Pubdate: Fri, 24 Jun 2011
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2011 Independent Media Institute
Author: Sarah Seltzer, Associate Editor at AlterNet, a Staff Writer 
at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City.


Although This New Bill Is Largely Symbolic, the Fact That It's Being 
Introduced, and Other Small Victories of Late, Bode Well for a Change 
in Tone on This Discussion.

It's been forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs."
And we're not winning.

In local communities, Black and Latino men are being singled out
unfairly and fed into the prison system for minor drug offenses; in
Mexico, an unspeakably brutal drug war continues with no signs of
cessation; sick people continue to be denied legal access to medical
marijuana that could ease their pain.

But there are signs that things are changing, the first being a new
bill introduced in congress by Representatives Barney Frank and
current Presidential candidate Ron Paul, with several
co-sponsors--including Representatives John Conyers of Michigan, Jared
Polis of Colorado, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, and Barbara Lee of
Oakland--which would completely end federal prohibitions on marijuana,
so that the only policing of pot the feds could do would be to limit
interstate smuggling. The rest would be up to the states--so that they
could allow the use of the drug for medicinal reasons or even tax and
regulate it, in theory.

New Bill in Congress

 From the Marijuana Policy Project, which declares the bill the
"first" of its kind, came this seriously-worded response: "Rep.
Frank's legislation would end state/federal conflicts over marijuana
policy, reprioritize federal resources, and provide more room for
states to do what is best for their own citizens."

It's hard to disagree with that. The open question, of course, remains
as to whether the bill will get a robust hearing or a debate at all on
the House floor, but it's creating a stir in the media, not the last
because of Frank and Paul's name recognition and because of a growing
consensus even among more conservative types that the war on drugs,
particularly the war on "weed," isn't working.

Either way, the bill is vital symbolically, due to its mainstream
support and the media attention it's garnering.

Here are a few other signs, large and small, that the climate is
changing when it comes to discussions of pot.

"Serious" opinion converging:

A new report from the ultra-serious Global Commission on Drug Policy
opens with the following damning words, and just goes further from
this beginning (emphases mine):

The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for
individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the
initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years
after President Nixon launched the US government's war on drugs,
fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are
urgently needed.

Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed
at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly
failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent
victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are
negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and
traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public
health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other
harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile
supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more
cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.

The distinguished commission includes former US Secretary of State
George Schultz, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi
Annan, and former presidents and prime ministers of numerous countries
around the world, particularly in Latin America which has been hit
hard by the war on drugs.

More decriminalization, more medical marijuana.

Each year, another state or two decides to legalize medical
marijuana--and more decide to decriminalize the substance itself,
making possession subject to fines and smaller charges rather than
full-blown criminal ones. Connecticut made steps to becoming another
such state this spring.

Connecticut Governor. Dannel P. Malloy's public response to the bill's
passage were particularly instructive, practical, and logical.

As reported in a piece on the bill in the Hartford Courant, Malloy
made the following statement:

"... the current law does more harm than good - both in the impact it
has on people's lives and the burden it places on police, prosecutors
and probation officers of the criminal justice system... Let me make
it clear - we are not legalizing the use of marijuana. In modifying
this law, we are recognizing that the punishment should fit the crime,
and acknowledging the effects of its application. There is no question
that the state's criminal justice resources could be more effectively
utilized for convicting, incarcerating and supervising violent and
more serious offenders...

"Modification of this law will now put Connecticut in line with the
laws of two of our neighboring states, New York and Massachusetts, and
a total of thirteen states across the country with similar statutes.

Indeed, these concerns about resources in tough economic times may be
a big selling point for defenders of legalization.

Pop cultural-shift

Stoner movies and jokes have always occupied a niche place in pop
culture, but it certainly made heads turn last week when the new Miss
USA won after expressing her point of view that marijuana should be
legalized for medical purposes.

Okay, so not exactly major news of national import there, but on the
other hand Miss USA isn't some sort of left-wing think-tank, either.
It's a distinctly, boringly middle-of-the-road and acceptable
entertainment franchise.

As Think Progress's Alyssa Rosenberg points out, "Beauty pageants like
Miss America and Miss USA are anachronistic and a little silly, but
they're also a useful measure of the moment when ideas become not just
mainstream, but blandly uncontroversial."
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