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This Saturday the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition hosts its 16th annual Freedom Rally on the Boston Common, it coincidentally is the two hundred and eighteenth anniversary of the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, with the promise that the constitution it drafted would "secure the blessings of liberty" to the American People. I am proud to say I have been involved in this annual event since the first in 1990 at the USS Constitution and will continue to be until cannabis is legal; I am 84, or dead.
Why would a 34-year-old middle class lawyer with a wife and at the time two children, we since added a third, help organize a protest against marijuana prohibition? Well, I have consumed marijuana, as have most of you reading this essay according to government surveys, and like Michael Bloomberg, now mayor of New York, I liked it. My teachers taught me to question authority and growing up during the Nixon Administration reinforced their lessons of mistrust of government. My experience with marijuana and my reading of the vast literature on the plant taught me that the government was and continues to lie about the risk it poses to its users and to society.
The vast majority of former and current users are productive, responsible citizens, who have not used other illicit drugs. Except for their use of marihuana, they are as otherwise law-abiding as the rest of the citizenry. This attitude is reflected in the success marijuana policy questions have had with Massachusetts voters since 2000. The results show a solid majority do not want possession of marijuana to be a crime. Voter approved questions have proposed it be a civil violation, like a speeding ticket and for the police to hold a person under 18 cited for possession until the child is released to a parent, legal guardian or brought before a judge.
As a student of the Constitution of the United States and Massachusetts it is apparent to me the founders understood that you cannot legislate Utopia into existence. Marijuana prohibition as part of the utopian war on drugs purports as its goal to establish a "drug free America." Years of prohibition have by experience taught that what is really accomplished by prohibition is a price support for producers and distributors of these substances, in the case of marijuana an ounce of dried flowers is boosted to the remarkably high retail price of $240 to over $400 depending on the quality!
Since enforcement efforts cannot accomplish the utopian goal of eradicating marijuana, enforcement is arbitrary and contrary to republican principles. Realizing it is arbitrary, the prohibitionists need it to be too punitive to enhance the "message" the arrest and prosecution of Tom, but not Dick and Harry sends to the community. It is arbitrary because the law grants the arbitrary power to the police to arrest, summons, or verbally warn the offender. It is too punitive because a conviction for possessing marijuana may result not only in incarceration in jail in Massachusetts, but a loss of the privilege to drive a car for up to five years, denial of federally guaranteed student loans, and permanent loss of not only a permit to carry firearms, but the ability to use a rifle to hunt.
Prohibition fails to keep marijuana away from children more effectively than regulation of alcohol and tobacco keeps alcohol away from children it appears the wiser course for Congress and the state legislature to tax and regulate this agricultural commodity while prohibiting it to children as we do tobacco and alcohol. Such a policy is the only policy consistent with securing the Constitution’s promised Blessings of Liberty. It would free our plant scientists to work with cannabis, not as the black market breeders have done to maximize the potency of the flowers, but to maximize seed, fiber and biomass production, as well as research of the medicinal potential.
For much of human history the seed and fiber of this plant with many names was a source of medicine, food and textiles. Tens of thousands of products produced from trees, petroleum and coal can be made from hemp. Freed from the prohibition it may be that hemp will prove an invaluable source of medicines, food, fuel, and textiles again fulfilling John Adams’ 1763 prophecy that, "We shall by and by want a world of hemp more for our own consumption."
Group seeks lighter penalties Under hovering storm clouds, thousands gathered on the Boston Common yesterday to sway to gritty rock music, shop for T-shirts with slogans like ''Thank You for Pot Smoking," and rally against marijuana prohibition.
Police motorcycles were parked seven deep at the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition's 16th Annual Freedom Rally, and uniformed and undercover police trolled the crowd for marijuana smokers. Puffs of smoke hovering over the crowd came mostly from cigarettes, but police made 44 arrests, mostly for drug possession, although there were some distribution charges.
''There is no day off from the law today," said Deputy Superintendent Paul Fitzgerald.
Turnout was smaller than in years past, when the event sometimes drew crowds of 30,000 or 40,000, according to police. Last year, Hurricane Ivan forced the event's cancellation, and this year, Hurricane Ophelia nearly did. But the weather held, and several thousand people were milling about by 2 p.m. yesterday, according to Keith Saunders, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, or Mass Cann.
The theme of this year's rally was ''Secure the Blessings of Liberty," which Saunders described as a call to political action. His group is backing a bill that is before the state Senate and would impose a civil fine of $100 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, rather than a criminal penalty. The Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse heard testimony on the bill in June but has not taken action on it, Saunders said. Though a recent federal study found that the Boston area is the nation's capital of marijuana use, only a handful of people showed up to testify in favor of the bill, according to Mass Cann.
Saunders said that despite his support for decriminalization, he would not encourage anyone to light up on the Common during the protest.
''This is probably the worst place in the city of Boston to be smoking marijuana," he said.
Some were unfazed, though. Wayne Burke, a 53-year-old retired painter, placidly shared a joint on the lawn with two younger friends, Matt Duszak, 19, and Kevin Woods, 20. The three drove to Boston together from Worcester to attend the rally.
''When we're done smoking this bone, we're not going to go rob somebody," Burke said with a shrug. ''We're going to go home and eat a sandwich and watch TV."
A pair of antidrug protesters wended their way through the legions of youth in hooded sweatshirts and faux-cannabis leis yesterday.
Lea Palleria Cox of the Hanover-based Concerned Citizens for Drug Prevention Inc. and Bill Breault of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety in Worcester, who have attended the rally for about a decade, said they were appalled to find vendors selling ceramic pipes this year. They said they were also dismayed to again see so many young people in the crowd.
''Parents have no clue," he said. ''When their kid says 'I'm going to a concert on the Common,' they have no idea what goes on here."