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The Hill

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 27, 2012

    I have an op/ed today online at The Hill.com’s influential Congress blog (“Where lawmakers come to blog”).

    Read an excerpt from it below:

    Voters say ‘No’ to pot prohibition
    via TheHill.com

    Voters in Colorado and Washington made history on Election Day. For the first time ever, a majority of voters decided at the ballot box to abolish cannabis prohibition.

    … Predictably, the federal government – which continues to define cannabis as equally dangerous to heroin – is not amused. According to various media reports, the Justice Department is in the process of reviewing the nascent state laws. Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has already affirmed that the agency’s “enforcement of the [federal] Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.” That may be true. But in a matter of weeks, the local enforcement of marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington most definitely will change. And there is little that the federal government can do about it.

    States are not mandated to criminalize marijuana or arrest adult cannabis consumers and now two states have elected not to. The federal government cannot compel them to do otherwise. State drug laws are not legally obligation to mirror the federal Controlled Substances Act and state law enforcement are not required to help the federal government enforce it. Yes, theoretically the Justice Department could choose to prosecute under federal law those individuals in Colorado and Washington who possess personal amounts of cannabis. But such a scenario is hardly plausible. Right now, the federal government lacks the manpower, political will, and public support to engage in such behavior. In fact, rather than triggering a federal backlash, it is far more likely that the passage of these two measures will be the impetus for the eventual dismantling of federal pot prohibition.

    Like alcohol prohibition before it, the criminalization of cannabis is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police. How did America’s ‘Nobel Experiment’ with alcohol prohibition come to an end? Simple. When a sufficient number of states – led by New York in 1923 – enacted legislation repealing the state’s alcohol prohibition laws. With state police and prosecutors no longer complying with the government’s wishes to enforce an unpopular law, federal politicians eventually had no choice but to abandon the policy altogether.

    … On Election Day, voters in Colorado and Washington turned their backs on cannabis prohibition. They are the first to do so. But they will not be the last. Inevitably, when voters in the other 48 states see that the sky has not fallen, they too will demand their lawmakers follow suit. As more states lead the way, federal politicians will eventually have no choice but to follow.

    You can read the entire op/ed here. You can also post your feedback and comments to The Hill by going here. Congress is listening; tell them what’s on your mind.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 19, 2011

    In the wake of Monday’s watershed Gallup poll showing that for the first time more Americans support the notion of legalizing marijuana than oppose it, I have a new op/ed online at TheHill.com’s Congress Blog.

    As many of you know, this is the website where Washington DC insiders, members of Congress, and their staff go to blog.

    Want to send Washington, DC a message that the American public is fed up with the criminalization of cannabis? Then click the link below to read my entire commentary and the be sure to leave a comment (polite, respectful comments only please) on The Hill website.

    More Americans support legalizing marijuana than oppose it
    via The Hill.com

    [excerpt] Since 2005, public support for legalizing cannabis has grown among every single demographic polled. That’s right, today a greater percentage of Americans of every age, political ideology, and from every region of the country back marijuana law reform than did just six years ago.

    … Gallup pollsters analyzed the data and concluded the obvious, “If this current trend on legalizing marijuana continues, pressure may build to bring the nation’s laws into compliance with the people’s wishes.”

    Of course, public pressure has been building for some time now. Since 1996, 16 states and the District of Columbia have initiated statewide laws to allow for the limited legal use of marijuana when recommended by a physician. Laws are also changing in regards to the broader use of cannabis. In fact, in 2011, four states – Arkansas, California, Connecticut, and Kentucky – enacted new laws significantly lowering the penalties for marijuana use and possession. In California and Connecticut, lawmakers took the dramatic step of making such activities non-criminal offenses.

    Nonetheless, federal officials don’t yet seem to be hearing the public’s message – even when it is made clear to them on the White House’s own ‘We the People’ website. … But the Administration’s failure to heed public opinion is a gross political miscalculation.

