Federal Decriminalization Bill Introduced

US Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced legislation in Congress today to strip the federal government of its authority to arrest responsible adult cannabis consumers. The measure, H.R. 5843, known as an “Act to Remove Federal Penalties for Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults,” is the first federal decriminalization legislation introduced in 24 years.

“It's time for the politicians to catch up with the public on this [issue],” Frank said. "The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly."

Frank's pending bill, co-sponsored by presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), seeks to eliminate all federal penalties prohibiting the personal use and possession of up to 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) of marijuana. Under this measure, adults who consume cannabis would no longer face arrest, prison, or even the threat of a civil fine. The bill also eliminates all penalties for the not-for-profit transfers of up to one ounce of pot.

NORML Legal Counsel Keith Stroup, who worked closely with Frank's staff to draft this legislation, said, "If passed by Congress, this legislation would legalize the possession, use, and non-profit transfer of marijuana by adults for the first time since 1937." The bill incorporates the basic recommendations of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (also known as the Shafer Commission).

Currently, twelve states have enacted various versions of marijuana decriminalization, eliminating criminal penalties for minor pot violations. According to federal data, passage of these laws has not subsequently led to increased marijuana use.

“This newly introduced legislation seeks to bring the federal government into line with the over 100 million Americans who currently live in a state or municipality that has already decriminalized cannabis possession,” NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said today. “This year, the masses in the U.S. celebrating 4/20 really have something to rejoice, and to now lobby for.”

Similar statewide legislation is pending in New Hampshire and Vermont. Additionally, Massachusetts voters will decide on a statewide decriminalization measure this November.

According to a nationwide CNN/Time Magazine poll, more than three-quarters of American adults favor decriminalizing marijuana.

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