As the topic of marijuana legalization burns up national forums, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy are lobbying in Washington, D.C. for new drug laws.
SSDP members from around the country — including one representative from the University’s chapter — met yesterday to hear speakers and later visited the Hill to talk with various congressmen in support of current bills that would alter federal drug enforcement.
The bill being lobbied for is HR 499, a proposal that would prevent federal drug enforcement from interfering in states where marijuana is legal either medically or recreationally.
Law student Reid Murdoch, who was the sole representative from the University’s chapter of SSDP, said state and federal drug enforcement are currently “at war.”
“Essentially what’s going on is that states around the country are doing popular referendums and popular opinion is vastly in favor of marijuana policy reform,” Murdoch said. “Despite that, the DEA, under the Obama administration’s orders, has relentlessly pursued medical marijuana providers and people who are acting in accordance with their own state laws.”
While there are several bills in the House of Representatives that look to decriminalize marijuana, Murdoch said HR 499 is a good place to start, as the bill isn’t focused on legalization so much as it is on enforcement efficiency.
“It’s an easier pill to swallow, it’s a less controversial bill that I think people from all sides of the political spectrum can get behind,” he said.
Murdoch visited the offices of several representatives, including that of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).
He said he was hopeful that changes would happen swiftly.
“It’s a non-partisan issue,” Murdoch said. “People in the past have been terrified to talk about it, there’s a cultural stigma about it, but I would say absolutely it’s a non-partisan issue.”
Murdoch added that the SSDP supports decriminalization of marijuana as a civil rights issue, an economic issue, an individual liberty issue and a national security issue.
“Our position is that while marijuana stays illegal, it’s dangerous,” he said. “We just need to get it off the streets and we need to regulate it.”
LSA senior Sebastian Blake Swae-Shampine, legislative action director for the University’s chapter of SSDP, said current drug enforcement was a poor use of resources that could be used for more serious crimes — citing a statistic published by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which states that of the $7.5 to $10 billion spent on marijuana cases, about 90 percent were for possession only.
Swae said heightened drug enforcement has led to some “egregious” laws, including the state of Michigan’s Asset Forfeiture law, which has allowed enforcement officials to seize possessions such as cash and vehicles from drug holders.
“You don’t need to actually be arrested or charged with a crime or tried in order to have your assets be seized,” he said. “All you need to do is have that one law enforcement encounter that goes awry.”
Swae said he sees the conversation on drugs as “sobering” because more people have realized that current drug laws are problematic. He believed marijuana could easily become a legalized substance — like alcohol and tobacco — which could then be regulated and taxed.