Congressman introduces bill to decriminalize personal marijuana use
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has made good on his promise to introduce what he called the "Make Room for the Serious Criminals Bill" on a March 21, 2008 appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. Co-sponsoring the bill are Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA).
Text of Thursday's press release, from Rep. Frank's Congressional website, follows.
Congressman, 4th District, Massachusetts
2252 Rayburn Building · Washington, D.C. 20515 · (202) 225-5931
April 17, 2008
FRANK INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO REMOVE FEDERAL PENALTIES ON PERSONAL MARIJUANA USE
Congressman Also Files Bill Permitting Medical Use of Marijuana in States that Choose to Allow it with Doctor’s Recommendation
Congressman Barney Frank today introduced bi-partisan legislation aimed at removing federal restrictions on the individual use of marijuana. One bill would remove federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana, and the other – versions of which Frank has filed in several preceding sessions of Congress – would allow the medical use of marijuana in states that have chosen to make its use for medical purposes legal with a doctor’s recommendation. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) joined Frank as a cosponsor of the federal penalties bill. The cosponsors of the medical marijuana bill are Rep. Paul, along with Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Sam Farr (D-CA).
Congressman Frank released the following statement explaining the legislation.
“I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime something which in fact society does not seriously wish to prosecute. In my view, having federal law enforcement agents engaged in the prosecution of people who are personally using marijuana is a waste of scarce resources better used for serious crimes. In fact, this type of prosecution often meets with public disapproval. The most frequent recent examples have been federal prosecutions of individuals using marijuana for medical purposes in states that have voted – usually by public referenda – to allow such use. Because current federal law has been interpreted as superseding state law in this area, most states that have made medical use of marijuana legal have been unable to actually implement their laws.
"When doctors recommend the use of marijuana for their patients and states are willing to permit it, I think it’s wrong for the federal government to subject either the doctors or the patients to criminal prosecution. More broadly speaking, the norm in America is for the states to decide whether particular behaviors should be made criminal. To make the smoking of marijuana, whether for medical purposes or not, one of those extremely rare instances of federal crime – literally, to make a ‘federal case’ out of it – is wholly disproportionate to the activity involved. We do not have federal criminal prohibitions against drinking alcoholic beverages, and there are generally no criminal penalties for the use of tobacco at the state and federal levels for adults. There is no rational argument for treating marijuana so differently from these other substances.”
To those who say that the government should not be encouraging the smoking of marijuana, my response is that I completely agree. But it is a great mistake to divide all human activity into two categories: those that are criminally prohibited, and those that are encouraged. In a free society, there must be a very considerable zone of activity between those two poles in which people are allowed to make their own choices as long as they are not impinging on the rights, freedom, or property of others. I believe it is important with regard to tobacco, marijuana and alcohol, among other things, that we strictly regulate the age at which people may use these substances. And, enforcement of age restrictions should be firm. But, criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise ones, when the choices involved have no negative effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society.”
“If the laws I am proposing pass, states will still be free to treat marijuana as they wish. But I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals. Federal law enforcement is a serious business, and we should be concentrating our efforts in this regard on measures that truly protect the public.”