I Never Thought I Would Be the Guy Writing to His Congressman to Legalize Pot
And yet, I am. For the record, I do not smoke marijuana, nor do I drink except rarely. Nor do I smoke cigarettes. I do, however, occasionally indulge in hardcore hallucinogenic drugs, but that's just because I like it when the curtains talk to me.
Recently I read a newspaper article about H.R.5843, The Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Marijuana Use by Responsible Adults (read full text of the bill here). Basically it says you can have 100 grams or less pot for "personal use," and if you get caught smoking in public, it's a hundred dollar fine. Now I don't know how much 100 grams is, but it sounds like a lot. Certainly more than you need to get your rocks off. The bill is sponsored by Barney Frank and Ron Paul, both of whom I like a lot, and it finally seeks to address our nation's drug hypocrisy, which I hate. The hypocrisy is this: 40% of Americans have smoked or will smoke marijuana during their lifetimes. It's less dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes, and yet we allow our political leaders pretend that it's some dangerous scourge that's going to infect our youth and turn them into brownie-munching zombies. To which I say: bullshit. And besides, even if it does, brownies are delicious.
So I wrote my first ever letter to my congressman, Christopher Shays (pictured below).
I cannot reprint the text of that letter because I wrote it to him directly from his website, and did not save a copy. Keep in mind, Shays is a Republican. Republicans, as a party, extol the virtues of personal freedom and responsibility, unless it's about what you put in your body or do to your body, or who you sleep with. Then they get all up in your shit. Consequently I did not expect his support on this issue, but I figured it couldn't hurt to write.
(For the record, Shays seems like a good guy: he is a fiscal conservative, but votes with the Democrats on a lot of things, including supporting gun control, supporting gay rights, supporting environmental regulations, humane treatment of animals, etc. He's also a Christian scientist who served in the Peace Corps from 1968-1970 in Fiji. Am I supposed to believe he didn't get high in Fiji?)
A week or so later, I received a reply from Congressman Shays' office. Which reads as follows:
Thank you for contacting my office expressing support for H.R. 5843, the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act. I appreciate you taking the time to contact my office.
I would be inclined to oppose H.R. 5843 should it come to the House floor for my consideration. This legislation would eliminate federal penalties for the possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana and the not-for-profit transfer of one ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana. Additionally, this legislation would provide for a civil penalty of $100 for the public use of marijuana.
While the medical use of marijuana may have its benefits, the fact is, recreational use of marijuana is not benign. Smoked marijuana damages the brain, heart, lungs and immune system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception and judgment. Smoked marijuana contains cancer-causing compounds and has been implicated in a high percentage of automobile crashes and workplace accidents. By legalizing the medical use of marijuana we would be opening the door to easier production and accessibility for others.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office again. If you would be interested in receiving my e-newsletter to update you about my work on your behalf in Washington, or for other information, please visit my website at www.house.gov/shays to sign up or to contact me.
Member of Congress
I cannot guarantee the integrity of the text of this letter if it was not sent to you directly from my Congressional Email Account: email@example.com. If you have any questions about the validity of this message, please email me or call my Washington, DC office at: 202/225-5541.
I found this response annoying because nowhere in my letter to him did I mention medical marijuana, as I think that's a side issue, and I didn't want to use it as an excuse to talk about recreational marijuana smoking. Also, I think his argument that marijuana has been "implicated in a high percentage of automobile crashes and workplace accidents" is specious. What percentage? What are you basing this on? Where are you getting your information? I appreciated that he told me "not to hesitate to contact" his office again. So I did. I wrote back another letter:
Dear Congressman Shays,
Thank you for responding to my email in support of HR 5843. While I agree with you that marijuana poses some health risks, I maintain that the risks are minimal, especially when compared with alcohol and cigarettes. According to the National Vital Statistic Report, in 2005 there were 21,634 alcohol-related deaths in the United States excluding accidents and homicide. The CHC reports that cigarettes cause 438,000 deaths each year. I can find no credible source reporting any marijuana-related deaths. This clearly does not mean marijuana is not directly or indirectly responsible for some deaths, but clearly whatever that number is, it pales in comparison to the deaths caused by cigarettes and alcohol. Furthermore, according to the White House's Office of National Drug Council and Policy, nearly 40% of Americans have tried or will try marijuana during their lifetimes. Are these people all criminals?
The same office reports that "12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for marijuana-related offenses." That's over a hundred thousand people incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes. My question is: does marijuana's cost to our national health justify the cost to society of locking up over a hundred thousand people each year? The average cost of incarceration is, conservatively, $20,000 per inmate. Is our marijuana policy saving us more than the two billion dollars a year it is costing just to keep people locked up? Not to mention the cost of police, lawyers, judges, etc?
Marijuana, when used responsibly, is as safe or safer than cigarettes and alcohol. I urge you to reconsider your position on HR 5843. Adults should have the right to make a personal choice regarding recreational marijuana use.
Nowhere did I offer to make my newsletter available to him, the way he did me. Perhaps I should have. But, what if he accepted my offer? Then I'd have to start publishing a newsletter. Anyway, sorry this isn't funnier, but there was something very satisfying about writing to my congressman, and I thought I would share the experience with you. God bless all of you, and God bless America.