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Ending federal marijuana prohibition

Howard Wooldridge at Citizens Opposing Prohibition reports on a combined effort to lobby for a bill ending federal prohibition.

I received word this week that the major players on the Hill are now united in what direction to take regarding marijuana; namely push for a bill to repeal federal prohibition. COPs, MPP, DPA and NORML have all agreed on this strategy. MPP’s Aaron Houston produced an excellent one page sheet of FAQs. (provided below). We believe this bill will also help the ballot initiative in California to legalize adult use and sale.

It certainly seems obvious that something like this is going to have to happen eventually as a continuing (and partial) move toward full legalization/regulation. And now seems to be a very good time to start getting people used to it. It’ll be interesting to see the reactions of federal legislators on both sides of the aisle, control freaks all, as they adjust to the notion of letting states make actual decisions without them.

Here’s the FAQ prepared by Aaron Houston

— Regulating marijuana like alcohol —

Would a federal marijuana-regulation law be similar to the 21st Amendment that deals with alcohol?

Yes, it would be a nearly identical model of regulation (the “three-tiered” system), with few exceptions. The new federal marijuana law would allow — not require — any state or territory to change its current laws that strictly prohibit marijuana, which would include the possibility of a state creating a legal and regulated market for marijuana. As with alcohol regulation, federal law would still prohibit the “transportation or importation into any State … in violation of the laws thereof.” Of course, in the case of alcohol, the 21st Amendment lays out only the broadest concepts about the structure of the law. The Federal Alcohol Administration Act, subsequently passed by Congress, addresses details of the regulatory system, such as permitting, consumer protection, labeling, and policing of the industry.

Would a federal marijuana-regulation law force the states to make marijuana legal?

No, the federal law would not force states to change any existing laws or regulations, including those that outright prohibit marijuana possession and sales. Rather, the new federal law would simply free the states to decide as they so choose. Most Americans may not realize it today, but decades after the passage of the 21st Amendment (which repealed the 18th Amendment that codified alcohol prohibition) alcohol sales remained illegal in many areas of the nation. Mississippi did not lift its prohibition on alcohol sales until 1966, and in Kansas, on-premises sale of liquor remained illegal until 1987.

Which federal agencies would be affected by a new regulatory system?

The DEA and ATF would be the primary agencies impacted within the Department of Justice. The law would add new provisions to Title 27 of the U.S. Code, which would be changed from “Intoxicating liquors” to “Intoxicating substances” and be accompanied by conforming regulations similar to the Federal Alcohol Administration Act. Notably, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would become the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives (ATMF). The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau within the U.S. Treasury Department would become the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Marijuana Tax and Trade Bureau, which would be responsible for administering the new law.

What differences would there be between alcohol and marijuana regulations?

While the repeal of alcohol prohibition required a constitutional amendment, repeal of marijuana prohibition merely requires an act of Congress. Alcohol transportation and sales were made legal by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1933, at the start of FDR’s first term. In the following years, the power of the Congress to regulate interstate commerce in all manner of activities grew enormously, with the U.S. Supreme Court specifically affirming Congress’ authority to prohibit or not prohibit marijuana. One notable difference between federal alcohol laws and the proposed federal marijuana law is that the importation and exportation of marijuana would remain banned (which is not the case with alcohol).


– Prepared by: Aaron Houston of MPP (Marijuana Policy Project)

– Distributed by: Howard Wooldridge of COPs (Citizens Opposing Prohibition)
Detective/Officer Howard Wooldridge (retired)
Drug Policy Specialist, COP – www.CitizensOpposingProhibition.org

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33 comments to Ending federal marijuana prohibition

  • Just me

    Would you all mind if I cry a bit….this is beautiful.

  • Jon Doe

    I only wish the word “marijuana” was not used in this proposed legislation. That word should never be used by us. It is the word of the enemy, one used to link the plant to a “deviant” foreign people. Call it what it is: cannabis.

  • KBCraig

    I’m sorry, but: hell no!

