July 26, 2001
British Government to Consider Relaxing Pot Laws
United Kingdom: A powerful House of Commons committee is poised to
begin a formal inquiry into the decriminalization of marijuana. The move
comes amid growing political pressure from several high-ranking government
officials and law enforcement agencies, including Scotland Yard, to liberalize
England's pot laws.
"There is a big debate [regarding marijuana policy] going on outside Parliament among serious people in the criminal justice system," announced House Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Mullin, who will oversee the inquiry. "Until now, politicians have tended to shy away from it but we think the time has come for a serious assessment of the way we deal with drugs."
NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup applauded the decision. "The agenda of this commission is a direct response to the growing public and political pressure in England to legalize marijuana," he said. According to the results of a July 15 Guardian Unlimited - ICM opinion poll, 65 percent of Britons believe prosecuting pot offenders should be law enforcement's lowest priority.
The committee will commence in October to debate the pros and cons of decriminalization and other "practical alternatives" to marijuana prohibition. Legislators are expected to strongly consider the recommendations of Britain's Police Foundation - an independent criminal justice research organization - which last year endorsed removing criminal penalties for pot possession. Last month, newly appointed British Home Office Secretary David Blunkett called on Parliament to begin an "adult, intelligent debate" on Britain's marijuana policies. Since then, several prominent legislators, including former Tory deputy leader Peter Lilley have spoken out in favor of legalizing marijuana.
"Nothing could more vividly dramatize [the] reaffirmation of our belief in freedom and personal responsibility than to move clearly in favor of liberalizing the law on cannabis," said Lilley, who supports legalizing pot sales to citizens 18-years-old and over.
This week's announcement is the latest in a series of sweeping drug policy reforms taking place in England. Recently, government officials ordered police and custom officers to cease targeting marijuana violators - including smugglers and dealers - and instead focus their efforts on Class A (hard) drugs. The move followed a decision by Scotland Yard to issue verbal warnings to pot offenders in southern London in lieu of fines or arrest. In addition, MP Jon Owens Jones (Cardiff Central), a former Labour and Welsh Health Minister, introduced legislation last week in the House of Commons to "legalize and regulate the sale, supply and use of cannabis for recreational and therapeutic purposes."
Jones said he backs legalization because "the U.K. has the most coercive laws in Europe on cannabis, yet the highest usage. It's time to acknowledge the war on drugs is just not winnable."
The Home Affairs Committee is not expected to complete its inquiry until fall 2002.
For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.
Poll Shows Americans Strongly Oppose Jailing Minor Drug Offenders
DC: Three out of four Americans oppose jailing minor drug offenders,
including those convicted of purchasing drugs, according to a recently released
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) poll. The results indicate that a
majority of Americans draw sharp distinctions between drug trafficking crimes
and other drug offenses.
"I'm sure that the nation's new czar would be surprised to learn that, in reality, a majority of Americans have come to realize we cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug problem," ACLU President Nadine Strossen said. "Our findings shine a glaring spotlight on the misdirection of the drug war the last two decades."
The study also found that more than 60 percent of the public support changing current laws so that fewer non-violent offenses are punishable by prison. An equal percentage of respondents said they opposed mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes.
"The results of this poll make it clear that most Americans oppose arresting and jailing responsible marijuana users," NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said.
The ACLU's findings are similar to those of a June ABC News poll that found roughly 3 to 1 support among the public for state laws requiring treatment over jail time for first and second-time drug offenders. A March Pew Research Center poll reported that 74 percent of Americans believe the drug war is a failure.
The ACLU poll sampled opinions from 2000 random adults nationwide.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director, at (202) 483-8751. A summary of the poll's findings appears online at: http://www.aclu.org/features/f071901a.html.
Bush Not Enthusiastic About Hemp
DC: President George Bush does not favor lifting Congress's embargo on
the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp for the purposes of fuel or fiber,
according to comments from his spokesman Ari Fleischer at a July 16 White House
Fleischer responded to the question: "Does the President favor the legalization of industrial hemp?" by stating that Bush has not made "any statements ... that would lend one to reach that conclusion."
Presently, some 30 nations - including Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Japan - license farmers to grow hemp. Since 1996, twelve states have passed laws or resolutions endorsing hemp, which belongs to the genus Cannabis sativa, but contains only negligible amounts of THC.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751.
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