This past June, a handful of wise and brave U.S. Representatives submitted legislation that would decriminalize "personal possession of up to 100 grams" of marijuana.
While The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act (H.B. 2943) has no chance of being reported out of committee, its chief sponsor; Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, believes the legislation's introduction will lead to a "rational discussion" of the issue, and perhaps ultimately a more sane federal marijuana policy.
"We should stop treating people as criminals because they smoke marijuana," Frank recently said.
Currently, The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule I dangerous substance, alongside LSD and heroin. Schedule I drugs are deemed "highly addictive" with "no medical value."
However, evidence of marijuana's medicinal value is plentiful. The drug is particularly effective as an anti-nausea agent for people with cancer receiving chemotherapy and those with AIDS. Marijuana's notorious appetite inducement is especially helpful for patients of AIDS Wasting Syndrome.
As well, marijuana has been proven effective in treating multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines, and depression.
The battle to keep the drug legally available to people suffering from these ailments has been the focus of marijuana proponents in California since the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996. The proposition's passage permits patients to possess and use marijuana for medical purposes with a physician's prescription.
Tragically, doctors in California prescribing marijuana remain under threat of license suspension, and patients possessing the drug remain subject to prosecution, because the D.E.A. continues to enforce draconian federal laws that supercede state laws on marijuana.
This, despite a 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine declaring that there was evidence to support the benefits of marijuana as medicine. Even as early as 1986, in the midst of President Reagan's 'War on Drugs,' a Judge on a D.E.A. commissioned panel investigating the potential medicinal value of marijuana concluded, "Marijuana is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man." The Judge's conclusion was overruled in the final report by the D.E.A.
In 1996, President Clinton's Drug Czar, Barry McCaffrey, told a House subcommittee that medical marijuana referendums were merely a front for total legalization. The true aim of groups like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, he claimed, was to make the drug legally available to everyone.
For some, decriminalizing marijuana is certainly an issue of health. For many others, the issue is one of civil rights.
"The great bulk of human activity ought to be none of the government's business. People can make their own choices," Frank said in defense of The Personal Use of Marijuana Act (P.U.M.A.) he submitted in June.
The difficulty, Frank admitted, is there aren't enough politicians in Congress willing to stick their necks out in support of P.U.M.A. for fear of being labeled "weak on drugs," even though many of them personally acknowledge that the federal policy on marijuana is not a sane one.
With 42% of all 2007 drug arrests in the U.S. coming from marijuana possession alone, how any congressperson can call the continued prosecution of marijuana smokers anything but insane is difficult to understand. Even more incomprehensible is the reluctance of these 'servants of the people' to act responsibly, and to address the enormous imbalance between the scientific evidence supporting marijuana as a medicinal drug, as well as society's attitude towards it, and its continued criminality.
While the U.S. government remains fixed on a failed policy; one that is costing billions of dollars, filling the prisons, ruining lives, and losing billions more in potential tax revenues, the governments of other countries around the world have begun reevaluating their marijuana policies, with Mexico decriminalizing "personal use" possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana in August 2009.
The Personal Use of Marijuana Act is a change in U.S. drug policy whose time has clearly come, and deserves to be voted out of committee and brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for thoughtful deliberation.