The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy

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    Despite its widespread use, all types of marijuana continue to be illegal under federal law. While President Obama has declared that his administration has “bigger fish to fry” in regard to cracking down on legal state usage, far too many United States Attorneys and drug enforcement personnel are still ‘frying those little fish.’ 12

    Only Congress has the power to unravel this mess. It is past time it does so.

    Discuss :)

    This is a state and local issue as well as a national issue and as this paper shows there are a lot of ramifications if the federal law remains in conflict with an increasing percentage of the states.



    A well-balanced and readable article, Ken. Thanks.

    It’s a slam-dunk: Federal marijuana laws need to be relaxed. And no one, anywhere, should be jailed just for growing a few plants or possessing small quantities of mj. Duh.

    One small thing . . . papers on marijuana law often give stats like this:

    Millions of people have been caught up in the justice system for marijuana offenses. Over 660,000 were arrested for possession in 2011, which represents the most recent data. Too often people are serving time in jail for using a drug that nearly half the nation’s population feels should be legal for recreational purposes and 70 percent feel should be legal for medicinal purposes.

    –excerpt from Ken’s Web link

    The authors imply that most people arrested for possession are doing jail time just because of that, but I don’t think that’s true.

    If someone’s out on parole, for example, and their parole order says “no marijuana use” and then they get popped on a UA and have to go back in, does that count as being “caught up in the justice system for a marijuana offense”?

    And then too, you have to remember that there’s possession . . . . and then there’s possession.

    [insert Linda Blair joke here]

    Of the 660,000 arrested for mj possession in 2011, no doubt some were arrested with large quantities and were intending to distribute. (That’s called “possession with intent to distribute.”)

    Of the people who actually end up in jail/prison on a pot charge, I’d venture that most are really there for something else, and the pot-possession time just got slapped on as part of the total penalty.


    Michael Waldo

    The stupid thing about the fed pot laws is that pot is classified at the highest restrictive level, higher then crack, heroin, and the like. The fed restricts researchers from even studying pot. Crazy.

    Despite the law, everyone I know who likes to smoke pot can get it and smokes it. Everyone I know who doesn’t smoke pot, they don’t smoke it because it is illegal, they don’t because they don’t like it. As far as I can see, the law has no effect on usage. Now that pot is legal in our state, I still don’t plan on smoking it. I prefer a nice glass of wine.



    Since I am from the south, I may be more aware of the current and historical truths that there are far more people of color or poor of any race, in the US that end up incarcerated for that “simple possession” than the arrest rates for dealers and smugglers can account for.



    I agree with you, Ken, so I’m going to change my tune a little. Yes, you are more likely to get jail time for mj possession if you’re poor, Black and/or living in the South.

    If possession were decriminalized everywhere, it doesn’t mean that the authorities couldn’t find other ways to keep the prison biz booming, but every little monkeywrench in those cogs helps.


    OK, so now the discussion has expanded to touch on the issue of drug laws and institutional racism.

    We know that, among drug users, powdered cocaine is preferred by Whites, while crack cocaine is preferred by Blacks. So why are penalties so different for equal amounts (by weight) of these substances?

    A friend of mine claims that higher penalties for crack cocaine are justified because crack is more addictive. Is that true? And even if it is true, is that a good argument?

    I believe that, per capita, there are more Blacks doing hard time for crack than there are Whites doing hard time for powdered coke.

    So . . . is it that cocaine usage rates different for different races? Or is it just the arrest/prosecution/conviction rates? Anyone know?

    Regardless, there is a widespread perception among Blacks that drug laws are racist. That can’t be a good thing. In order to work, the law should be perceived by the law-abiding majority as being fair, and fairly applied.




    Thank you, Ed!! This makes my day.

    The article you cited notes that, before this legislation, the sentencing disparity was 100:1, meaning that you had to have 100 times as much powdered coke to get the same 5-year sentence as a small amount of crack could get you.

    Now the sentencing disparity is merely 18:1, which isn’t a disparity at all, in practical terms:

    Today, a defendant must now possess 28 grams of crack cocaine (rather than 5 grams) before a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence is required. This difference represents an enormous practical effect, which is that this new threshold essentially eliminates the mandatory 5-year minimum for simple possession—most dealers and traffickers carry crack in amounts of 28 grams or more.

    So dealers can still get slammed, but users can’t. Good.

    The author of the article describes this legislation as a “completely under the radar moment.” We’ll have to add this to President Obama’s official “accomplishments list” –if it’s not already there.

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