    The alcohol model is the LAST thing anti-prohibitionists should desire. The taxation, regulation, and market restrictions surrounding alcohol are intolerable, and should not be passed onto a new market.

    Compared to alcohol, marijuana is practically a free market now: it can be bought by almost anyone, almost anywhere, any time of day, any day of the week. The legal risks and seizure/destruction of products are the only reasons the price remains as high as it is. If we follow the alcohol model, state-authorized outlets will provide crappy products at monopoly prices; in the case of state stores you’ll have highly restricted hours and horrible service to boot.

    But, that remains a fight to have at the state level. At the federal level, we need to simply repeal the prohibition. Some states will continue the ban, some will allow medical use with strict controls, others will just open the doors wide.

    Alcohol prohibition required a constitutional amendment; marijuana prohibition has never even pretended to be constrained by the founding documents.

    Don’t “fix” it: Just. End. Prohibition.

  • Jon Doe

    “Compared to alcohol, marijuana is practically a free market now: it can be bought by almost anyone, almost anywhere, any time of day, any day of the week.”

    People keep telling me this, but I’ve never had such easy access to cannabis. Good cannabis anyway. The stuff I could get if I dared braved the “ghetto” areas of my town (and if the black dealers there would even speak to a white boy they didn’t know) would be absolute shit, full of seeds and *brown*. However, I’m a block a way from a corner store where I can buy twelve different types of beer, a mile from a grocery store where I can buy decent red or white wines and two miles from a liquor store where I can buy any type of liquor I can think of. And all for decent prices for what I’m getting.

    That shitty brown weed that’ll be half seed I mentioned will cost me at least $35-$50 a quarter. Of an ounce. For a *flower*. At least the expense of liquor makes sense: it takes *time* to age liquor. The finest cannabis possible still only takes five months tops to produce. I’m sorry, but I’d *kill* to have as easy access to cannabis as I do alcohol.

  • claygooding

    Yup.they oughta call it what it is,,,pot.I don’t care what they call it,just get it off schedule 1 so the DEA doesn’t control the studies and gets the control away from the cartels and criminals. And get those people out of prisons all over our country for a non-violent victimless crime.

  • Cannabis

    If it’s banning was more recent I’d say that the mj word was made up by Frank Luntz to inflame the masses.

  • The winds of change are gathering force across the nation on the cannabis issue. I am 60 years old and have used cannabis for over 40 years and I never believed that I would see the day where cannabis is legal. I look back on so many friends who lost their futures using cannabis…not from the herb but from the criminal record the law placed on them. At the tune of almost one million people a year we still continue our “reefer madness” arrest, fine, jail, seize & forfieture and forced rehabilitation of cannabis users. The law has created a legal enforcement cartel that is every bit as dangerous to our society than the drug cartels! Consider this view:
    “Our nation can acknowledge the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana while still permitting their use. The only logically and morally consistent argument for marijuana prohibition necessitates the criminalization of all harmful recreational drugs, including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. We can agree that such an infringement on personal freedoms is as impractical as it is un-American. The time has come to accept that our nation’s attitude toward marijuana has been misguided for generations and that the only rational approach to cannabis is to legalize, regulate and tax it.”
    Dr. Nathan, a psychiatrist in Princeton, N.J., is a clinical assistant professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

  • ezrydn

    I would guess that the US adopted the Spanish name for the plant solely on the fact that they were targeting the Hispanic users at the time. Plus, the Mormons were the first to bring it North so they’d naturally use the local term.

    However, I’ve always thought that it should be called by it’s rightful name, Cannabis. We didn’t change the name of “canvas.”

    When the term “marijuana” is used, there’s a subtle reconnect to Mexico and, thereby today, to the cartels. Every note I’ve sent or article written has used the word Cannabis as the identifier. I don’t just the term MJ any more in my discussions. I’ve noticed also that people cringe when you use the word MJ. I don’t see it that much when the topic is “Cannabis.”

