Pubdate: Fri, 02 Jul 2010
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2010 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Jennifer Foster
Note: Jennifer Foster is an Asheville attorney and the Pro Bono Coordinator
for six Western North Carolina counties through Pisgah Legal Services.


This week, I helped form a new North Carolina non-profit-- The North
Carolina National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NC
NORML). Yes, that's right. Weed, dope, pot, ganja, reefer, cannabis.
Everyone knows it illegal, but when asked, nobody really knows why.
Alcohol, which leads directly to violence and death, is perfectly fine
so long as you are of age. Ask any police officer if someone being
arrested for marijuana without alcohol has ever resisted, or ask any
domestic violence victim if marijuana led to a battering?

Anyone who knows the history laughs at the federal government's
original basis for the prohibition back in 1937 that "marijuana is the
most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind," claimed to be
even more dangerous than heroin or cocaine. The false news reports
that black men, most notably those insidious jazz-musicians, raped,
murdered and assaulted white women after smoking marijuana cigarettes
were clear race-baiting. The problem, however, is that law and policy
remains the same, with the same effect.

Quite a few of the people I know ask why I feel so strongly that
marijuana prohibition needs to end; it's basically legal now, right?
It is true that North Carolina is somewhat progressive, in that simple
possession of less than one-half ounce is regarded as a no-jail
offense. But what is astonishing, however, is that the overwhelming
majority of those charged with marijuana violations nationally in
2006, 738,915 Americans, 89 percent of these were for simple
possession. The remaining 90,710 individuals were for
"sale/manufacture," an FBI category that includes marijuana grown for
personal use or purely medical purposes. These new FBI statistics
indicate that one marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in
America. Taken together, the total number of marijuana arrests for
2006 far exceeded the combined number of arrests for violent crimes,
including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated

And who gets arrested most often? People of color, youth and the poor.
College kids lose their financial aid, non-violent citizens get
criminal records, which greatly impacts future employment
opportunities, and people just struggling to survive get caught in the
criminal justice system of fees and drug tests. Lives spiral downhill.

As a local attorney with 15 years of experience in the criminal
justice system, I feel very strongly that cannabis (which was the
original name changed by the federal government to 'marihuana' taken
from Mexico) should not be a crime. There is no rational basis for
it--it is not dangerous, it is a natural herb and long-standing
medicine, is not addictive and has strong positive effects, which for
me has involved spiritual and philosophic growth. Many successful
people smoke marijuana to unwind in the privacy of their homes, which
even Sarah Palin believes should not be a law enforcement priority.
How is this any different than the traditional glass of wine after

Both state and federal lawmakers know these realities, yet are afraid
to change the law, even for the clearest case of all--marijuana as
medicine, as is exemplified by HB 1380, the North Carolina Medical
Marijuana Act, which remains languishing in the House Health
Committee. The federal government's policy to ban all study of
marijuana's medicinal effects, or to even look at rescheduling
marijuana from a Class I controlled substance (a high potential for
abuse and zero medical use), shows a clear irrationality.

While criminalizing marijuana does bring revenue to law enforcement,
the cost of such enforcement, prosecutions, and incarcerations diverts
scarce resources away from the prosecution of real crime. Marijuana
users are not criminals. Why not chose to combat and even prevent
violent crime, while at the same time adding much needed revenue to
the State's coffers through fair taxation? Reforming marijuana law can
provide jobs and revitalize the family farm. Marijuana and industrial
hemp production are the perfect replacement for tobacco and our
agricultural base.

It is time to have an honest conversation about reforming North
Carolina's marijuana laws. The first step is recognizing the very real
health issue that is medical marijuana. This means that lawmakers,
especially those on the House Health Committee, need to hear the real
stories in support of HB 1380 in the last weeks of this short session.

It is hard to "come out of the cannabis closet." I have experienced
myself, and have seen it at every turn. There is a strong fear of law
enforcement, which is not unfounded based on a nationwide trend of
increasingly violent police raids. In Asheville, we enjoy relative
happiness and freedom, but the rest of North Carolina needs us, as do
our future generations. The time has come to take an honest look at
marijuana prohibition and the resulting cost to our society.

Jennifer Foster is an Asheville attorney and the Pro Bono Coordinator
for six Western North Carolina counties through Pisgah Legal Services. 
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