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

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former 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. Adam says:

      I encourage anyone who reads this to contact Mark Kirk and tell him what you think. I think they need another reminder…

    2. The Oracle says:

      What does Paul Krugman think of legalization? Milton Friedman, now deceased Noble Prize winner, favored cannabis legalization.

    3. Cliff says:

      Mr. Frank has my full support. It is only a matter of time now for the truth and scientific fact to expose those who profiteer at the expense of our civil right and liberty. When that day comes we should hold no quarter and be no less aggressive in demanding just compensation for their willful and criminal abuse of our constitution and our founding father’s wisdom. We have been given no quarter, only lies and propaganda. At what point in time do we the people believe in our government again? When they are truthful, fair,equal and just. No political or religious group has the right to dictate to me what I should believe or have a right to vote on. It is my will that will never be swayed from the truth. That is where our strength check mates their greed and desire to hold power unjustly over our fellow citizens. I am ready for this snowball to avalanche over this corrupt system. (added by Mobile using Mippin)

    4. R.O.E. says:

      Well …here we are,we’ve stripped down all of prohibitionist reasons for keeping cannabis illegal. Given them no room to move in and it comes down to this….Money and power. The last two things keeping a draconian law intact. Who has whos hands in whos pockets,who is using their political power to keep the taxes flowing into the whos who pockets.

      Well… WHO GIVES A HOOT!

      If money and power are all thats keeping this crappy law intact..well …that says alot about those keeping cannabis illegal.

      Hypocritical power mongers…thats what it says.

    5. Plain and Simple says:

      I urge members of Congress to pass two bills (neither of which deals with marijuana directly).

      1) State and Government Agencies (Police, DEA, ONDCP, etc.) can not in any way or form lobby political employees. *** I just thought that politicians being lobbied with tax payer dollars is kind of ridiculous.

      2) Pharmaceutical Corporations must stop and can not advertise their products to the public. This means the end of television and newspaper/magazine articles for pills.

      UNTIL THESE ARE PASSED… marijuana will never be legal.

    6. R.O.E. says:

      (I posted this on the previous blog)

      Rick/tenn activist @ 114:

      Wow rick! I think thats the first time I’ve seen you so verbal! I feel like that always! What do these pricks care bout us. Long as they keep us under boot, they could care less. FFS you see states that cant make thier budget and what do they do first? They start cutting the poor and education. NOT thier pet projects,not their 6 figure incomes or entitlements…the poor. Tell us to tighten our belts while they let theirs out a notch.How much of a raise did our leaders give themselves this last time? 17% ? Dont hear that on mainstream media do we?

      Something thats bothering me is some of the laws they have or are slipping passed everyone. Obama said no taxes on those that make 250k or less? Well thats funny, they change some wording then introduce a bill called cap and trade,other wise known as a tax on everyone for everything they buy. But they refuse to tax cannabis? WTF is going on in this country?

      I believe in our fight here,but, I see our leaders moving us toward total ban on all things deemed bad for us,alcohol and tobacco included. I see our laws becoming tighter and stricter via laws we know nothing about. How many times of late have laws been signed that nobody even read?How many of the masses REALLY had a say or agreed to these bils and laws? I dont like to sound biblical, I question things of that nature as much as I do every thing else around me,but if there is an end coming many of the things happening sure point to it.

      There are many countries around the world that are laughing…LAUGHING at us here in the US. They see how our leaders are driving us into the ground,they see how our leaders self importance is ruining this great land.They and our enemies dont need to attack us,we are detroying ourselves. Our leaders ,I feel ,Dont think their ‘RULE’ can end. It can…swiftly.

      Where do we go from here? One day at a time til the truth is revealed, for the lust for greed and power will surely take this country there.

      I must sign off now…

    7. adle1984 says:

      Barney Frank has my full support. Smalls steps towards progress – small – but still a step forward.

      Keep up the good fight everyone!

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    9. Manford Mantis says:

      3 Cliff…May I refer you to 114 Simple Marijuana Bust Leads to Government Banning Free Speach. I hope that does it for you.

    10. Somedood says:

      I Think we should pass a bill to make Kirk rename himself to Klingon!