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US Senate Hearing On Marijuana Decrim

Senate Class Photo

The Senate Judiciary Committee held landmark hearings this past Tuesday in the nation's capital that could ultimately lead to the legalization of marijuana or at least resolve the deep divide between federal and state law.

The timing was triggered by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that federal authorities no longer will interfere as states increasingly adopt laws to either allow medical marijuana or legalize the drug entirely. The hearing was requested by its committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. Leahy questioned whether, at a time of severe budget cutting, federal prosecutions of marijuana users are the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Many at the hearing hoped for a breakthrough that would lead to changes in federal banking laws, allowing marijuana sellers to accept credit cards and checks, not just cash. Allowing sellers to accept checks and credit cards would do a lot to prevent the burglarization of their locations and would keep money out of the hands of organized crime.

Many others were calling for all out legalization, including Leahy himself. With marijuana now legal for recreational use in Washington and Colorado, it makes little sense for the federal government to maintain the current schedule one labeling of the drug. In Michigan, lawmakers could take up House Bill 4623 that would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults over 21. Michigan currently spends roughly $325 million annually to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users, many of whom are patients and caregivers under the current Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA).

Recent developments that show legalization could be on the horizon include:

--In March for the first time, a majority of Americans - 52 percent - told pollsters they favored legalizing marijuana, according to the Pew Research Center;

--In anticipation of retail pot stores opening this January, recreational users are flocking to Colorado and Washington State, earning the title of the “green rush” or “Marijuana Tourism”;

--Two national opinion leaders recently signaled changes of heart about cannabis - CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, whose documentary Weed reversed the stance Gupta expressed in his 2009 Time magazine article, Why I Would Vote No on Pot; and U.S. Senator John McCain, who told an audience in Tucson last week, "Maybe we should legalize marijuana. . . I respect the will of the people."

Americans are realizing that a policy of prohibition helps organized crime, places a heavy burden on our already overcrowded prisons, Archaic and Anti-American forfeiture laws, costly law enforcement, and perplexingly, makes the substances we are trying to prohibit more widely available.

The Senate hearing this past Tuesday, September 10, 2013 is a historic day in America’s longest war: the war on drugs, and adds to the momentum that has been building nation-wide, world-wide really, for a new policy that fits the attitudes of the people, and one that just might work.

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