Not too long ago, I stumbled across a few blog entries that pointed to this letter, posted on the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law’s website, originally sent by Senator Tom Harkin to a constituent.
In the letter, Harkin argues in favor of the war on drugs, employing the typical tough-on-crime banter — drugs kill people, think of the children, legalizing pot is surrender, etc. Standard fare, and not without legitimacy, but a bit unforgiving coming from a man considered to be a strong progressive leader.
But here’s the part that caught the attention of NORML and the blogs. Wrote Harkin, “The victims of the drug war are many – the small child whose parents are so addicted to illegal drugs that they sell everything including perhaps their own children to obtain a fix…”
Last summer, NORML launched an e-mail campaign asking supporters to write their elected officials urging them to support the Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment, which would have prevented the feds from pressing charges against medical marijuana patients in states that have legalized the herb for therapeutic reasons. Predictably, for the fifth time since 2003, the bill was soundly defeated.
I had sent NORML’s pre-written letter along to Representatives Leonard Boswell and Tom Latham and Senators Harkin and Charles Grassley. After I did that, I noticed that they had another letter calling for the legalization of the drug. Curious if anyone would respond to such an outlandish suggestion, I decided to send that to all four as well.
After I read the Harkin letter on the blogs last month, I looked for my old letters. I’ve misplaced my Harkin and Latham replies, but I found letters back from Boswell (a Democrat) and Grassley (a Republican) on legalization (they, of course, both oppose it). Grassley’s response was far more absurd than anything Harkin wrote in his letter. It’s like my middle school DARE class all over again:
[October 5, 2007]
Dear Mr. Aronsen:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your thoughts on marijuana. I always enjoy hearing from people back home.
I must, however, disagree with your views on this topic. You see, marijuana is illegal because it is dangerous. When you smoke marijuana, or use any other drug, it changes your brain. It changes the way you think, your ability to learn, and how well you can remember. Making marijuana a legal drug will not change any of this.
Some drug users believe that their drug use only affects themselves and that they pose no threat to society. This belief is misguided. People who use drugs do so to alter their perceptions of reality. When someone is high, they cannot be as alert to dangers that are always around us, dangers such as a boiling pot on the stove, a burning candle, or even something as simple as an open window. We know that drug-using workers are 3 to 4 times as likely to have on-the-job accidents, 4 to 6 time more likely to have off-the-job accidents, 2 to 3 times more likely to file medical claims, 5 times more likely to file workman’s compensation, and 25 percent to 35 percent less productive on the job. To claim that drug use affects only the user is to deny the reality that whatever we do effects those around us.
Society retains a right, and in many cases an obligation, to sustain programs that reduce–but may not be able to eliminate–the problems they are designed to resolve. Despite our wishes to the contrary, we do not live in a perfect world. This is true with respect to pollution, violent crime, child abuse, and countless other areas where there is no true hope of ultimate success in ending the abuse. In the case of drug control, absolute success isn’t necessary to justify prohibition, nor is an unpleasant side-effect necessarily sufficient cause to end it. We do not demand 100 percent success as a justification for other abuses that society attempts to place upon its fellow members. We only ask that we strive towards perfection, that we reach for ideals.
After several thousand years, civilized societies have failed to eliminate murder, rape, or child abuse. Nor have they eliminated organized crime, the manufacture of counterfeit money, or genocide. But no one seriously sees these failures as justification for surrender. Illegal drug use costs society at least as much as any of these social ills. Yet we do not hear any calls to legalize these abuses. Why then should we give up? Should we surrender to the criminals, and legalize marijuana? No. Instead, we should do whatever we can to prevent criminals from gaining the upper hand, do what needs to be done to give our families, our friends, and our neighbors a safe and secure place to live.
I want to thank you again for contacting me. I have very strong feelings about the importance of maintaining a representative government. For democracy to function, there has to be two-way communication between Americans and their elected representatives. By sharing your views with me, Iowans play a vital role in this process. Hearing from you enables me to be a better U.S. Senator, and I very much appreciate the time you took to contact me. Thanks again for keeping in touch.
Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator
This probably helps to explain why one of every 99 U.S. adults is behind bars. And if illegal drug use is as bad as rape, child abuse, and genocide, as Grassley so boldly claims, we should probably see to it that the statistic goes up.
For the record, from Iowa, Representatives Bruce Braley and Leonard Boswell (Democrats) and Tom Latham and Steve King (Republicans) all voted against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment (take note, Iowa Progress). Only Democrat Dave Loebsack voted for the bill.
But at least someone in the House is on the side of reason. Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank is proposing a bill that would nix all federal penalties for personal possession of up to 3.5 ounces of weed. Sound crazy? It’s based on the findings of the 1972 National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse study, which was commissioned by President Nixon.