said, “Prohibition is absurd and criminal. Let’s treat cannabis like alcohol”?
… One reason for the lack of urgent political pressure, says Deborah Small of Break the Chains, is that the people most likely to get busted for pot are the ones who “don’t have a political voice” — young people of color from poor neighborhoods.
… Washington State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles says that many legislators, particularly in the state’s more conservative rural areas, “buy into the cultural stereotypes about marijuana,” such as the idea that it’s a gateway to harder drugs. The Seattle Democrat, who is sponsoring a bill to reduce the penalty for less than 40 grams of pot from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction, says … that law enforcement has largely opposed her decriminalization bill.
Writing locally in the Massachusetts Daily News Tribune, Evans questions why none of the state’s major party candidates have reached out to the 65 percent of state voters who elected last year to decriminalize marijuana possession statewide.
The Senate race and marijuana prohibition
via The Daily News Tribune
Odd, isn’t it, that all the U.S. Senate candidates, and the people who ask them questions trying to elicit their positions on issues people care about, seem to have forgotten that in the last election, a whopping 65 percent of the voters went for marijuana decriminalization?
If that many voters care about the marijuana laws, why do these candidates, who claim to have their fingers on the public pulse, ignore the subject?
… Politicians report little “noise” on this issue, mistaking silence for indifference, not fear. People are justifiably fearful about writing a letter, showing up on a mailing list, even sending an email with the “m” word in it. They have to be very careful about their jobs, their drivers licenses and the kids in school whose parents will talk. But put them in the privacy of a voting booth, and stand back!
… No living person is responsible for the marijuana prohibition laws. They were conceived three generations ago in a cultural and racial climate far different from our own, and very different from that to which we aspire.
Are we ready for a serious, sober discussion about repeal, without the usual winks, smirks and puns? Can we handle it? Will someone lead it?
And finally, speaking of “serious discussions,” it doesn’t get much more serious — and mainstream — than the persuasive and well-articulated arguments from longtime NORML-ally Jessica Corry, who has an amazing ability to tongue-tie both probitionists and Fox News hosts within three minutes! I’m just glad that she’s on our side.