Pubdate: Tue, 28 Jun 2011 Source: Taunton Daily Gazette (MA) Copyright: 2011 Taunton Daily Gazette Contact: http://www.tauntongazette.com Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2750 Author: Marc Larocque, GateHouse News Service U.S. REP. BARNEY FRANK LOOKING TO END FEDERAL POT PENALTIES U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat from Newton whose district includes Taunton, has partnered with a Republican congressman from Texas to introduce legislation that would make marijuana criminalization the business of state governments. Frank and Libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul introduced HR 2306 on Thursday in Washington, D.C. The bill doesn't necessarily legalize marijuana but takes it off a list of federally controlled substances and lets states decide how to regulate it. The bill would also eliminate federally provided marijuana-specific penalties in the Controlled Substances Act. The legislation maintains the illegality of transporting marijuana across state lines. Instead, it would allow individuals to grow and sell marijuana if they are in a state that chooses to make it legal. Frank said the decision to file the legislation was about standing up for personal rights and saving time and money for law enforcement, but he stopped short of endorsing the use of marijuana. "Criminally prosecuting adults for making the choice to smoke marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources and an intrusion on personal freedom," Frank said. "I do not advocate urging people to smoke marijuana, neither do I urge them to drink alcoholic beverages or smoke tobacco. But in none of these cases do I think prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions is good public policy." The bipartisan legislation is co-sponsored on its introduction by John Conyers, D-Mich., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. In Taunton, at least one anti-drug advocate said that the proposed legislation was a step in the wrong direction for public health. Annemarie Matulis, a member of the Taunton Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force and director of the Silver City Teen Center, said she opposes legalizing marijuana. "In my personal opinion, not speaking for the task force, I would rather they didn't," she said. "I firmly believe that after 30 years working in substance abuse prevention, (marijuana) is a gateway drug and leads to its own set of medical conditions and problems." That said, Matulis explained that the task force has largely shifted its focus to prescription drug abuse. They sense that a changing national attitude toward marijuana may make grant funding for marijuana-prevention programs less available. "It was obvious to all of us that's where it was going," Matulis said. One Massachusetts-based marijuana legalization advocate said that the proposed legislation was a noble idea that would reverse a prohibition that he believes is against the U.S. Constitution. "The legislation would restore constitutionality to marijuana policy," said Steven Epstein, a spokesperson for MassCann, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. "The federal government has no business under the Constitution to prohibit interstate commerce in marijuana. The prohibition is illegitimate." Paul, a presidential candidate who has a strong following among the younger generations, sees things along the same lines. Paul, who was born in 1935 when there was no federal prohibition on marijuana, said the government needs to get back to its old ways regarding the drug. "This may seem strange to a lot of people but I'm only going back to 1937 when that's the way it was handled," Paul said on CNBC on Thursday. "The states always did this. This is not a huge radical idea. It was something that was legal for a long, long time." Paul said he is also motivated by the fact that some states have passed laws allowing the use of medicinal marijuana. The Texas congressman added that marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol, which he described as far more dangerous. "I would say marijuana, as far as causing highway problems, is minuscule compared to alcohol," Paul said. "Yet we know the prohibition of alcohol was very bad. This is just getting back to a sensible position on how we handle difficult problems." The legislation proposed by Frank and Paul, however, may not see the light of day. According to the Associated Press, House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith said his panel, which the proposed law is required to pass through, will turn down the HR 2306 bill. "Marijuana use and distribution is prohibited under federal law because it has a high potential for abuse and does not have an accepted medical use in the U.S.," said Smith, who is also a Republican from Texas. "The Food and Drug Administration has not approved smoked marijuana for any condition or disease." Smith said that marijuana leads to other drugs, and that legalization would lead to stronger drug cartels -- an argument that legalization advocates absolutely disagree with. "Decriminalizing marijuana will only lead to millions more Americans becoming addicted to drugs and greater profits for drug cartels who fund violence along the U.S.-Mexico border," he said. "Allowing states to determine their own marijuana policy flies in the face of Supreme Court precedent." The Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group for marijuana decriminalization and regulation, said HR 2306 would be the first bill ever introduced in Congress to stop federal marijuana prohibition. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.