Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sensible Fayetteville: Inching Ahead

"Gee, it is the policy of my government to hunt the most versatile plant known to man to extinction and to imprison anyone who is caught growing it." - Glen Schwarz

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about our country's slow and incremental march toward becoming a full-blown police state. While this regressive movement has certainly been noticeable over recent decades, few informed Americans will argue that the pace has not quickened during the years of the Bush/Cheney Administration. The horrors unleashed upon us by the criminal regime in the White House and its supporters are too numerous to mention in this article. The important thing to remember is that when a precedent is set, those of ill intent build upon that precedent; and by doing so, are eventually able to destroy freedom altogether.

I have long considered the so-called "war on drugs" to be the precedent used by the federal government to justify its further attempts to dismantle civil liberties. How were they been able to accomplish this? The answer lies in the fact that for the most part, we the people allowed it to happen.

When the government began requiring companies doing business with it to conduct drug testing upon their employees, very few businesses or individuals resisted. Although the federal government was aggressively promoting a search of one's body fluids in violation of the spirit of the Fourth Amendment, not many people bothered to challenge this policy; this , in spite of the fact that there were and still are millions of marijuana users in the United States who, except for violating the government's unreasonable prohibition against using the substance, are generally law-abiding and contributing members of society. Had all employees and potential employees refused to participate in drug testing back in its early days, nobody would be forced to pee in a bottle without any probable cause today. The power of anti-drug propaganda was strong however, and few, for fear of being labeled as anti-social druggies, thought it was worth it to risk their job or reputation in order to stand up for freedom. The precedent was therefore, set; the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure - government intrusion, has been weakened as a result.

As the above-mentioned Glen Schwarz brought out in a recent Arkansas Free Press article entitled Fighting 4 Every Inch, "vast amounts of time, money and effort must be made to gain every inch of ground against fanatic prohibitionists." Schwarz went on to express the hope "that one day the American people will wake up and realize what an absurd position they defend."

Here in Fayetteville, Arkansas a group of people have taken up the cause of ending this absurd position that has held sway, not only in our city, but all over the United States. The group, headed by Ryan Denham, calls itself Sensible Fayetteville, and for months now it has been circulating a petition that will put an initiative on the ballot, which if supported by the voters, will make marijuana enforcement a low priority for local police. Sensible Fayetteville makes the following points:

* Law enforcement resources would be better spent fighting serious and violent crime.

* Each year, Arkansas spends more than $30 million of taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws.

* Making adult marijuana offenses Fayetteville's lowest law-enforcement priority will reduce the city's spending on law enforcement, courts, and jail.

* Decades of arresting millions of marijuana users have failed to control marijuana use or control its availability.

* Citizens of Fayetteville who recognize the harmful effects of current drug policies can make their voices heard on the failure of marijuana prohibition through the passage of this Low Priority Initiative.

* By a margin of nearly two-thirds (61%), Arkansas voters support a reduction of penalties for marijuana offenses.

On August 9, sponsors of the initiative turned in 6,522 signatures to the City Clerk's Office. Of these, 3,385 were valid. The number of valid signatures required for the Low Priority Initiative to be on the ballet is 3,686, leaving initiative sponsors with the task of acquiring an additional 301 valid signatures. On Saturday August 23, members of Sensible Fayetteville were busy at Farmer's Market on the square obtaining more signatures. The group hopes to turn in another 900 signatures by the fast-approaching deadline.

The initiative's sponsors make it clear that their referendum does not call for decriminalization. Even if the initiative passes, police will still be able to arrest adults caught with even small amounts of marijuana. It is hoped however, that upon passage Fayetteville police officers will respect the voice and desire of the people by making simple possession of the herb a low priority.

In 2006 a similar initiative was passed by voters in nearby Eureka Springs. Sadly, police officers there have pressed forward with the enforcement of unreasonable marijuana laws by ignoring the will of the voters. Instead, they are continuing to arrest adult members of their community for simple possession. Speaking about this situation Ryan Denham put it this way:

"The City of Eureka Springs is in violation of the law. We have been monitoring the situation and expect to take further action soon."

Speaking only for myself, I'd like to wish him well with that as well as getting the Fayetteville initiative passed. If the required number of signatures are turned in to the City Clerk's Office Sensible Fayetteville hopes to promote their initiative by posting yard signs, hosting discussions and special events, seeking endorsements, fundraisers, newspaper announcements and more.

The initiative sponsored by Denham's group is far from earth shattering. Marijuana possession will still be a crime. If nothing else however, it gives Fayetteville voters a chance to speak out on the prohibition of a relatively-harmless substance that, due to the laws against possessing it, causes the imprisonment of thousands of otherwise law-abiding people every year. Sensible Fayetteville has worked diligently to take a small step forward toward freedom and common sense; I wish them well with their efforts to inch forward.

No comments: