A Powerful Victory

June 10, 2004

Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland Tribune

In a powerful victory recently, the ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance and other groups defeated the Bush administration in federal court. Our freedom of speech and our right to tell the truth were at stake -- in the face of a federal law that banned, from certain public areas, advertisements that question any aspect of the federal policy of prohibition of marijuana.

The law that was struck down had even banned paid ads on public transit facilities regarding the legalization of medical cannabis.

In other words, even though the voters of California legalized cannabis for medical use in 1996, the federal government would prevent information about it from reaching the public.

Thanks to the advocates, we have won the right to tell the truth. Now, we must make sure to take full advantage of our freedoms while we have them.

Since Richard Nixon launched his 'war on marijuana,' hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to prosecute and imprison non-violent people, primarily young people of color, while our schools, libraries, and public health facilities suffer for lack of funding.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that he considers the medical use of marijuana to be the same as non-medical use, even if the voters of a state explicitly pass a law legalizing medical use -- and he insists on treating marijuana more strictly than cocaine.

The federal government has ignored its own findings, including those from the marijuana study commissioned by Richard Nixon, that: 'Most users, young and old, demonstrate an average or above-average degree of social functioning, academic achievement, and job performance. ... marijuana does not cause violent or aggressive behavior; if anything marijuana serves to inhibit the expression of such behavior. ... Neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety' (The Shafer Commission Report, 1972).

When the public questions the wisdom of the expensive policy of prohibition and imprisonment, the government tries to ban speech.

Once again, the administration is trying to continue an expensive and wasteful war even in the face of mounting evidence that this war destroys lives and is also a miserable failure.

There is a better way. We don't need to put up with the endless violations of our civil rights, civil liberties, financial health and human dignity that the war on cannabis has become.

The Oakland Cannabis Initiative seeks to promote a more sensible, less war-oriented policy toward cannabis while advancing the national debate. The initiative calls for policies that tax and regulate cannabis for adults to keep it off the streets, away from kids, and to raise funds for vital local services.

To learn more or to get involved, please visit www.taxandregulate.org or call the Oakland Cannabis Initiative 268-3227.

Rebecca Kaplan, an Oakland activist and community organizer, holds a law degree from Stanford University, where she studied constitutional law issues.

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