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Marijuana: Barney Frank Introduces Federal Decriminalization Bill

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #532)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Last month, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) announced he would file a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession at the federal level. Wednesday, Frank followed through, introducing the "The Personal Use of Marijuana By Responsible Adults Act of 2008," which would set a maximum $100 fine under federal law for possession or not-for-profit transfer of less than 100 grams of marijuana.

Barney Frank
Frank did not comment publicly this week on the proposed legislation, but in a statement last month on his marijuana legislation, Frank said it was a waste of federal time and resources to prosecute minor marijuana offenses.

"I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime behavior the government does not seriously wish to prosecute," he said. "For highly-trained federal law enforcement agents to spend time prosecuting people for smoking marijuana is a diversion of scarce resources from their job of protecting public safety."

Marijuana laws should be left to the states, he suggested. "The norm in America is for the states to decide whether particular behaviors should be made criminal. To make the smoking of marijuana one of those extremely rare instances of federal crime -- 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."

Even if the Frank bill were to pass, which seems unlikely any time in the near future, it would have limited impact on the 800,000-plus marijuana arrests each year since the vast majority of them are made by state and local law enforcement. But it would send a very strong signal to the states that the federal government no longer considered pot-smoking a serious problem worthy of the criminal justice system.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Gotta say I didn't think he was going to do it but I'm glad he did. If you get a chance check out what he had to say on Real Time with Bill Maher because it was incredible. It's time for the government to get a clue....that doesn't just mean the feds but all the way down to your local backwards PD's!

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 2:25pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Good for Barney! Of course it has little chance of success, because his measure makes too much sense. However, with our economy bleeding from foreign entanglements, wars, predatory lending, mortgage foreclosures, private prisons, and lack of corporate regulation, the luxury of enacting ineffective and expensive laws to incarcerate non-violent and victimless "crimes," becomes more clearly unsustainable. Unfortunately, it may require the failure of the entire American economy in the process.

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 2:35pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

What is it with these politicians? Even Barney Frank. What is so terrible about saying "If you have less than a certain amount we just are going to ignore the whole thing?"

Just don't get it.

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 3:49pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Civil disobedience is the active refusal to obey certain laws , demands and commands of a government , or of an occupying power , without resorting to physical violence. It is one of the primary tactics of nonviolent resistance . In its most nonviolent form (known as ahimsa or satyagraha ) it could be said that it is compassion in the form of respectful disagreement.
The American author Henry David Thoreau pioneered the modern theory behind this practice in his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience , originally titled "Resistance to Civil Government". This essay has had a wide influence on many later practitioners of civil disobedience. In the essay, Thoreau explained his reasons for having refused to pay taxes as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican-American War .
In seeking an active form of civil disobedience, one may choose to deliberately break certain laws, such as by forming a peaceful blockade or occupying a facility illegally. Protesters practice this non-violent form of civil disorder with the expectation that they will be arrested, or even attacked or beaten by the authorities. Protesters often undergo training in advance on how to react to arrest or to attack, so that they will do so in a manner that quietly or limply resists without threatening the authorities.

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 7:40pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Good Lord what a mess it is with the marijuana laws in this country. More smoke it and grow it than you can shake a stick at. Feds seem to think they are going to win against the "evil weed" by throwing good money after bad. The money spend each year on survellience and court time not counting the man hours used in the apprehension of something they can never obliterate.. what a sorry bunch that can not see the drug war is a failure, in every way imaginable. Think of a world where natures bounty, marijuana, were taxed and sold under a planned scenario instead of keeping it illegal and those who want it can get it if they are willing to pay the high prices. you can not obliterate something as long as there is a demand for it.
To wipe out the "reefer madness" you must get rid of the want. Look at how many people are hooked on alcohol...They have accidents which kill them as well as the innocent. Pharmacutical drugs are way out of control, killling people on a scale never imagined by the FDA DEA or any number of other three and four lettered offices to keep the people from hurting themselves. My point is to let this be the "land of the FREE and the home of the brave" once again, without so much governmental interference and aggravation and worry.

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 8:01pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Ron Paul, presidential candidate, co-sponsored the bill.

Sat, 04/19/2008 - 4:42am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Obviously some people are doing alright with the system as is. The laws won't change until those in power decide they will profit instead.

Sat, 04/19/2008 - 9:45am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Even if this bill were passed, it would still leave marijuana prohibition in the hands of state legislatures. Marajuana crimes are an easy to milk cash cow for the state legal systems. The government, and especially law enforcement don't want to give up the easy cash from arresting non-violent offenders.

