John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

Well, well.

I never thought I’d admit this, but U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and I agree on something.

It’s not often that I find myself in this position – finding common cause with a virulently reactionary Texas Republican.

But on June 23, 2011, Paul joined his fellow representatives Jared Polis, Barney Frank, Steve Cohen, John Conyers and Barbara Lee, all Democrats, to propose a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to end the federal war on marijuana and leave the matter to the states.

Mark that date, folks, because it’s a big one.

As far as I can recall, it’s the first time the members of that august house have publicly stated what many of us have known for years – the federal government has no business prosecuting adults for smoking pot.

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Frank noted that, in its overly zealous pursuit of potheads, the federal government is wasting resources and intruding on people’s private lives – two lines of thought that must have played a big part in bringing Ron Paul into the fold.

The bill is not, to be clear, about urging people to go out and toke up.

It is about the federal government waging an ill-conceived war on its own citizens, and spending vast amounts of money to do so. A 2007 study by researcher Jon Gettmen revealed that this country wastes at least $42 billion every year to stamp out pot and pot users – $10 billion on direct law enforcement costs, and $30 billion in lost tax revenues.

It is about some 850,000 citizens, many of whom were otherwise law-abiding people, who were arrested on pot-related charges in 2009 alone.

It is about the total of more than 22 million who reportedly have been arrested and prosecuted since the 1960s on marijuana-related charges, many of them sent to prison.

It is about the most egregious evidence that we are living in a police state, when the cops can bust in your door based on what you are smoking in your own living room.

It is about common sense, and the fact that 16 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and 14 states have decriminalized possession of the weed.

I suppose I should declare, right here, that unlike a certain former president, I did inhale. I therefore know whereof I write.

Pot is a drug, no question about that, but arguably it is the most benign mind-altering substance we’ve ever used, speaking globally. And we’ve been using it for millenia as a medicine and a source of relief from the rigors of life, probably for a lot longer than we’ve been making and drinking alcohol.

Prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco and a number of other drugs annually kill untold numbers of people. But pot, in and of itself, has never killed anyone.

The move to outlaw marijuana, way back in the 1930s, was racist in its origins, and drug enforcement today largely remains so. Back then, pot was “known” to be the drug of choice for black Americans and jazz musicians, and those who used drug intolerance to advance their political careers were not shy about claiming that smoking pot made black men horny for white women.

Today, blacks or Hispanics are up to five times more likely to be arrested for drug use than whites.

Despite all that, it seems that some modicum of common sense is working its way up to the halls of Washington, D.C., at least in the legislature.

Granted, even the bill’s sponsors admit that there is little likelihood that their proposal will get through Congress.

Already another Texan, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, reportedly announced he would not put it on his committee’s calendar, thereby killing the bill just as it got started.

But Barney Frank has said he has another bill ready to go, this one aimed at permitting states to decide for themselves what their policies will be concerning marijuana, effectively taking the feds out of it.

That, too, undoubtedly will face the same kind of ignorant and hysterical outcry that has kept pot at the top of the illegal drugs list for decades.

But, as Barney Frank has said, it’s all about education at this point.

jcolson@aspentimes.com

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