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Pot Backers Call for Reeferendum

Discussion in 'Marijuana News from The USA' started by Superjoint, Apr 24, 2001.

  1. By Declan McCullagh
    Source: Wired Magazine

    Hundreds of drug war critics gathered here this weekend to share political tips, marijuana cigarettes, pipes and bowls, and a growing sense of optimism about the future of drug legalization.
    The occasion was the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws convention, an annual event usually held around April 20, a date that has the same kind of significance to cannabis users that, say, July 4 has to patriots.

    In the ranks of the legalize-weed movement, NORML has a venerable history. It's been around since 1970, and has held 27 annual conventions so far -- only to see the drug war escalate during that time to include military troops, longer prison terms, and the creation of a federal bureaucracy that has become the arch-enemy of pot smokers.

    So why were the roughly 250 conference goers sounding almost, well, happy?

    It wasn't just the plentiful herb at the event. NORML believes that thanks to pro-legalization politicians like Gov. Gary Johnson (R-New Mexico) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), state action on medical marijuana, and the spread of the Internet, public opinion may be shifting.

    "We don't live in an isolated world anymore," said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the NORML Foundation. "We can be watching people indulge in cannabis in an Amsterdam cafe via a webcam."

    St.Pierre said Johnson and Frank's support is heartening. "We have not had a major political figure since the '70s come out and endorse a departure from the status quo. That's important and noteworthy to say the least."

    St. Pierre is talking about what former President Carter said in 1977: "Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use."

    During a speech Saturday, Frank went even further. "We have the potential to make American drug policy sufficiently less stupid," he told the NORML conference. "Set that as an interim goal."

    He echoed the usual refrain of pro-legalization politicos: I don't recommend you smoke some reefer, but if you do, going to jail is probably not in society's best interests.

    (Frank has also introduced a bill, H.R. 786, to allow students with drug convictions to continue receiving financial aid.)

    The don't-ask-don't-tell-don't-prosecute idea seems to be gaining some currency. Even former President Clinton told Rolling Stone that he thought Americans possessing small amounts of pot should not go to jail.

    Frank, an outspoken Democrat, used the opportunity to criticize Republicans for supporting states' rights when convenient -- but ignoring them when creating new federal crimes and bureaucracies to fight the so-called drug war.

    "They are for states' rights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday," Frank said. "They are for nationalizing on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. What they do on Sunday I don't know," Frank said.

    "Ninety-five percent of the examples we have of police practices that violate privacy are because of the war on drugs," Frank said.

    The Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on whether police may conduct infrared surveillance of a home to look for hot areas that hint at pot growing without having to obtain a warrant.

    As evidence of the drug war run amok, Frank cited the example of the Baptist missionary plane shot down on Friday after reportedly identified as a drug-runner by the CIA.

    But it is Gov. Johnson, a photogenic and affable politician, who has become the de facto spokesman for the legalization movement.

    He spoke to the NORML convention on Thursday, then showed up on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday. "Can we continue to arrest 1.6 million people a year in this country on drug-related crime?" Johnson asked. "I don't think so. I think that we need to legalize marijuana. We need to adopt harm reduction strategies on all these other drugs."

    "There's no question that this is going to happen," Johnson said. "The question is: Is it going to take 80 years?"

    Also on the show was Barry McCaffrey, the so-called drug czar under Clinton, who predicted that legalization would never take place.

    "It's simply not going to happen," McCaffrey said. "The innate good judgment of the American people understands 'We don't want our employees and our children using drugs. It's a disaster for us.'"

    Salon's Dan Forbes reported last week that Bush is likely to appoint John Walters, another hard-liner, as McCaffrey's successor.

    On Friday, Clarence Page, a reporter at the Chicago Tribune and an occasional panelist on The McLaughlin Group, said that his experiences writing about marijuana suggest that there is a "disconnect between the public and the government."

    He said that during a meeting with his newpaper's editors, McCaffrey claimed that nobody was arrested for marijuana anymore and that the United States has no troops in Colombia. "This man thought we were idiots," Page said.

    If McCaffrey sounded irate about the prospect of drug legalization, he would have been apoplectic at what was happening at the NORML convention, just a dozen blocks away from his old digs in the White House office complex.

    From luncheon speeches and informal evening gatherings in hotel rooms to a private party at the nearby Madam's Organ club, the atmosphere was precisely what you'd expect at a NORML convention: thick with clouds of pot smoke.

    "Oh yeah, they've been passing in here," said J.F. Oschwald, a veteran of the campaign to get medical marijuana legalized in Colorado. A spinal cord injury has confined him to a wheelchair, and he smokes pot to avoid muscle spasms.

    "I think everyone should be able to have marijuana legally," Oschwald said. "But that issue will be around for a long time. For now, we need politicians of any party to take the lead on common sense."

    The Libertarian Party, which supports full drug legalization, was also present at the event, handing out literature in its booth.

    On Friday evening, a NORML organizer made the rounds of the Madam's Organ party to warn everyone to stop smoking pot in public after 10 p.m., since the bar was about to open to the general public. "So hurry up and finish now," he said, to a round of cheers.

    Two students from the Florida State University NORML chapter said they learned to practice what they preach during campus organizing meetings. They said that after a smokeless kickoff meeting of about 50 students, membership quickly plummeted to just five attendees.

    "When we started actually smoking marijuana at our meetings, membership took off," co-organizer Christopher Mulligan said. "We're now one of the largest organizations at FSU."

    Ryan Sager contributed to this report.

    Source: Wired Magazine (CA)
    Author: Declan McCullagh
    Published: April 23, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Wired Digital Inc.
    Website: http://www.wired.com/
    Contact: newsfeedback@wired.com

    Related Articles & Web Sites:

    NORML http://www.norml.org/

    The Libertarian Party http://www.lp.org/

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