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hempsterdam420: Ending federal marijuana prohibition – Drug WarRant http://goo.gl/fb/JFxT #mmot #blog…

  • too many people still buy into the idea that states should continue to have any power to punish people for smoking marijuana (and of course, a plethora of other self-directed activities that are beyond the reach of legitimate law).

    we all need to stop pretending that it will be okay for any state to continue to persecute marijuana users once the federal laws are repealed. that is most certainly not acceptable.

    one extremely important purpose of the federal government is to protect us from tyranny being inflicted upon us by “all enemies, foreign or domestic” — that, by definition, includes “the several states.”

    the civil war should have made it abundantly clear to even the most dense among us that states *do not* have any authority to deprive American citizens of their rights. those of you still having difficulties need to review the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

    so, fuck no, this is not an issue to be left to the states. no one should be being punished by anyone for doing things to themselves.

    it is individuals who have rights — there is no special set of “rights” granted to individuals by virtue of their gathering into various groupings — even those hiding behind color of authority, such as “States.”

    i will not stand for any state fucking over people any more than i will stand for the Federal government doing so. we need to be doing this to protect the rights of all individuals, not just pot smokers specifically.

    seriously, how bereft of mental acuity are those of you who would find it tolerable to buy pot “legally” in one state, only to have to face imprisonment due to a traffic stop in a state that decides it’s still okay to fuck you over for having pot on you?

  • Brian — nice ideal world you’re living in there. Let me know if you find a way to convince 50 states and the federal government that you’re right.

    First of all, while it is true that states don’t have “rights” per se, they do have powers given to them by the people through their representatives.

    Sure, I don’t want certain places to have pot illegal, but I can remember when I was in college, uncomfortably running into “dry” counties, where alcohol was still illegal. Even today, there’s nothing stopping a state from making alcohol illegal (except the outrage of the people). And today, of course, we have states and localities banning everything from trans-fats to driving while texting.

    The only way you can prevent the states from making pot illegal on their own is to have the Supreme Court declare that laws against marijuana possession are unconstitutional. It’s clear that current Supreme Court law doesn’t do that, so unless you’re planning on replacing the entire Supreme Court or passing an amendment to the Constitution and getting it ratified by 2/3rds of the states, your dream world is just that.

    If you’d like to sit around and wait for 100 years for that to happen, that’s your right.

    Me, I’d rather get the federal government out of the way and let the states start working out their own systems. Hopefully, those backward states that continue to prohibit marijuana will buckle to pressure from their citizens.

  • Marijuana is a slang term that was used by Mexicans, primarily, back the in the days when the government was first thinking about prohibiting it. The feds (apparently) didn’t even really know what it was, they just knew it by the slang term that it went by. And, not being Spanish speakers, they didn’t even know how to spell it. The went with the phonetic spelling, marihuana, which of course is just plain wrong.

    So having laws that identify cannabis as “marihuana” is sort of like if the laws for cocaine referred to is as “knows candy,” a misunderstood misspelling of a slang term.

  • Dave

    Pete,
    I have a couple questions for you. In your opinion, what is the projected time scale for Cannabis law reform on a federal level. Also, can we expect medical marijuana in Illinois to pass this year? Thank you in advance for your insight.

    -Dave

  • Just me

    I agree with you Pete , get the federal government out of the way and let the states decide. If my state doesnt legalize..I WILL MOVE ! And I will not go to states that dont .if I can help it.

    As far as those who dont like the regulation Idea: Once I can grow without fear of arrest…I WILL GROW ! I wont ever buy cannabis there after from any store.

    I also do not use the term MJ , only cannabis .

    The time is coming folks…As agent Smith said ” It is inevitable Mr Anderson”

  • pete, there’s nothing idealistic about asserting your ownership over your body and mind and expecting that it is “self-evident” and already covered by the protections of the Constitution. if you think there is, then wait ’til you see what the feds and “the several states” do to us in the name of health care. Supreme Court decisions are constantly overturned as are laws — by demanding so.

    i think we get nowhere until we get back mentally to where we were in 1776 — this is about “self-evident” rights that this nation was founded to protect.

    by failing to realize that it is not appropriate for government at any level to dictate to you what you may or may not to do yourself is mind-bogglingly insane.

    it’s been 234 years — i’m not the one waiting around for the promised land: i’m the one pointing out that we’re already supposed to be living there.

