Fans of Legal Marijuana Cheer

Sep 10, 2013

The pros and cons of mar­i­juana will take cen­ter stage Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., when the Sen­ate Judi­ciary Com­mit­tee holds a land­mark hear­ing on legal­iza­tion. Requested by com­mit­tee Chair­man Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the hear­ing was trig­gered by U.S. Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder’s announce­ment last month that fed­eral author­i­ties no longer will inter­fere as states adopt laws to allow med­ical mar­i­juana or to legal­ize the drug entirely. The hear­ing is on con­flicts between state and fed­eral mar­i­juana laws. In call­ing for it, Leahy ques­tioned whether, at a time of severe bud­get cut­ting, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions of mar­i­juana users are the best use of tax­payer dol­lars. Dan Rif­fle, direc­tor of fed­eral poli­cies for the non­profit lobby group Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., said he hopes for a break­through in the hear­ing that would lead to changes in fed­eral bank­ing laws, allow­ing mar­i­juana sell­ers to accept credit cards and checks, not just cash. That would do a lot to legit­imize the nation’s mar­i­juana indus­try, safe­guard­ing trans­ac­tions from the risk of rob­beries and smooth­ing the route away from the black mar­ket and Mexico’s drug car­tels, Rif­fle said. But “the ele­phant in the room is that we have an admin­is­tra­tion that’s essen­tially work­ing around fed­eral law” to allow states to legal­ize mar­i­juana, he said. “What we should do is just change fed­eral law — just legal­ize mar­i­juana.” This fall, Michi­gan law­mak­ers could take up bills that would ease laws on mar­i­juana and widen med­ical users’ access to it. With pub­lic atti­tudes bend­ing toward legal­iza­tion in the last three years and reach­ing a major­ity in March, those who favor legal weed say they’ve reached a water­shed year — one like 1930 might have felt to those who wel­comed the nation­wide legal­iza­tion of alco­hol in 1933. “It is his­toric — you can feel it,” said Matt Abel, a Detroit lawyer who heads Michi­gan NORML, the state chap­ter of the National Orga­ni­za­tion for the Reform of Mar­i­juana Laws. Fans of legal mar­i­juana say their cause just hit the tip­ping point, and point to a series of events that they say prove that legal­iza­tion is on the cusp of being more than a pipe dream. They include that: * In March, for the first time, a major­ity of Amer­i­cans — 52% — told poll­sters they favored legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter. * In antic­i­pa­tion of retail pot stores open­ing this Jan­u­ary, recre­ational users are flock­ing to Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton state. * Two national opin­ion lead­ers sig­naled changes of heart about cannabis. CNN med­ical cor­re­spon­dent and Novi native Dr. San­jay Gupta, in his doc­u­men­tary “Weed” last month, reversed the stance he expressed in his 2009 Time mag­a­zine arti­cle, “Why I Would Vote No on Pot.” And U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told an audi­ence in Tuc­son last week, “Maybe we should legal­ize mar­i­juana. … I respect the will of the peo­ple.” Plan­ning to be in a front-row seat at Tuesday’s hear­ing is Neill Franklin, who heads LEAP — for Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hi­bi­tion — a nation­wide group of mostly retired police, judges and cor­rec­tions offi­cers who want to see all street drugs legal­ized. “A nation­wide pol­icy of pro­hi­bi­tion leads to orga­nized crime, under­ground crime, mass incar­cer­a­tion, very costly law enforce­ment, and iron­i­cally, the drugs become widely avail­able and more dan­ger­ous because there are no quality-control stan­dards,” Franklin said last week. “We saw that with alco­hol,” he said. But not all at the hear­ing will be in favor of all-out legal­iza­tion. Kevin Sabet, a for­mer senior adviser on drug pol­icy to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s drug czar, is expected to tes­tify that legal­iza­tion is being rushed into the states with­out under­stand­ing its con­se­quences. His argu­ments are laid out in detail in his new book “Reefer San­ity: Seven Great Myths about Mar­i­juana” (Beau­fort Books, New York: $14.95), Sabet said. “It’s an appeal for a science-based and a health-based mar­i­juana pol­icy, not based on legal­iza­tion but also not based on incar­cer­a­tion for small amounts” — and instead advo­cates wider access for mar­i­juana users to state-of-the-art drug treat­ment pro­grams, said Sabet, the direc­tor of the Drug Pol­icy Insti­tute at the Uni­ver­sity of Florida. Sabet will bring his mes­sage to Michi­gan next month as a pre­sen­ter at a pub­lic con­fer­ence on youths and the con­se­quences of mar­i­juana. It’s Oct. 10 at the Oak­land County Inter­me­di­ate School Dis­trict offices. “Yes, there are med­ical prop­er­ties in mar­i­juana,” Sabet said, “but we don’t need to deliver that by smok­ing a joint or eat­ing a brownie.” Source: Detroit Free Press (MI) Author: Bill Lait­ner, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer Pub­lished: Sep­tem­ber 10, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 Detroit Free Press Web­site: http://​www​.freep​.com/ Con­tact: letters@​freepress.​com

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