Bush drug warrior crashes pot press conference
Nick Juliano
Published: Wednesday July 30, 2008

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President Bush's drug warriors must really, really want to protect their ability to throw non-violent marijuana users in jail.

The White House sent at least three party crashers to a press conference Wednesday with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who has introduced a pot-decriminalization bill.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy's "chief scientist" and two aides who were dispatched to provide instant rebuttal to Frank and the bill's cosponsors, all of whom acknowledged that marijuana was likely to remain very much illegal in the foreseeable future.

Given the bill's essentially non-existent chances of passage, ONDCP's Dr. David Murray's impassioned arguments that seemed more appropriate in Reefer Madness were greeted with plenty of puzzled glances.

Why did the White House feel it necessary to send at least three staffers to Capitol Hill to place in every reporter's hand a copy of its 20-page, color-copied "2008 Marijuana Sourcebook?" RAW STORY posed this question to Murray.

"It is our responsibility to be aware of policy developments," said Murray, who clarified that he had a PhD and was not a medical doctor. He explained that Frank's attempt to modify the controlled substances act was very much of interest to the Bush administration's pot prohibitionists.

The Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia, who stuck around to listen to Murray's post-press conference diatribe, said he suspected ulterior motives behind the propagandistic pontificating.

"Nothing's going to happen on this before he loses his job," the decriminalization advocate said, acknowledging that Frank's bill won't move forward until at least next year, when President Bush -- and his appointees -- would be out of office. "This is him emptying the clip."

To its defenders, Frank's bill is a common sense move aimed at protecting letting states institute marijuana policies as they see fit, protecting patients in the dozen states that have legalized medical marijuana and generally telling the government to butt out of people's private lives. To its opponents...

"I don't think that it is the government's business to tell you how to spend your leisure time," Frank said of his bill, which would eliminate federal penalties for individual possession of up to 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of marijuana.

Frank's proposal is aimed only at decriminalizing individual possession, so it alone would not end raids by the Drug Enforcement Agency on medical marijuana dispensaries in states like California. Frank said he's authored separate medical marijuana legislation that he would introduce in concert with the individual bill.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) criticized the government for wasting billions of dollars on a "phony war on drugs" that's done virtually nothing to actually stop anyone from using drugs.

One presumes that some of those billions were spent on the glossy Office of Drug Control Policy report with the Dr. Strangelovian title, "Marijuana: The Greatest Cause of Illegal Drug Abuse." Naturally, if marijuana were decriminalized, that wouldn't be the case, but such nuance is lost on drug war defenders.

The press conference also featured marijuana defenders pointing out that the drug has caused none of its users to die, unlike alcohol and tobacco -- both of which are legal.

"We do not arrest and jail responsible alcohol drinkers; this should be our policy with marijuana as well," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The NORML representative was sporting a small gold marijuana leaf pin on his lapel, where miniature American flags are a more common Capitol Hill accessory.

Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said his decriminalization bill would fall under the purview of the House Judiciary Committee, which he hoped would hold hearings on the proposal next year. A Judiciary Committee spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked specifically if he thought his bill would become law, Frank said more shifts in perception were needed first.

"The chances are not high at this point," the lawmaker said, a knowing chuckle letting the audience know his pun was very much intended.

The following video and the above photos were taken Wednesday by Nick Juliano.