  • No, there’s nothing idealistic about asserting your ownership over your body. That’s not what I said. What’s idealistic is thinking that you’re going to change current Supreme Court interpretation overnight. If you tried to pass the Constitution today, the Bill of Rights would go down in flames, so this magical popular uprising to return us to 1776 seems unlikely.

    What specifically are you proposing? You complain about what everybody else does to make a difference and call us delusional for trying to do something. What specifically would you do?

  • truthtechnician

    “… We hold these truths to be self-evident…” is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. And the Declaration of Independence has no legal authority.

    I really don’t understand the romanticism with the Constitution. Expansion of the central government and the breakdown of separation between powers demonstrates the failure of its objectives. Along with asserting authority derived from the People’s consent, yet they did not consent, makes me wonder why 1776 is so special?

  • Politics is the art of the possible. Pete was spot on, as he stated that no sense waiting for 50 states and the US govt. to act in concert at the same time. IMHO, once a few states have legal possession & use & sale – the boys here in Congress will repeal federal prohibition. i.e. like we have seen w/ MMJ – the state action will push the feds to ratify what the states started.

    For a bright audience, i use the word cannabis. However, Joe Average does not know the term. My job is effective communication and persuasion. That is why i almost never talk about rights to use MJ – rather – I say chasing Michael Phelps and Willie Nelson means fewer DUI and child molester caught. THAT sells on main street.

  • Just me

    Thanks for gracing this blog Mr Wooldridge. 🙂

    { truthtechnician
    February 14th, 2010 at 5:11 pm
    I really don’t understand the romanticism with the Constitution. Expansion of the central government and the breakdown of separation between powers demonstrates the failure of its objectives. Along with asserting authority derived from the People’s consent, yet they did not consent, makes me wonder why 1776 is so special?}

    The constitution works just fine…its the people that have failed. We The People have failed to vigilant , we have failed to keep check on our out of control government. We allowed it to bypass what our forefathers gave us to control government. More over we have allowed crooks to warp its meaning and change it to suit their agendas. We failed the constitution and our selves. now we MUST find a way to fix that mistake. 1776 was special , 2010 to 2012 will be more special , it will be the time when we prove just how much we love liberty and freedom.

  • Ditto on “Welcome, Howard”.

    As to the article, perhaps there needs to be one more “Q&A” talking point here to anticipate prohibitionist argument: “Wouldn’t regulating marijuana like alcohol violate international drug control treaties that the U.S. has signed?”

    Let’s have a good answer to that before it is used as a legal objection to initiatives like this.

  • Tony Aroma

    “… We hold these truths to be self-evident…” is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. And the Declaration of Independence has no legal authority.

    The DOI does in fact have “legal authority.” It is the original charter of our independent government. It provided the basis for our Constitution, and some hold it in the same regard. When Abraham Lincoln said “four score and seven years ago,” he was referring to the date of the DOI, not the ratification of the Constitution.

  • i said nothing about changing things overnight.

    however, it is abundantly clear that we’ll all be dead long before we reach the promised land if we continue to follow the current course of pecking away one little bit at a time.

  • oops, since i get castigated for pointing out when our side is doing sub-optimal things — here’s something i wrote about “what we need to do” three years ago: http://antidrugwarczar.blogspot.com/2007/02/face-it-youre-legalizer.html

    so let’s cease with the “well what’s your big idea” bullshit, shall we?

  • Are you sure that’s the right link, Brian? Other than a baseball metaphor and the need to be “bold,” the only thing even close to a proposal that I see is:

    Enough! If we want to gather the numbers we require to accomplish the task, we first need to focus our attention on the fact that the core reason to end the drug war is simply because it is completely un-American to turn in your neighbor for doing things directly to only himself. Period. We need to demand (and practice) equality for all.

    Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t understand. What are you proposing we do, exactly? Run an ad saying “We demand equality for all”?

    This appears to be an underpants gnome approach.

