Pubdate: Tue, 28 Jun 2011
Source: Taunton Daily Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2011 Taunton Daily Gazette
Author: Marc Larocque, GateHouse News Service


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
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.