Rep. Barney Frank Introduces Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

Press Release June 17, 2009
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper at 202-669-6430

Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, introduced legislation today decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level. If passed, the legislation would eliminate criminal penalties for possessing 100 grams or less of marijuana for personal use. 13 states have already decriminalized marijuana, but most states still incarcerate people for possession of marijuana for personal use.

“In both fiscal and human terms, our nation cannot afford to continue arresting and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people a year for nothing more than possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Representative Barney Frank should be commended for stepping forward with a sensible plan to save taxpayer money, reduce racial disparities and focus federal law enforcement agencies on major criminals and drug cartels.”

Police made more than 1.8 million drug arrests last year – nearly 700,000 for nothing more than marijuana possession. When someone is arrested for marijuana they are separated from their loved ones, branded criminals, denied jobs, and in some cases prohibited from accessing public assistance for life. The estimated criminal justice costs of marijuana arrests are as much as $7.6 billion a year; an average of over $10,000 per arrest. Despite similar use rates, African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate almost twice that of white marijuana smokers.

Support for reforming our nation’s marijuana laws is growing. In recent months, both California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Governor David Paterson have said marijuana legalization should be considered and debated. Earlier this year, the city council of El Paso, Texas passed a resolution urging Congress to consider legalization or decriminalization. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, citing evidence that Mexican drug trafficking organizations get 60 to 80 percent of their revenue from marijuana, has suggested members of Congress debate legalizing marijuana to undermine crime syndicates.

National polling shows that 60 to 70 percent of voters favor decriminalizing marijuana, eliminating criminal penalties and subjecting marijuana users to small fines instead of jail. Roughly 40 percent of Americans nationally favor legalizing marijuana, taxing and regulating it like alcohol, and support is near or over 50 percent in some Western states and among voters under the age of 30.

“The government should stop treating millions of Americans like criminals simply because they choose to relax by smoking a little marijuana instead of drinking a beer or glass of wine,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “People shouldn’t be punished, or discriminated against, for what they put into their own bodies unless they are hurting someone else.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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