    Rather than rebuff the public’s calls for cannabis policy reform, the Administration ought to be embracing it.

    … The bottom line: marijuana law reform should no longer be viewed by federal legislators as a political liability. For those lawmakers willing to advocate for common-sense reforms, this issue represents a unique political opportunity. The public is ready for change; in fact, they are demanding it. Lawmakers can either get with the program, or suffer the consequences.

    After you have done so, please also take a moment to contact your members of Congress and urge them to support HR 2306: The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011. You can do so quickly and conveniently via NORML’s Take Action Center’ here. You can also contact the White House here.

    Get active. Get NORML!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 28, 2011

    Tell members of Congress that you support HR 2306, the ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011’ and that you oppose efforts by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) to stifle its debate.

    You can do so by clicking the link below to NORML’s commentary, ‘Let the states decide their own marijuana policies,’ which appears today on TheHill.com’s influential Congress blog and is excerpted below. (The Hill is the paper of record for Washington, DC insiders, members of Congress, and their staff.)

    After you have done so, please also join the thousands of other advocates who have e-mailed their US House Congressional Representative here and urged him or her to support ending federal marijuana prohibition. You can also stay up-to-date regarding the latest political developments surrounding HR 2306 via the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011 Facebook page here.

    Let the states decide their own marijuana policies
    via The Hill.com

    [excerpt] Lawmakers for the first time have introduced legislation in Congress to end the federal criminalization of the personal use of marijuana.

    The bipartisan measure — H.R. 2306, the ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011’ … prohibits the federal government from prosecuting adults who use or possess personal use amounts of marijuana by removing the plant and its primary psychoactive constituent, THC, from the five schedules of the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

    Speaking during an online town hall in January, President Obama acknowledged that the subject of legalizing and regulating marijuana was a “legitimate topic for debate.” Yet last week Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, boasted that he would not even consider scheduling the measure for a public hearing. On Friday, when NORML requested its members to contact Rep. Smith’s office, the Congressman promptly shut off his DC office phone and later closed down his Facebook page.

    It’s obvious why marijuana prohibitionists like Rep. Smith will go to such lengths to try and stifle any public discussion of the matter. Over the past 70+ years, the federal criminalization of marijuana has failed to reduce the public’s demand or access to cannabis, and it has imposed enormous fiscal and human costs upon the American people. Further, this policy promotes disrespect for the law and reinforces ethnic and generational divides between the public and law enforcement.

    Since 1970, police have arrested over 20 million American citizens for marijuana offenses — nearly 90 percent of which were prosecuted for the personal possession of marijuana, not marijuana trafficking or sale. Yet today federal surveys indicate that the public, including America’s young people, have greater access to marijuana — including stronger varieties of marijuana — than ever before. It is time to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to unregulated, criminal entrepreneurs and allow states to enact common sense regulations that seek to govern the adult use of marijuana in a fashion similar to alcohol.

    After 70 years of failure it is time for an alternative approach. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011 is an ideal first step.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 15, 2010

    On Friday we informed you that the United States Senate Judiciary would begin confirmation hearings this week on Michele Leonhart, the President’s nominee to direct the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The hearings are scheduled to begin this Wednesday, November 17.

    As I write today on the website of the Washington, DC politico newspaper The Hill, we must demand that the Senate ask Ms. Leonhart tough questions regarding her past record and her intentions moving forward.

    Obama’s pick to head DEA needs to answer some tough questions
    via The Hill

    [excerpt] Ms. Leonhart’s actions and ambitions are incompatible with state laws, public opinion, and with the policies of this administration. At a minimum, Senators should ask Ms. Leonhart specific questions regarding her past record and her intentions moving forward. These questions ought to include:

    * What are your plans for bridging the growing divide between state and federal law concerning the use of marijuana for medical purposes?

    * How has the DEA changed its policies and practices to ensure compliance with the 2009 Department of Justice memo calling on federal law enforcement to no longer target individuals who are in compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states?

