Thursday, October 3, 2013

Marijuana: The Harmless Weed

National Lawyer's Guild Testimony before the District of Columbia Board of Directors opposing the marijuana decriminalization bill, Section 102 (D.C. Official Code § 48-901.02)

For nearly a century in the city of Washington, DC, police have been arresting people for holding, smoking, or selling marijuana. The fact that the majority of these people are African-Americans is well-known. People who are in no sense of the word criminals have been sent to prison, sometimes for substantial sentences.

During the past 30 years, the situation has gotten worse. The country has been in the grip of law-and-order mania. Rather than look at the root causes of crime—poverty, discrimination, racism—our lawmakers have decided to put more people in jail, as if that would solve anything. It wouldn't solve anything because people who smoke marijuana are not criminals in the first place. The law makes them criminals, just as racial profiling makes people criminals.

There is a strong connection between racial profiling and marijuana. Studies of New York City's stop-and-frisk laws show that the most frequent result of stop-and-frisk is the discovery of small amounts of marijuana. Police target African-Americans, search them, and find marijuana. The discovery of even a small amount of marijuana may result in an arrest and a court appearance. For a person without the money to pay a lawyer, this could be a serious problem with life-long repercussions.

Now the DC City Council has come to its senses. They now realize there is something fundamentally wrong with punishing recreational use of a harmless—or even frequently beneficial—plant. But this bill is not the answer. It will decriminalize marijuana, but provides no place to legally obtain it. People who traffic in marijuana will still be criminals. Prices for the stuff will still be steep black market prices, reflecting the enormous risks taken by those who smuggle it and sell it.

This bill is a half-way measure, like permitting gay couples to have a civil union license but not a marriage license. That idea was so silly that a wave of laughter has already swept it from the books in more than 20 states. The proposed law on marijuana is equally silly, but it is also extremely harmful, since it retains criminal penalties for sale of marijuana and continues sending non-violent criminals to prison.

This approach has almost the same effect as the “safety valve bill” proposed by the conservative bill mill ALEC and supported by arch conservative David Koch. Rand Paul is sponsoring that bill in the U. S. Senate, S.B. 609. Surely this City Council can come up with something better than that!

This bill is no compromise measure. It leaves intact the system of injustice that has led to mass incarceration and open warfare in our streets during the shameful war on drugs, which is actually a war on our own citizens. Once we recognize that marijuana is not a harmful drug and that people who use it are no more dangerous than the millions who have a few beers while watching Sunday football games, we have no choice but to legalize it, fully and unconditionally.

There is an alternative to this bill, one which is much better for the community. This other bill addresses the real issues of drug use. This alternative bill was introduced by David Grosso. If enacted, Grosso's bill would levy a tax of 10 percent on recreational marijuana and a tax of 6 percent on medical marijuana. It would also authorize the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration to issue licenses to recreational marijuana stores.

This alternative bill would save money the District now wastes imprisoning non-violent drug offenders. It would end the black market in marijuana and let marijuana users purchase the stuff from places that do not also sell Methamphetamine and Cocaine. This is especially important for our youths, who find it easier to buy illicit drugs than alcohol. We should take this opportunity to end the irrational drug policies of the past and start building a new, saner society.

Thank you for listening to us speak on this important issue.

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