    Step 1. Demand equality for all
    Step 2. ???
    Step 3. Achieve equality for all

    Really, I have heard you complain ad nauseam about us not seeing the big picture and wasting our time on incremental things, but I still don’t understand what you want us to do, specifically, and why you think it would work.

    I feel that I talk about the big picture (and so do all the other reformers) — sure, we talk about medical marijuana, but we also talk about all the heinous things you mention in that piece. SWAT raids, accidental deaths, “let’s pee for freedom,” etc. Very few of us focus solely on medical marijuana, or even just marijuana.

  • not sure why you take it personally pete — you aren’t one of the pretend “leaders” with the worthless orgs (dpa, mpp, norml) are you?

    at any rate, the failure to call for the end of it all necessitates being comfortable about keeping the vast majority of it in place.

    so give it a whirl: let’s hear how you would defend leaving all of the carnage in place in the name of getting another “medical” marijuana state.

    can’t do it? yeah, me neither. that’s why i say it all has to go.

    so does LEAP. we all need to do what LEAP is doing — oh wait, i keep saying that too.

    does repetition make it more clear?

    send your money to LEAP. do what the LEAP guys are doing (hint: it ain’t medical pot initiatives — they say end the whole fucking enterprise of drug war)

    send your money to LEAP. do what the LEAP guys are doing (hint: it ain’t medical pot initiatives — they say end the whole fucking enterprise of drug war)

    send your money to LEAP. do what the LEAP guys are doing (hint: it ain’t medical pot initiatives — they say end the whole fucking enterprise of drug war)

    three times enough?

    • Sorry, Brian. Got a little defensive there. Didn’t quite understand where you were going and somehow momentarily had thought you included LEAP and everything else into the DPR leadership. I obviously mis-read. Again, sorry.

      I understand that the LEAP approach is the way to go. And that’s what I’m pushing. However, I also believe that having other things going on simultaneously to soften things up helps us. I get the idea that having all the resources of all the groups focused on the one approach will make the one approach stronger. But I don’t really see that happening. Lots of people have different interests and they want to see their money work in that way. I would imagine that there are other rights areas (gay rights, civil rights, etc.) that are also really fighting the same equality fight we are, and maybe we could be more powerful by having all the money and people focused on equality. But the gay rights folks aren’t likely to give us their money and time, nor are we likely to do the reverse, even though most of us probably support what the other is doing.

      No, I would not defend leaving all of the carnage in place in the name of getting another “medical” marijuana state. But I would defend getting another “medical” marijuana state if I thought that would help us move closer to getting rid of the carnage, and as long as that was not the only thing we were doing.

  • Just me

    So Brian…do you think the general public is just going to up and say Ok lets legalize all drugs? Hell no, there will be an outcry like you couldnt believe and that would most likely screw us all on the progress we have made.. I support what leap wants to do to but it aint gonna happen that way. IMHO I feel we MUST start with cannabis, work out the problem there first this will give everyone a good idea where to go when we get to the harder drugs.

    Look around , theres a change a coming. It may not be the change you want or even I want but it happening. I dont like the loss of rights , invasion of privacy, all the death and carnage any better than anyone else. Thats the point no one likes this shit, thats way it will change.

    Can you come up with anything better than whats happening now? A better way to end this insane drug war other than just stating end it? Wish it was that easy man! If that was the case i would end all the bullshit going on in governemt …Period!

  • CaliBoy

    I have a question:

    If California tries to regulate and tax marijuana to get the market under control and the feds come in disrupting their system, can the state, or a resident of that state, suit the federal government using an “unreasonable burden” argument?

    For example, I don’t use marijuana but I’m tired of seeing my communities flooded with street dealers who use the marijuana market to push hard drugs like heroin and meth, thereby, significantly increasing the burden of the marijuana market that wouldn’t exist if it was strictly regulated and taxed. Not to mention the current marijuana market is allowed to foster huge crime syndicates, i.e. 60% percent of drug cartel revenue comes from the marijuana market. Don’t I have a right to raise a family without drug dealers shooting up my community and selling drugs to my children in school.

