Members of Congress Demand An End To Pot Possession Arrests


Wednesday, July 30, 2008: At a press conference held this morning, members of Congress called on their fellow lawmakers to remove all federal penalties that criminalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults.

“To those who say that the government should not be encouraging the smoking of marijuana, my response is that I completely agree,” said Representative Barney Frank (D-MA). “But it is a great mistake to divide all human activity into two categories: those that are criminally prohibited, and those that are encouraged. In a free society, there must be a very considerable zone of activity between those two poles in which people are allowed to make their own choices as long as they are not impinging on the rights, freedom, or property of others. I believe … criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise ones, when the choices involved have no negative effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society.”

Rep. Frank, along with co-sponsors Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Lacy Clay (D-MO), urged lawmakers to support HR 5843, An Act To Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults, which would eliminate federal penalties for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana, and for the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana. Other co-sponsors of the measure include Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR); Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA); Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).

This proposal reflects the basic recommendations of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (aka the Shafer Commission) in its groundbreaking report to Congress in 1972 titled Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults and this should be of no interest or concern to the government,” said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre. “It makes no sense to continue to treat nearly half of all Americans as criminals. “

“I am a 43-year-old man, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, I pay my taxes and, like millions of other Americans, I occasionally smoke marijuana. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would wish to treat me like a criminal, based on my responsible use of marijuana. It is time we stopped arresting responsible marijuana smokers, and HR 5843 would do that under federal law.”

This is the first federal marijuana decriminalization bill to be introduced in Congress since 1978, and reflects the changing public attitudes that no longer support treating responsible marijuana smokers like criminals. According to a nationwide Time/CNN poll, three out of four Americans now favor a fine only, and no jail, for adults who possess or use small amounts of marijuana.

Each year in this country we arrest more and more of our citizens on marijuana charges. In 2006, the last year for which the data are available, we arrested 830,000 Americans on marijuana charges, and 88 percent of those arrests were for personal possession and use, not trafficking. They were otherwise law-abiding citizens who smoke marijuana.

Since 1965, a total of nearly 20 million Americans - predominantly young people under the age of 30 -- have been arrested on marijuana charges; more than 11 million marijuana arrests just since 1990.

Currently 47 percent of all drug arrests in this country are for marijuana, and another marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds. Police arrest more people on marijuana charges each year than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

As President Jimmy Carter said in a message to Congress in 1977, “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to the individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use.”

For More Information, Contact:
NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre; allen@norml.org; 202-483-5500
or Legal Counsel Keith Stroup: keith@norml.org; 202-483-5500

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