Thursday, November 20, 2008

A "Half-Baked Vote? Not really!

There must be something strange in the ventilation system at the Northwest Arkansas Times this week that seems to be causing some of that newspaper's editorial writers to take on what appears to be a mean-spirited attitude toward well-meaning political activists in the Fayetteville area. Earlier this week, the Times lashed out at supporters of Lioneld Jordan by referring to them as being "extremists" and on "the fringe." On Wednesday, in its November 19 edition, the Times published an editorial entitled Half Baked Vote, which devalued both the hard work of Sensible Fayetteville in its efforts to bring an initiative before Fayetteville's voters that would make simple possession of marijuana a low priority for police and the overwhelmingly positive voter response to that initiative. The above-mentioned editorial went so far as to refer to the Low Priority Initiative that was approved by Fayetteville voters overwhelmingly as a "wholly worthless measure," and questions why legalization proponents don't instead, work toward changing state laws.

It would seem that whoever wrote the above-mentioned editorial must be totally unaware of the fact, that for the most part, those working for sensible marijuana laws have faced setback after setback in their decades-long struggle to achieve passage of more just marijuana laws. Sure, some states did decriminalize simple possession during the 1970's, but since then, pressure and propaganda coming from the federal government has done much to undermine even those state laws. Several years ago, voters in California changed their state laws by passing a proposition for legalized medical marijuana. Recent actions by the federal government has demonstrated that it has little respect for the will of the people in that state as its law-enforcement agencies have conducted raid after raid against growing and dispensing operations that are now legal under that laws of that state. Further, after decades of almost hysterical anti-pot advertising campaigns, often paid for by the federal government and various private organizations, how many politicians are willing to work with advocacy groups for laws that would bring about decriminalization? Most politicians will not sponsor such legislation; it is considered to be political suicide to do so.

The Times article attempts to link marijuana possession with violent crime as it calls into memory an alleged incident in which a young couple shot and killed someone who they believed stole their pot. While such situations though very rare, might occur from time to time, one must keep in mind that, more often than not, it is the illegality of the substance and the inability of a victim to seek a legal remedy that causes violent behavior; this much more so than the physical influence of the substance itself. Few will argue that the use of tobacco, as it is currently sold and marketed, is a healthy activity for a person to take part in. Yet, if a business owner believes that someone has stolen several cartons of cigarettes from his or her store, a legal remedy exists. There is no need to go after the accused. Such situations are usually handled by the police - a legal remedy.

If one considers that the prohibition of the 1920's spawned a huge growth in organized crime and violent crime, how much of a stretch would it be to consider that the legalization of marijuana, a relatively-benign herb, would put a stop to much of the violence relating to its distribution. Mexican drug cartels likely wouldn't be holding shootouts on the streets of Ciudad Juarez, that troubled city just across from El Paso, because they could simply call the police to protect their legal activity. Further, one only needs to look at the model that has been advanced for some years now in the Netherlands where pot is openly sold in the coffee shops of Amsterdam; this, with the support of that country's government. Isn't if interesting to see how this enlightened approach to marijuana use has eliminated any violence surrounding it?

"How much longer before one makes the argument that if possession isn't a big deal, how can society really make a big deal out of someone having 28 pounds of marijuana to supply those individuals who only want to have a joint or two," the Times article asked. It would seem that the Dutch model pretty much eliminates that argument. Further, what about the tobacco vendors who service those who only want one or two packs of cigaretts per day or so? Why is the vendor of one product treated with respect while the other is considered evil?

All the above and other arguments aside, there is one final point that, in the opinion of this writer, puts to rest the Northwest Arkansas Times' contention that the recently-passed Low Priority Initiative is a totally worthless measure. It comes from our founding document, The Declaration of Independence; and, while that document in and of itself was intended as a legal separation from the political ties that bound the thirteen original colonies to Great Britain, the principals contained within it are not currently legally binding. Still, these are the principals upon which our nation was founded.

In the declaration's second paragraph, while speaking about certain unalienable rights, goes on to say the following: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

On November 4, the governed of Fayetteville, with a strong majority of 66 percent, spoke on this low-priority issue; and, as evidenced by the results of that election, they withdrew their consent for the continuation of business as usual in this regard. The "consent of the governed" no longer exists for the continuation of marijuana arrests for simple possession by adults. Statements concerning this withdrawal of consent must now be sent to state as well as federal officials on a yearly basis in order that they be reminded on a regular basis that the consent of the governed has been withdrawn. The editors at the Northwest Arkansas Times may consider this to be a "wholly worthless measure," but for those who believe in principal, it is huge.

In order to change entrenched belief systems and affect the vast majority of politicians who would resist decriminalization efforts by groups such as Sensible Fayetteville, preliminary first steps must be taken. That's how you open the door. With voter approval on November 4, the doorway to future changes in Arkansas' marijuana laws has been opened. That is significant.

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