Pubdate: Fri, 8 May 2009
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 2009 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Steve Visser, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Cited: Georgia NORML


David Clark looks pretty normal. His smile is soft, his eyes are
friendly, his voice is measured and his goatee is trimmed.

He may be a radical but he certainly isn't wide-eyed.

The Sugar Hill lawyer is the Georgia face of a growing national
movement to make marijuana legal. And if he can't make it legal, then
at least wants it viewed as no worse than breaking the speed limit.

And while many Georgians may view that as the latest example of
liberalism run amuck, for Clark and his allies, it is the marijuana
laws that are crazy.

I think we would be a lot better off if marijuana was the drug of
choice rather than alcohol," he said. "There would be a lot less
violence, a lot fewer traffic fatalities and people wouldn't be
ruining their lives... . Marijuana is a wonderful drug."

Clark, 49, is the executive director of the state chapter of NORML --
The National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws -- which was
incorporated last month to make state laws more bud friendly. The
organization is officially against minors smoking pot.

He notes that national polls show growing support for legalization and
a majority of Americans support making marijuana available for medical
treatment. Last week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged a
study on legalizing pot.

Look, we have a black president and gay marriage is legal in Iowa,"
Clark said. "Anything is possible."

Clark doesn't see the legislature legalizing recreational use -- "This
is Georgia" -- but he does hold out hope for medicinal use and for
decreasing the penalties, which could lead to wider

At least 13 states -- from Alaska to Vermont -- have legalized marijuana
for medical use, which is still a violation of federal law, although
some people are skeptical if it is being prescribed

Jack Killorin, director of a federally funded task force that targets
drug trafficking in the Atlanta area, said many of the prescriptions
for marijuana -- said to be helpful in treating glaucoma and for
increasing the appetite of AIDS patients -- were suspect.

There seems to be a great deal of chicanery going on -- I've got a hang
nail, you need about eight grams a day," said Killorin.

Atlanta Police Sgt. Scott Krehir said officers often turn a blind eye
to marijuana use unless it creates a problem in public. Officers often
view it as largely harmless and see more problems with alcohol, he

Officers are given discretion," said Krehir, a police union chapter
president. "It is like if you stopped somebody who was walking to a
Braves game with a beer in his hand. That is illegal but do I put that
person in jail?"

But people do go to jail for simple possession, either for a
misdemeanor or for a felony, if the amount is more than a ounce. Clark
said the current laws only underscore the unfairness and hypocrisy of
a public policy that largely tolerates marijuana use but sends some
people to jail while others are let go.

Right now, fines for marijuana possession can range from hundreds to
thousands of dollars. In some jurisdictions, possessing relatively
small amounts can lead to jail time, said Bruce Harvey, a defense
lawyer who handles many drug cases.

If a person is arrested with more than an ounce, it will mean an
felony indictment, the lawyer said.

I think those attitudes are changing," Harvey said. "A lot of the
jurors I have experienced even in rural counties say they don't
believe small amounts of marijuana should be illegal."

That may be because so many people have smoked marijuana -- or know
people who have smoked it. A 2007 U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services study found that 4.6 million Americans 35 and older said they
had used the drug in the past month while 62 million said they used it
in their lifetime.

Rick Malone, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorney's Council
of Georgia, said few prosecutors would oppose decriminalization but
suspected few legislators would want to take on the issue.

You're not going to get anyone to repeal the marijuana laws because
they don't want the political heat but if you got them in a back room
and asked about their use in their youth, you might be surprised at
the result," Malone said. "When I was a district attorney in South
Georgia, I asked job applicants about their past use of controlled
substances. I soon quit asking that question. I wasn't going to find
too many people who had gone through high school, college and law
school who hadn't puffed on a marijuana cigarette."

The most recent state controversy about marijuana came last month at
the University of Georgia, when a student chapter of NORML was placed
on probation for selling shirts bearing the image of a bulldog smoking
a joint while reading a book on human rights.

The university claimed copyright infringement. The student group is

So far the state chapter is small -- just over 50 people -- but Clark
claims it growing each week just by word of mouth. Meanwhile, he said,
he will continue to respect Georgia laws and reserve his cannabis
indulgence for trips to the Netherlands, where it is legal, or to the
Caribbean, where police seldom make arrests.

I started smoking pot as a teenager, when I was 14 years old," Clark
said. "I don't smoke marijuana very much today. I just feel strongly
that there shouldn't be laws against it." 
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