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Registered: 07/26/04
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4/20 Highlights Marijuana Issues
    #4075510 - 04/20/05 03:08 AM (13 years, 2 months ago)

Green Day highlights marijuana issues
Apr 18, 2005

Should you feel the urge to wander outside pinching a hand-rolled cigarette for a late-afternoon smoke break this Green Day -- that's at 4:20 p.m. on 4/20 for those in the know -- you'll be a part of a tongue-in-cheek observance meant to spotlight that official policy and public perception of marijuana use have never been more at odds.

Evidence of a wider acceptance of the drug can be interpreted in the recent, popular remake of the cult-classic anti-pot film "Reefer Madness," which recently began showing on cable TV's Showtime. And comedian Tommy Chong's "The Marijuana-Logues" was scheduled to play Wednesday at Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, but recently was postponed until late summer because of fears that Chong's appearance would violate his probation for marijuana possession.

Wider acceptance of the drug is evidenced by a recent remake of the cult classic film "Reefer Madness," which recently began showing on cable TV's Showtime, and "The Marijuana-Logues," a comedy starring Tommy Chong that is scheduled to go on tour this summer.

But on the street, pot smokers still receive the attention of Sarasota County Sheriff's special investigations unit Capt. Jim Lilly, whose undercover officers work with police in Venice and North Port.

With an ounce of marijuana costing about $130, and many quarter-ounce bags going for $40, finding and breaking up a brisk trade in Sarasota isn't uncommon. Misdemeanor possession of 20 grams or less doesn't carry a severe penalty, although 20 grams with the intent to distribute bumps it to a felony. (One ounce equals 28.35 grams.)

Often, Lilly said, marijuana users are perplexed about why they are arrested.

"Some of the problem we run into is just the public perception that marijuana is not a harmful drug," Lilly said. "People who take it will say, 'I don't do drugs. I smoke a little weed now and then.' It's been mainstream for so many years now, that becomes one of the battles."

In contrast and on a national level, Ethan Nadelmann leads the Drug Policy Alliance, which is focused on offering alternatives to the war on drugs.

The former Princeton University professor and radio commentator said the 1990s to the present has been a period of acknowledgment for many.

A series of 11 state ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana for medical purposes has helped transform the image of the pot smoker in the public eye, he said.

"We showed at least two-thirds of Americans supported medical marijuana, so those were very significant (results)," said Nadelmann, who helped organize funding for many of the initiatives.

"They were the first time in over 20 years the drug-policy reformers had played ball and won in American politics. They were seen as a fringe group into the '80s and '90s, (but) when we won those ballot initiatives, it showed we were coming of age.

"Where we stand in 2005 is (at) a very interesting point," he said.

"The Bush administration has said the most dangerous drug in the U.S. is marijuana and people are just astounded by this stuff. Obviously, that's a ludicrous statement, when you have methamphetamines and heroin and alcohol."

Aligned with Nadelmann in the war on the war on drugs is Allan F. St. Pierre.

St. Pierre is the executive director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the well-known lobby that helped institutionalize Green Day by frequently holding its national conference on that date.

Reflecting on its late-1980s California college roots, St. Pierre said he doesn't take Green Day too seriously.

"Who can really celebrate 4/20 -- all the unemployed and undergrads and maybe some blue-collar workers who can arrange their schedules in order to do it. It's hard to imagine a stockbroker taking 4/20 off."

St. Pierre is serious, however, about marijuana law reform and the inequities in the system.

He said someone in the United States is arrested for marijuana every 42 seconds, and the number of pot busts has risen, even as officials suggest its use has decreased.

The NORML Web site (www.norml.org) includes an arrest report (Florida doesn't report its statistics to the federal government) as well as information about subjective measures used during busts.

Seventy-five percent of arrests are of people younger than 24, and 60 percent are male. Enforcement won't change, of course, until the law does, and St. Pierre pointed to the influence of the liquor industry lobby in fighting drugs.

He laughed as he pointed out that former U.S. drug czar John Lawn accepted a post as the president of the Century Council, the nation's largest liquor lobby.

"They said, 'We congratulate Mr. Lawn. One reason we're so happy he's heading us up is he can make the distinction between legal and social and moral-based alcohol consumption and drug use,'" St. Pierre said. "To me, that is so twisted philosophically, it's funny."

While alcohol's deleterious effects on reaction time and coordination are well documented, perception under the influence of marijuana is heightened, University of South Florida anthropology professor Elizabeth Bird said.

And perception, apparently, is everything.

At The Hemp Factory, a South Florida store, the environmentally friendly fiber's benefits are extolled even as the smell of incense complements the requisite poster of Bob Marley toking away. And on the store's back counter, a colorful assortment of bongs and other pipes are for sale with the admonishment that "Pipes are for traditional tobacco and herb blends; any other purpose is illegal."


"It's propaganda that makes people think hemp has anything to do with marijuana," owner Ira Schneider insisted. "It only comes from the same family of cannabis. A green bean is not a brown bean is not a lima bean."

At the same time, Schneider acknowledged that the pipes and gadgets sold in the store help keep it in business.

If anyone chooses to use any of those pipes from area head shops for a purpose that is illegal, Sarasota's Capt. Lilly is on the job.

His undercover officers go for both the buyer and the seller. But justifying the bust becomes tougher, he said, because society doesn't stigmatize pot smoking as it once did.

It seems that marijuana, illegal for some 68 years, is in a transitional phase. The viewpoint of users is that a few puffs won't hurt you.

"They're not sticking a needle in their arm, they're not snorting something up their nose, it's not intrusive into the body is how they look at it," Lilly said.

"Marijuana -- from a standpoint of health there are some risks -- (but) very seldom do we get someone who smokes (himself) to death."

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