Sunday, October 27, 2013

Washington, D.C. pushes bogus marijuana decriminalization bill

Anyone who's seen a Fox “News” program knows how they work. One talking head reads a news story and the others comment on it, using the most violent distortions of the truth. For instance, one might say, 89 percent of the persons arrested for simple possession of marijuana in the District of Columbia are African-Americans or another minority. Then the Fox commentator says, I wonder why that is? And another one goes into a long-winded reply about how that's the way people are.

Or, on another occasion, someone might read a news item that indicates that marijuana is neither addictive nor harmful. It is certainly not a gateway drug to anything except entanglement in the prison system. Then the other Fox commentator says, surely we can't let this dangerous drug be distributed to our children. Another Fox commentator says, certainly we can't permit this dangerous drug to be legalized.

This sort of comedy show is very popular on Fox. Firmly held opinions of the status-quo are endlessly repeated, no matter how discredited those ideas have been. But these little falsehoods were repeated in DC City Council Chambers last Thursday, October 24, 2013, where the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety was holding hearings on the “decriminalization” of marijuana. The ring master for this farce was Tommy Wells, who I understand is running for mayor. It was Councilman Wells's responsibility to see that witnesses were truthful and all points of view were considered. Unfortunately, Wells did not do that. Instead, he permitted reams of falsehoods to be entered into the record.

Take, for example, the study by Washington Lawyers' committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. This careful study, based entirely on records of the Metropolitan Police Department, showed that 89 percent of arrests made in DC for simple possession were African-Americans. What did Wells say about this disparity in treatment of different races by the police department? He asked the witnesses for the Lawyers' Committee what could be the reason for this startling figure.

Let me make this clear. Wells did not ask the representative of the Mayor, Andrew Fois, how the police intended to fix this problem. No, Wells acted as if it wasn't a problem. Then he sat and listened while Fois explained how decriminalization would work. Mere possession would be legal, but not using the drug on the street. But possession itself would be illegal in City Parks and near schools.

Possession for sale, of course, would still be illegal. Councilman Marion Barry asked how much marijuana a person would have to have before he could be arrested for intent to sell.

Andrew Fois: Oh, any amount.
Barry: Even a single joint?
Fois: Yes.
Barry: So if you had a single joint in your pocket you could be arrested for intent to sell?

At this point one of Fois's deputies jumped in to rescue his boss from the blind alley he had wandered into. “Oh, no,” he said. “There would have to be some other evidence.” What the other evidence might be was not revealed.

When my turn came to testify, I asked the court why they were not considering total legalization. David Rosso has introduced a bill to that effect. It seemed to me inevitable that marijuana would be legalized eventually. Why not now?

Wells got a little hot under the collar. I suppose he was angry at me for disrupting his dog and pony show, where official witnesses lined up to tell Wells what a great guy he was, and what a great job the police are doing, busting 40,000 African-Americans a year, mostly for nothing at all, and how we really can't legalize marijuana right now because, as Wells explained

  1. The Congress might do something if we did.
  2. Legalization of marijuana would do nothing to halt use of more dangerous drugs.
  3. The time isn't right.

To which I would have responded (if Wells had the courtesy to ask what I thought of the matter, instead of pontificating at length about what he thinks,

  1. Congress hasn't done anything yet. It is likely, however, that the courts will do something soon about the prevalence of racial profiling, as they did in Floyd v. City of New York.
  2. Legalization of marijuana only legalizes marijuana, it is not intended to resolve all of society's drug problems. To oppose legalization because it doesn't stop other drugs doesn't make logical sense.
  3. The time is always right to stop enforcing an unjust law that police use to harass African-Americans.

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