The Lawyers and cops make way too much money from marijuana prohibition to get out of the business.

Sun, 04/20/2008 - 9:44am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

From Barney Frank's website;

"Summary of HR 5843

An Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults,” sponsored by U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would eliminate federal penalties for the possession or not-for-profit transfer of small amounts of marijuana. The bill would remove federal penalties at the federal level only: (1) possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana and (2) the not-for-profit transfer of one ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana. Additionally, this legislation would provide for a civil penalty of $100 for the public use of marijuana."

Seems that the bill would decriminalize public use, but *legalize* possession or not-for-profit transfer.

Phin MacDonald

Sun, 04/20/2008 - 11:36am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey just a fyi, on they have a letter they will mail to your congressman, its a good letter. Come on your already on the internet just doit.

Tue, 04/22/2008 - 4:12am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that it is a completly tangiable concept, the leagalization of Marijuana, its just going to take a few baby steps first. Folks on a federal level already are trying to decriminalize small amounts for personal use. Way less people will be going to jail or probation for marijuana offenses even if ceratin states don't leagalize it. This means a lot a jobs will be lost ( lawers, cops, drug counlers...)
So this could be a good reason for keeping it illeagal. However if the are a bunch of people who aren't being criminalized for use a marijuana this means that all those people who aren't turned into felons for somking weed can now political get involved of at leaste vote on issues involving marijauna leagalization giving the legalization a much better chance. If we can at least get it decriminalized federally it will only be a matter of time before it is completly legal it states like California and others who already have legalized medical marijuana. The rest of the states will follw like sheep just as they did when California originally started the war on drugs about 100 years ago. (
More people just need to get inlvoled. The more people that hear about it the more people will care. If people realize that they can make a difference as an individual and the are told how the individual in question will geneerall act. Unfortunately many people dont realize the ability they have to make a difference, like they did in the 60's. Wake up America! Every signature, every voice, e-mail, blog, conversation, small ralley make a differnce. Just DO it! Be the change! Make the Change! Get some balls! Show them politicains what it means to be American! Know your rights!

Tue, 04/22/2008 - 9:22pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I've heard about this so called War On Drugs since I was a kid--and that was back in the 1960s. This silly, expensive and backward law has cost many more lives and dollars than it was supposed to save. It made criminals out of people who smoked a joint at a party, or bought a small amount or sold it. They are placed in prisons and jails with sex offenders, murderers and other inmates who are into gangs and the more violent side of drugs.

If you immediately stopped all this War crap and legalized it--or even just decriminalized it and stopped drug testing a frikkin' secretary or some other non-dangerous worker someplace who is Constitutionally protected to be considered INNOCENT BEFORE HAVING TO PROVE IT BY PEEING IN A STUPID CUP!

I can understand if you are a driver, or are employed in some other dangerous position, but drug testing folks at their jobs if they work in non-dangerous or sensitive positions is just ridiculous and infringes on a person's privacy. "Yea, dude, I've gotta go pee now for my job." It's illegal search and seisure to me--it also says these employers merely assume you are ON drugs and you have to PROVE that you do not do them! Ass Backwards, if you ass me.

I think we need to stop going to War over everything. Why not use compassionate and peaceful measures. There is a demand for marijuana in it's many forms--it cannot be duplicated in medicinal/pharmaceutical form that will give the person the same effect. That's been tried and it doesn't work.

Putting pot smokers and the casual non-violent dealer in jail is a crime in itself. We are wasting our resources for more violent and horrific crimes than going after somebody smoking or peddling pot. It's just ridiculous! And it's been ridiculous for a really long time. More than any other War I can think of.

I also remember President Johnson declaring a War on Poverty! Why does everything have to be a War on "something"? We wouldn't have any soldiers to put there anyway, cuz they're all in Iraq.

Mon, 05/05/2008 - 10:32am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

i don't understand how Obama can say he does not want to leagalize marijuana because he doesn't believe it to be something to help the economy. But he will agree to a multi billion $ stimulus/bailout for the car makers and others who obviously do not now how to manage money. not only has he done 1 or 2 times but time after time. how much money is he going to give away before he decides to try leagalization in order to "stimulate the american economy" instead of trippling our national debt witin his 1st 100 days in office. do something the american people want not what your origins nation wants which is to see america "weak and hungry!"

Fri, 05/08/2009 - 5:19pm Permalink

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