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March 26, 2008 - Providence Journal (RI)

Rep. Frank: Time To Legalize Marijuana

By Bob Kerr

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Marijuana can get silly. Sure, it can do damage when it becomes a constant alternative to reality. But in too many ways it has become a slapstick prop, causing people in uniform to run around and around until they fall down. Or run into each other. And that's without smoking it.

The funniest movie about marijuana is Reefer Madness. It features an actor who sucks madly on a joint, then turns into a crazed killer.

That image is decades old and comically out of touch. But it is one that some people cling to even today in trying to give marijuana a place in the war on drugs that is totally unjustified.

The best thing about this product of the earth is that it makes people who feel lousy feel better. People with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, all kinds of painful conditions, find relief in the smoke.

There is no official medical explanation for why puffing makes the pain go away. It just works better than manufactured pharmaceuticals. In some enlightened corners, including Rhode Island, lawmakers have made medical marijuana legally available. It improves lives.

It also gets people sent to the slammer. The very plant that brings relief for some can bring prison time for others.

It is part of the schizoid place marijuana continues to hold. People in jump suits still jump from police vans in pursuit of it. And people in private corners still fire it up to get through the day.

It is way past time for some common sense, for some balance between the brain-twisting devil weed and reality. Marijuana has drawn resources and consumed court time and cell space to an extent far beyond its threat to public well-being. People have suffered ridiculous penalties for possession of something with less mind-altering potential than a six-pack of beer.

Which is why it is so good to see one of the brightest minds in Congress offer some sanity.

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said in a statement yesterday that he will introduce legislation to remove federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana.

"For highly trained federal law enforcement agents to spend time prosecuting people for smoking marijuana is a diversion of scarce resources from their job of protecting public safety," said Frank.


Frank is saying what a lot of people, including some police officers, have been saying for a long time -- to make a federal case out of smoking marijuana is "wholly disproportionate to the activity involved."

"Criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise, when the choices involved have no effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society," said Frank.

It sure isn't. To impose archaic drug laws on recreational, at-home marijuana smokers is a waste of all kinds of things, including time and money and gas for whatever urban assault vehicles are used to reach the designated drug den.

One of the best things about what Frank is proposing is that it would lift the ridiculous threat of arrest from those who take their marijuana for pain. For even though Rhode Island and other places have had the compassion and good sense to approve the use of medical marijuana, federal laws do not allow for it.

A multiple sclerosis sufferer could, for example, buy marijuana under the state law, then walk down the street and get busted by the feds.

It's not likely to happen, but it is an example of what a silly muddle marijuana is in.

Barney Frank is trying to make it a little less silly.

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