    Would this “unreasonable burden” argument make a legitimate Supreme Court case?

    I would like to see more court cases challenging marijuana prohibition from different angles other than the “right to use” argument. It seems that the civil rights movement didn’t really take off until 1950’s Brown Vs. Board of Education ruling which paved the way to ending racial segregation in this country. I think a good well-built court case based on “my right to live in peace” argument could really knock a blow to marijuana prohibition.

  • i get angry at the “leaders” because they keep dragging people down a primrose path and pretend that it is the only way to get the job done.

    we have literally everything we need (data, history, and as the good kap’n continues to point out, we have the economics behind us) to absolutely crush prohibition — everything, apparently, except the balls to actually try doing it.

    what bothers me most about idiot moves like the latest from mpp is that it completely wastes what little resources we have in the name of “accomplishing” astoundingly little.

    i believe we need to go for it all and demand unconditional surrender, whilst the “go slow” wagon is busying themselves over what color the tablecloths on the negotiating tables should be.

    they have no strategy for getting the job done — and it does irk me to no end that when i point that out i am asked “well, where’s yours?” believe me, i am working on it — i am working as hard and as fast as i can to get what we need in place, and more importantly to convince people to be brave enough to commit to getting it done. also, i guess i could have given you a better link to better understand where i’m coming from: http://www.briancbennett.com/strategy/overview.htm

    i don’t have a $6 million budget (instead i’ve sacrificed my career, my life savings and at least a half million dollars in lost wages/retirement etc to do this work), and to the best of my recollection have neither anointed myself nor been appointed by anyone else as the “leader.” so when i hear someone make the claim that they are the “leaders” i want everyone in dpr to understand why that is not true.

    the problem is not so much in believing that the piecemeal approach will “work” — instead it is that such an approach will take far too long (we truly will all be dead by then), and that, more importantly, it is not at all necessary. there are literally tens of thousands of drug laws on the books — you really want to try changing one of them at a time? oops, one other problem — we get one law changed, and they write five more. it is truly a fool’s errand.

    taking a purely political approach at this point in time is extremely wasteful — what we need to be doing at the moment is focusing our attention on educating our fellow citizens that we need to jettison the entire drug war enterprise. then, and only then, will we be in a position to effectively make the political maneuvers to hammer the final nail in the coffin.

    sure, everyone has their own personal reasons for getting involved, and their own pet aspects of the issues — but everyone needs to put their self-interests into the bigger picture.

    that is one reason why i continue to hammer people on the idea that this is all about individual liberty — period. and yes, the gays and all other disenfranchised groups in our nation are really fighting the same battle — that’s what i keep saying.

    however, when i see potheads who are quite content with continuing to fuck over the users of other drugs (not to mention whatever hangups they have about other personal behaviors that do not concern them), i tend to get a little hot under the collar.

    perhaps i am a bit more intense than most in these matters in part because i actually put my life on the line directly for 24 years in the name of defending our vaunted principles — i fully understand what the words “liberty” and “equality” really mean.

    and i swore i would defend those principles for all of us at any cost.

  • truthtechnician

    Totally agree, Brian. Incrementalism is a joke. Focusing our efforts on so many little points isn’t a comprehensive strategy for ending drug prohibition. It doesn’t serve us because it spreads our impact too thin.

    Uniting under the principle everyone shares, individual liberty, is the only way to achieve meaningful and comprehensive reform. Of course, this means rejecting the drug war as a whole and not specific parts of it.

  • I’m from Indiana one of the strictest hardnosed states about legalization….I’ve been to cali L.A. and San Francisco or better yet Oaksterdam. I volunteered for a buhddist organization for a half a year in berkeley and everyday I smoked the finest green. there was this one time i matched this guy a bowl and was like wtf cuz he actually had some swhagg. I laughed and told him to keep his stuff. If Indiana had co-ops and smoke shops here in downtown indianapolis we’d never have to smoke brown seedy weed not that i ever do anymore anyway, Legalization would put an end to poor weed quality by forcing the farmers to compete with only the best of chronics….. Boycot your local shwagg dealer now!!!!!!

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