Honolulu Star Advertiser: Gabbard introduces act to legalize pot

March 25, 2017
In The News

Taylor Polson, Honolulu Star Advertiser

March 25--U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Tuesday called for the decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Congressman Thomas Garrett (R-Virginia) introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.

"FBI reports have shown that in 2011 alone an individual in the United States was arrested for marijuana use, sale or possession every 42 seconds, mostly in poor and minority communities," said Gabbard.

"Our current laws are turning everyday Americans into criminals, sending them to jail, ruining their lives, tearing apart families and wasting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate people for marijuana use -- a drug that has been proven time and time again to be far less dangerous than alcohol, both for individual consumers as well as for the people around them," she said.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance by the federal government, the same category into which heroin, ecstasy and LSD are assigned. However, 21 U.S. states have decriminalized cannabis, while nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized its recreational use, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Gabbard highlighted how current marijuana policy throughout most of the country is contributing to overcrowding in the criminal justice system, including Hawaii's correctional facilities.

She also emphasized a shortage of public services that reduce recidivism amongst former convicts.

"Whether you personally think that marijuana use is good or bad, whether you would choose to use marijuana or not, the question is, Should we really be sending people to jail and turning them into criminals for it? The answer is no," Gabbard said.

Carl Berquist, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said, "We want to save law enforcement resources for things other than arresting, prosecuting and keeping people in pretrial detention for cannabis offenses. It's a waste of resources."

Berquist said he hopes the state Legislature will take up the issue in 2018 "and spare all those individuals that get lifetime criminal records and are not eligible for student loans, housing and jobs."

Bills in the state Legislature that would decriminalize marijuana appear to be dead for this year.

During her speech Gabbard cited the observations of Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital. She said that during Abrams' 37 years as a physician, he has seen no patients admitted due to complications caused by marijuana use.

On the other hand, Gabbard said, Abrams had admitted a "profound" number of patients due to alcohol use.

Opinions amongst politicians in Washington are widely varied in regard to drug policy and criminal justice issues. Newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a Senate drug hearing last year that "this drug (marijuana) is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about. ... Good people don't smoke marijuana."

If passed, the bill would make it easier for states to continue drafting their own legal guidelines relating to cannabis. It would also allow for medical marijuana dispensaries and their employees to open bank accounts and solicit loans.

House Resolution 1227 was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations for further consideration.

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