Sometimes opposites do attract.
Republican Presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduced legislation Thursday that would legalize the use of marijuana and allow states to develop rules for the drug’s use within their borders.
“The legislation would limit the federal government’s role in marijuana enforcement to cross-border or inter-state smuggling, allowing people to legally grow, use or sell marijuana in states where it is legal,” according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for the drug’s legal usage. “The legislation is the first bill ever introduced in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.”
While it is not surprising Frank and some other Democratic members are signed onto the bill, Paul’s endorsement of the legislation is the only reason the group can claim “bipartisan” support.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has long been an advocate of legalized marijuana, going back to his tenure in the Tennessee State Senate.
In a statement on the floor of the House, Cohen said, “As far as they (states) are concerned, better they should deal with marijuana as a health policy and not as a criminal policy, not victimizing young people with marks on their records and allowing police officers better use their efforts to target other crimes.”
If passed, the bill would treat marijuana similar to alcohol on the federal level. It would allow states to choose between prohibiting marijuana entirely, making it medically available, decriminalizing the possession of marijuana, taxing and regulating the drug and allowing states to have what are known as “dry” and “wet” counties.
One problem still remains – federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are for the most part opposed to legalization of marijuana. However, officials offer differing perspectives on the issue.
Chief David Rahinsky, recently named to oversee the Franklin, Tenn., police department, has seen his share of drug issues. Rahinsky has worked in areas with notorious drug problems such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Broward County, Florida. Compared to marijuana use in the inner city of on the coast of Florida, Rahinsky said suburban communities such as Franklin have more problems with prescription drug abuse than with marijuana.
“As law enforcement officers, we respect the need for our elected officials to make the laws. Our job is to enforce whatever is on the books.” Said Rahinsky. “That’s not to say that legalizing marijuana is the right thing to do. My officers are trying to make sure every law dealing with drugs is enforced and enforced properly.”
But small, rural communities and large cities with high inner city crime have another view of marijuana.
Chief Donald Duerr has been in law enforcement for 33 years, all in the small rural community of Savannah, Tenn., just north of the Alabama-Mississippi state line.
Duerr is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana or any drug for that matter.
“Anytime a law is changed to fit the criminal, the law always fails,” said Duerr. “If marijuana is legalized, we’re still going to have the same problems that we have now. Some people think smoking pot is no big deal, but I can tell you for a fact it leads to other types of drug use such as cocaine and methamphetamine. In my opinion, we need to strengthen drug laws, not weaken them.”
When Chief Duerr was told of Rep. Cohen’s statement about police officers focusing on more important crimes than marijuana arrest, he shook his head.
“I hope our legislators at the state and federal level understand if we can deter kids from smoking marijuana or using any illegal drug, it means we won’t see them as often in the future. I can assure you when my officers arrest someone for cocaine, that person is usually also using marijuana,” said Duerr. “It’s a vicious cycle.”