By Kevin Zeese
Executive Director, NORML
The benchmark of our democratic society is supposed to be that the people choose the government and the laws reflect the views of the people. Even though tens of millions of Americans have chosen to use marijuana, we have not had an opportunity to choose marijuana policy. Instead, we have been forced to help pay for our own oppression with our tax dollars.
After a rare show of unity and perseverence by citizens who have had enough, the people of Oregon will get an opportunity to vote on marijuana policy. The Oregon Secretary of State's approval of the Oregon Marijuana Initiative for this November's ballot will result in the first state-wide vote on marijuana policy since a California vote in 1972.
While the vote is limited to Oregon it has national importance. Politicians in Washington are being forced to make painful budget cuts because of our government's financial problems. They are not blind to the failures of marijuana policy, but for political reasons they are afraid to consider alternatives. After a successful vote in Oregon politicians will feel the direction of the wind changing. They will feel more confident in examining reforms of the marijuana laws, expecially when the Oregon vote is coupled with the fact that in 1988 more than half the voters will be under forty years old.
The marijuana issue really boils down to a question of choice. Should adults be allowed to choose to use marijuana? For whatever reason, or for no reason, our government has decided that we should not be allowed to make that choice. If you consume marijuana, even once, you are a criminal. In an effort to stop Americans from choosing, our government has arrested over 6 million of our fellow citizens since the marijuana war began in 1969.
The Reagan Administration seems to especially distrust the judgment of the American people. Indeed, it is spending a lot of its time and your money in an effort to suppress and eradicate marijuana so that no American can choose to use it. Why doesn't the Administration trust the judgment of American citizens?
Wouldn't it be smarter for the Administration to spend money disseminating information about marijuana so people can make the right choice? People need the facts, they need to know what the effects of marijuana will lead to. This type of information should not be confused with propaganda for the "war effort," which is counterproductive. Rather, people need honest, scientifically based information in order to make an informed choice.
The flipside of free choice is being held responsible for your actions. If you smoke too much marijuana you are likely to pay for it with lung problems. If you drive while using marijuana, you should be held responsible for any accident you are involved in, even if marijuana is legal.
Free choice is one thing that distinguishes marijuana from narcotic drugs. Narcotics are clearly more addicting than marijuana. While not everyone who uses a narcotic becomes addicted to it, those who do lose their ability to choose. There is clearly a greater risk with narcotics than with marijuana and this should be a consideration in making policy decisions.
When Americans are allowed to make an informed choice, the majority make responsible decisions. We are beginning to see this with alcohol and tobacco use. It wasn't until the mid-1970's that government began a credible, consistent discouragement program. And even though Madison Avenue, rock stars and sports stars continue to glamorize these drugs in advertisements, the use of both drugs is declining.
At the same time, alcohol abusers are increasingly being held responsible for their actions. This is most evident with regard to drunk driving. Throughout the United States laws have gotten stiffer and enforcement is getting tougher. The abusers are being held responsible.
With alcohol and tobacco we are trying to reach an acceptable balance between the individual's right to choose and society's concern for safety. This balance is still being pursued with debates continuing over advertising, public tobacco use, adolescent use and driving under the influence. But a consensus is being achieved with the active involvement of all concerned.
This November's vote in Oregon is the beginning of an effort to find a balance with regard to marijuana policy. This first state-wide vote since marijuana use became widespread is an important milestone. No matter how the vote turns out, it is only the beginning. Your involvement will be necessary to continue the effort. Votes will be occurring in other states as we go through the process that our grandparents did when they repealed alcohol prohibition. With everyone's help, Oregon can be the beginning of Americans being allowed to make a choice with regard to marijuana.
For further information contact the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at 2001 "S" Street N.W., Suite 640, Washington, D.C. 20009 or (202) 483-5500 or the Oregon Marijuana Initiative at P.O. Box 8698, Portland, OR 97207 or (503) 239-5134.
to the History of Oregon Reform Efforts page.
This URL: http://www.pdxnorml.org/OMI_Legal_Chance_HT_0486.html