Tuesday marked one of the best of times for marijuana reform in the nation's capital of Washington D.C., and one of the worst of times.
It truly seemed to be a tale of two cities yesterday as the local District council voted 10-1 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of weed, while right across town federal U.S. lawmakers were battling with the Chief Deputy of the DEA over anti-weed talking points as tired as most of the cranky old men arguing.
The first development really is quite significant, and if the bill is passed into law as expected, D.C. will join the 17 other states who have seen the light and decriminalized marijuana possession. In the District, the new law would allow a person to carry up to one full ounce of bud before facing arrest, instead incurring a $25 fine if caught - less than a parking ticket.
Police would no longer be able to use an alleged odor of weed as probable cause to search either, yet smoking weed in public would remain illegal. Still, the proposed law is said to be among the strictest of those put in place across the country.
The unwritten victory, though, lies in the immediate impact that the new law will have on the African-American community in the nation's capital, who make up over 50% of the District's population. Statistics show that America's failed War on Drugs has led to 4 times as many blacks being arrested on marijuana charges as whites.
Meanwhile, on the asshole side of the tracks, Thomas Harrigan, the deputy administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency, was giving an Oscar-worthy performance, somehow keeping a straight face while he spouted one ridiculous sound bite after another about the alleged horrors of pot use. Surely there were hours of discussion, but it really boiled down to Harrigan's absurd claim that "there are no sound scientific, economic or social reasons to change our nation's marijuana policy."
Let that sink in for a minute.
Not one scientific reason to reconsider our nation's cannabis laws. Not one economic reason, during the greatest recession of many of our lifetimes, to take another look at the issue. And not even one reason to reform pot laws for the good of society, let alone to recognize the majority of voices making themselves heard, or the impact it could have on the racially biased arrest stats cited above.
Fortunately, in our society, the issue of cannabis reform is evolving beyond stereotypes, Cheetos jokes, and old wives' tales, but unfortunately the DEA didn't get the memo. Undoubtedly feeling a growing pressure from their pro-cannabis constituents, several members of the Congressional panel listening to Harrigan's testimony decided to call bullshit.
Taking a much more practical approach than the all too subjective "medical" angle, lawmakers like Democrats Earl Blumenauer (D - OR) and Steve Cohen (D - TN) went right after the issue of wrongful arrest and imprisonment associated with discriminatory weed laws.
"We've locked people up, we're spending billions of dollars. It's not working," stated Blumenauer, telling the panel that the estimated 750,000 people arrested in 2011 on marijuana related charges outnumbered those arrested in the same year for violent crimes.
He and Cohen then tag-teamed the befuddled DEA drug warrior by reminding him that tens of thousands of Americans died the previous year from booze, pills, and hard drugs, then put him on the spot by asking him how many he thought had died from smoking weed. Harrigan, who has had decades to form a reply to this annual and age-old question, muttered, "I'm not aware of any."
He referenced the 2013 Justice Department memo issued by Deputy Attorney General James Coles, paying it zero respect, and blatantly admitted that the DEA pretty much ignores such instructions from their bosses.
They're worried about the kids, they're worried about cartels, and at least one subcommittee chairman, John Mica (R - FL) sympathized with Harrigan and the DEA, shrieking that the country is "in a state of conflict and chaos right now" when it comes to weed.
Gentlemen, gentlemen... get a hold of yourselves.
Sit back, unwind, maybe smoke a fat joint.
After all, you can carry a full ounce around soon in D.C.