Efforts to relax pot rules gaining momentum in US
Mon, 11 Jun 2012 10:45a.m.
By David Klepper
Catharine Leach is married and has two boys, age 2 and 8. She has a good job with a federal contractor and smokes pot most every day.
While she worries that her public support for marijuana decriminalisation and legalisation could cost her a job or bring the police to her door, the 30-year-old Warwick resident said she was tired of feeling like a criminal for using a drug that she said is far less harmful than the glass or wine or can of beer enjoyed by so many others after a long day's work. Like others around the nation working to relax penalties for possession of pot, she decided to stop hiding and speak out.
"I'm done being afraid," she said. "People in this country are finally coming around and seeing that putting someone in jail for this doesn't make sense. It's just a changing of the time."
Once consigned to the political fringe, marijuana policy is appearing on legislative agendas around the country thanks to an energised base of supporters and an increasingly open-minded public. Lawmakers from Rhode Island to Colorado are mulling medical marijuana programs, pot dispensaries, decriminalisation and even legalisation. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now authorise medical marijuana and 14, including neighbouring Connecticut and Massachusetts, have rolled back criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot.
Rhode Island is poised to become the 15th state to decriminalise marijuana possession. The state's General Assembly passed legislation last week that would eliminate the threat of big fines or even jail time for the possession of an ounce or less of pot. Instead, adults caught with small amounts of marijuana would face a $150 civil fine. Police would confiscate the marijuana, but the incident would not appear on a person's criminal record.
Minors caught with pot would also have to complete a drug awareness program and community service.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he is inclined to sign the legislation.
One of the bill's sponsors, state Rep. John Edwards of Tiverton, has introduced similar proposals in past years but the idea always sputtered in committee. Each year, though, he got more co-sponsors, and the bill passed the House this year 50-24. The state Senate passed it 28-6.
Some supporters of decriminalisation say they'd like to go even further.
"America's 50-year war on drugs has been an abysmal failure," said Rep. John Savage, a retired school principal from East Providence. "Marijuana in this country should be legalised. It should be sold and taxed."
Opponents warned of dire consequences to the new policy.
"What kind of message are we sending to our youth? We are more worried about soda - for health reasons - than we are about marijuana," said one opponent, Rhode Island state Rep. John Carnevale a Democrat from Providence.
A survey by Rasmussen last month found that 56 percent of respondents favoured legalising and regulating marijuana. A national Gallup poll last year showed support for legalising pot had reached 50 percent, up from 46 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in the mid-'90s.
Medical marijuana helped bring marijuana policy into the mainstream back in 1996, when California became the first state to authorise the use of cannabis for medicinal use. Other states followed suit.
"It's now politically viable to talk about these things," said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, DC-based group that supports the reduction or elimination of penalties for medical and recreational pot use. "The public understands that there are substances that are far more harmful - alcohol, tobacco - that we regulate. People are realising just how much money is being wasted on prohibition."
Colorado and Washington state will hold fall referendums on legalising marijuana. A ballot question on legalisation failed in California in 2010.
This month, Connecticut's governor signed legislation to allow medical marijuana there. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed cutting the penalty for public possession of small amounts of pot.
Liberal state policies on marijuana have run into conflict with federal prohibition. Federal authorities have shut down more than 40 dispensaries this year in Colorado, even though they complied with state and local law. In Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee blocked three dispensaries from opening last year after the state's top federal prosecutor warned they could be prosecuted. Chafee and lawmakers then rewrote the dispensary law to restrict the amount of marijuana dispensaries may have on hand.
Robert DuPont, who served as the nation's drug czar under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, said Americans should be wary of a slippery slope to legalisation. While marijuana may not cause the life-threatening problems associated with heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, it's far from harmless.
"It is a major drug of abuse," he said. "People ask me what the most dangerous drug is, and I say marijuana. Other drugs have serious consequences that are easy to recognise. Marijuana saps people's motivation, their direction. It's a drug that makes people stupid and lazy. That's in a way more dangerous."
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11/06/2012 8:32:05 p.m.
Ok SKEPTIC using that logic it would fair to assume that all who drink any amount will act as completely drunks and will be unable to make the right decision not to drive intoxicated? Every drug known to man has different effects through different amounts taken! Like to much alcohol can kill as apposed to no amount of canabis being able to kill! the real problem is the users! Effects felt by any drug is dependent on the user, as such if your a dumb ass then on "pot" you very well could be a killer in the work place just as if you are irresponsible (not fully adult) you are more likely to drink and drive and kill! You cant ban something just because some usless individual cant handle the jandal. Lifes tough and adults accept who they are and what they can and cant do. Education is the only way. Those who cant handle the truth and go ahead and do as they please and harm anyone in the process, ANYONE, they can be punished severly, hard time and made to work to pay for the vacation to prison!
11/06/2012 11:40:48 a.m.
This women has been smoking to much pot. Having worked with pot smokers I can tell you that the claim they make that it doesnt affect you is a fantasy.
There work performance drops a huge degree the day after they have had a smoke up and they are positively dangerous working round or with machinery when stoned.
When drug testing was bought in on NZ manned factory trawlers some years ago the serious accident rate dropped 90%.
The claim by smokers that it doesnt affect then shows how dangerous it is because they dont even realise that they are more dangerous.
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