Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Ex US Attorney Wants To Change Marijuana Laws
Ex-U.S. attorney: Time to change pot laws
By LEVI PULKKINEN
Last updated November 16, 2009 11:32 p.m. PT
Three years ago, former U.S. Attorney John McKay was somewhere near the
front lines of the nation's drug war.
Directing federal prosecutions in Western Washington before he was fired
in 2006 by the administration that appointed him, McKay's office sent
marijuana smugglers and farmers to prison on decade-long terms. It
indicted a loudmouth Canadian pro-pot activist for selling cannabis
seeds by mail order.
So the crowd at an Edmonds auditorium could have been forgiven its
surprise on Monday when McKay stood on stage with travel author and
decriminalization advocate Rick Steves and declared that, of course, he
is "against stupid laws."
"I think there has to be a shift in the paradigm," said McKay, now a
professor at Seattle University. "The correct policy change would be a
top-to-bottom review of the nation's drug laws."
McKay joined a panel as part of an effort by Steves and the American
Civil Liberties Union to, in their view, return rationality to
discussions about the nation's drug laws. They were joined there by Egil
"Bud" Krogh, a former official in the Nixon White House who gained
notoriety during the Watergate scandal, and state Rep. Mary Helen
Roberts, an Edmonds Democrat who joked Monday about being dubbed by her
colleagues the "Marijuana Queen of Northwest Washington" for her efforts
on medical marijuana law reform.
While the panelists did not agree on all points, each said they see the
need for substantive change in the way marijuana is regulated and
offenders are punished. They also each spoke about the fears, or lack of
courage, of elected officials in addressing issues surrounding the drug.
Steves and the ACLU launched the initiative last year partly as a
response to that fear. The effort, built around an infomercial
"Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation, " is aimed at encouraging
citizens to discuss the issue openly.
"This is an issue that's scary for people," Steves said. "I have friends
who oppose what I do on this issue because they're worried about their
kids. What they don't understand is that so are we."
Addressing the audience, a group mixed in age and outward appearance,
Roberts argued that the law as it stands takes an unjust toll on
minority communities. In essence, she said, it leaves law enforcement
agencies to pursue people who are easiest to catch while their efforts
could be more productively spent elsewhere.
At the same time, she said, lawmakers -- even those who believe the laws
to be unjust with regard to marijuana -- are afraid of being branded
soft on crime.
"As a community and a society, we're afraid of crime," Roberts said.
"And if what you're doing is being referred to as 'soft on crime,' even
without details, legislators respond negatively to it."
Roberts also said the Legislature must revisit the state's medical
marijuana law, which, in her view, fails to adequately protect patients.
McKay, though, said such changes fail to address the larger problems
with marijuana laws in the country.
Even as the Obama administration has adopted medical marijuana rules
similar to those he advocated while U.S. Attorney -- specifically, that
federal agents not interfere with state medical marijuana regulations --
McKay said that simply having federal agencies ignore the laws enacted
by Congress does not go far enough.
"Federal law makes the possession of any amount of marijuana a crime,"
McKay said. "So, even if you've got a certificate from your doctor, a
federal officer could arrest you. That's just bad policy."
McKay faulted Congress for failing to take initiative on the issue. It
is not the place of federal prosecutors or law officers to make policy,
he said, nor should the White House go it alone.
In the end, he argued, marijuana should not be lumped in with cocaine,
methamphetamine and heroin as part of the war on drugs. Marijuana law,
McKay said, "should look a lot more like alcohol (regulations) and a lot
less like cocaine and methamphetamine (laws)."
Levi Pulkkinen can be reached at 206-448-8348 or
levipulkkinen@ seattlepi. com.
http://www.seattlep i.com/local/ 412363_pot16. html