Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Author: Joan Ryan
Published: Friday, May 16, 2003
Copyright: 2003 San Francisco Chronicle - Page A - 27
Contact: [email protected]
Sometime in the near future, if a bill in the Canadian Parliament passes as expected, you won't be arrested any longer in Canada for having a few joints in your pocket or a few cannabis plants in the basement. You'll pay a fine and that's it -- no criminal record to explain to a new employer, no missed mortgage payments while you watch "All My Children" in the prison lounge with guys named Tiny and Red.
Canada is about to decriminalize marijuana throughout its provinces. Prime Minister Jean Chretien fully supports the move. Drug arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments cost his country about $400 million a year -- the majority for marijuana possession. The United States, by some estimates, spends $17.5 billion a year policing and prosecuting drug users and dealers.
"It's not only the cost of locking these nonviolent offenders in jail, but the cost of their lost labor," said Jacob Sullum, author of a new book titled "Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use."
Pot smokers who are behind bars are not out in the workforce supporting their families or paying taxes. Instead, they're draining tax money to the tune of about $150 a day in some prisons.
I am not a marijuana imbiber myself but, really, enough already with the Reefer Madness hysteria that continues to undergird our drug policies. It flies in the face of 40 years of research. The nonprofit Rand Drug Policy Research Center is the latest to present findings that disprove the much-cited theory that marijuana leads to harder drugs.
Yet we spend dwindling public resources locking people up for smoking pot. Worse, we're spending dwindling resources locking people up for selling pipes and bongs! In late February, 55 people in 10 states were arrested and charged in a nationwide crackdown on the sale of drug-related paraphernalia.
"This illegal billion-dollar industry cannot be ignored by law enforcement, " U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft explained. As terrorism, corporate fraud and joblessness worry the nation's citizens, Ashcroft rustles up a posse to raid head shops.
The government's marijuana mania would seem like one long "Saturday Night Live" skit if people's lives weren't being ruined. The head-shop offensive followed Ashcroft's prosecution of Oakland's Ed Rosenthal on federal drug charges for growing and distributing cannabis to cancer and AIDS patients.
Rosenthal's lawyer was barred from telling the jury that his client had been licensed to sell the drug under California's medical marijuana statute and a city ordinance. Rosenthal was convicted in January and faces a minimum sentence of five years in federal prison.
Several jurors said later they never would have convicted Rosenthal had they known he was acting legally under local law. Now, two U.S. representatives from California and 30 colleagues are co-sponsoring a bill called "The Truth in Trials Act." It would allow people arrested for violating federal marijuana laws to introduce evidence that they were acting in accordance with state laws. Seven other states have medical-marijuana laws similar to California's.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, told the Oakland Tribune this week he is not likely to support the bill. This surprises no one, given administration officials' apoplexy over Canada's move to decriminalize marijuana. They envision bales of pot pouring into Detroit and Buffalo, providing funds (drug czar John Walters warned) for terrorists. The United States has threatened that, if the legislation passes, Canadians heading into the United States should bring paperbacks and provisions. There will be long delays at border crossings for excruciatingly thorough inspections.
This is not a moral issue. A drug is a chemical compound. It is neither moral nor immoral. Given what research and experience tells us, how can we continue to spend so much money, and ruin so many lives, by sending pot smokers to jail? Instead of trying to impose our irrational drug policies on Canada, let's instead follow its lead -- and that of 12 of our own states -- and decriminalize marijuana nationwide.
Related Articles & Web Site:
Cannabis News Canadian Links
What Are You Smoking, Canada?
Lighter Penalties for Minors in Pot Bill
New Pot Plan Just Token Effort
Stop The Reefer Madness