(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, formally unveiled a bill last week that would, if enacted, remove federal criminal penalties for personal possession of small amounts of marijuana.
H.R.5843, the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008, would exempt possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana from federal prosecution.
Frank made the announcement flanked by members of the marijuana-legalization groups the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Drug Policy Alliance.
“At NORML we have always taken the position that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and this proposal incorporates that principle into federal law,” Keith Stroup, legal counsel for NORML, told CNSNews.com.
Stroup acknowledged that the “pot” legalization lobby hopes the bill will eventually lead to the legalization of marijuana in the United States, in any quantity.
“Once we recognize that the criminal justice approach is not helpful or useful for drug abusers, we will develop good programs to help these people who need help, but to leave alone those millions of citizens who live law-abiding lives but who enjoy smoking a joint when they relax in the evening, just as millions of other Americans enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail in the evening,” Stroup said.
Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, told CNSNews.com that even if the bill should become law, marijuana would still be illegal – both at the federal level and on the state level, in most states.
“[H.R. 5843] would simply remove the threat of arrest and the host of consequences that can come with an arrest at the federal level, including the possible loss of student financial aid, housing assistance, food stamps, voting rights, and in some cases, prison for simple possession or nonprofit transfer of small amounts of marijuana,” Bernath said.
“What the bill would do is limit big government's role in marijuana policy and put that responsibility more in the hands of the states,” said Bernath.
Opponents of marijuana legalization, meanwhile, say there’s plenty of reason to keep criminal penalties on pot.
“The FDA has concluded that no sound scientific studies support the medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and that no data exist to support the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use,” Kevin A. Searcy, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told CNSNews.com.
“There are alternative FDA-approved medications in existence for treatment of many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana,” he said.
Searcy also said that illegal drugs are illegal because they are harmful, and there is “mounting scientific evidence” that links marijuana to serious health issues.
“The levels of THC in marijuana have reached the highest recorded amounts ever since scientific analysis of the drug began in the late 1970s,” he said. “The increased potency of marijuana is a contributing factor to the substantial increase in the number of American teenagers in treatment for marijuana dependence.
“This increase in potency has also been linked to increased risks for mental health disorders, including psychosis and schizophrenia,” Searcy added.
Marijuana use has also been linked to heart attacks, he said.
Practically no one is expecting the bill to become law.
“Even Congressman Frank has stated publicly that the chances of this legislation passing are not ‘high,’” Searcy said.
H.R. 5843 is currently at the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.