    * When will the DEA respond to a 2002 petition to hold hearings on the rescheduling of marijuana, as were called for by the American Medical Association?

    Failure of the Senate to engage in a probing dialogue with Ms. Leonhart regarding these matters will continue to give the appearance that Congress and this administration are willing to place politics above science. This administration has specifically pledged to end this practice. It can begin doing so by demanding careful consideration be given to Michele Leonhart’s nomination.

    The Hill is the paper of record on Capitol Hill, so please click here to read my entire commentary and leave respectful feedback. Then please contact your U.S. Senator directly. For your convenience, a pre-written letter will be e-mailed to your member of the U.S. Senate when you click here. You can also call your U.S. Senate office and leave a short message by going here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 22, 2010

    Texas GOP drug warrior Rep. Lamar Smith (21st District) lashed out at the Obama administration yesterday on Fox News (Watch the video here.) — claiming that the President is ‘soft’ on pot and is refusing to enforce federal drug laws. But as I opine in today’s edition of The Hill.com’s Congress blog, Congressman Smith is fundamentally wrong on both counts.

    Failed marijuana policies are a bi-partisan boondoggle
    via The Hill

    [excerpt: read the full text here]

    Law enforcement officials prosecuted a near-record 858,408 persons for violating marijuana laws in 2009 – the first year of the Obama presidency. That total is the second highest annual number of pot prosecutions ever recorded in the United States.

    According to the arrest data, made public last week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, some 88 percent (758,593 Americans) of those charged with marijuana violations were prosecuted for possession only. The remaining 99,815 individuals were charged with “sale/manufacture,” a category that includes virtually all cultivation offenses.

    Does any rational person really think that arresting and prosecuting nearly one million Americans annually for their use of a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol exemplifies a ‘soft’ – or better yet, sound – public policy?

    Rep. Smith further claims that the administration has abdicated the enforcement of federal drug laws in the fourteen states that have legalized the physician-supervised use of marijuana since 1996. Not so. Despite promises from the U.S. Attorney General to respect the laws of these 14 states, the September 21 edition of DC’s Daily Caller reports that just the opposite is taking place.

    In an article entitled, ‘DEA, DOJ stay mum on medical marijuana raids,’ reporter Mike Riggs states: “Despite campaign promises to the contrary, the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder hasn’t stopped raiding marijuana dispensaries operating in states where sale of the drug is legal for medical purposes. But the DOJ has demonstrated one marked change now that it’s under Democratic control: The department has stopped publicizing medical marijuana raids, both by requesting that more cases be sealed under court order and by refusing to distribute press releases.”

    The story goes on to cite details of over a dozen recent federal raids of medical marijuana providers in California, Colorado, Michigan, and Nevada – all states that have approved the cultivation and possession of medical marijuana.

    Of course, if the stricter enforcement of marijuana laws – as Rep. Lamar advocates – was really the solution to curbing Americans’ appetite for pot then how does one explain this? Since 1965, police have arrested over 21 million Americans for violating marijuana laws; yet according to the World Health Organization more Americans consume marijuana than do citizens of any other country in the world.

    Rather than scapegoating the new administration, which has done little to alter longstanding U.S. marijuana policy, Rep. Smith ought to reconsider the past 40 years of failed drug war policies. … It is time to replace failed marijuana prohibition with a system of legalization, sensible regulation, taxation, and education.

    The Hill’s ever-popular Congress blog ‘is where lawmakers come to blog.’ It’s also where legislators and other politicos come to gauge the pulse of the public. Given that this is a paper of record on Capitol Hill, why not send Rep. Smith and his colleagues a message that their anti-marijuana rhetoric is woefully out of touch with voter sentiment? You can make your voice heard by leaving your feedback here.

    If you live in Texas (particularly if you live in the 21st District, which includes the cities of Austin, San Marcos, Kerrville, and San Antonio), you can also contact Rep. Smith directly here.

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