Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation - Edmonds Forum

Monday, November 16, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington will host a public forum featuring its award-winning video “Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation” on Monday, November 16 at 7:00 p.m. at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Admission to the event is free.

A discussion of marijuana laws and policies moderated by ACLU of Washington Drug Policy Director Alison Holcomb will follow the screening. Panelists include:

•       Rick Steves, travel writer and television host
•       John McKay, former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington
•       Bud Krogh, former White House Deputy for Domestic Affairs in the Nixon Administration
•       Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, 36th Legislative District of Washington

Hosted by Rick Steves, “Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation” explores the history and current impacts of our marijuana laws. The video is part of a campaign aimed at encouraging public discussion on the effectiveness of these laws.

“We spend billions every year and arrest hundreds of thousands of Americans simply for possessing marijuana. We need to ask whether our laws are really working. Are they doing more harm than good?” said Kathleen Taylor, ACLU-WA Executive Director.

In Washington state alone, there were over 11,500 arrests and over 3,600 convictions for marijuana possession in 2007, costing the state millions of taxpayer dollars. Senate Bill 5615, pending before the Washington Legislature, would reclassify adult marijuana possession from a crime to a civil infraction carrying a $100 penalty payable by mail. The Washington State Office of Financial Management projects that its enactment would save the state $16 million annually and generate $1 million in new revenue.

“I’ve traveled throughout Europe and seen how they handle marijuana use and enforcement. I’ve learned that more thoughtful approaches can work,” noted Steves. “We need the understanding to go beyond ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ on drugs and find a policy that is ‘smart on drugs’.”

It is estimated that nationally, roughly $7.5 billion is spent annually for marijuana law enforcement. In 2008, 848,000 marijuana arrests were made nationwide, comprising half of all drug arrests combined.  Ninety percent of these arrests were simply for possession of marijuana. More than 100 million Americans have used marijuana at some point in their lives.

“Enforcement clogs our courts and criminal justice system, diverting resources from more serious crimes against people and property,” said the ACLU’s Taylor. “We think this is one of those times and issues where the public knows things aren’t working, and people have talked about it privately. But there needs to be public discussion, especially in this time of strapped government budgets,” added Taylor.

“I’m a parent of two teens,” noted Steves, “and I have seen how Europe has approached drug use as a public health issue instead of building more jails. I find it interesting that marijuana use in Europe is actually less than here.”

The video was produced by nationally award-winning producer Michael Cuddy. It includes interviews with leading experts on marijuana laws from around the country. Among them is Richard Bonnie, Associate Director of Nixon’s Shafer Commission, which recommended federal decriminalization of marijuana in the 1970s.

More information is available at MarijuanaConversation.

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