By Corey Kane
BU News Service
WASHINGTON—What could make allies out of two legislators on opposite ends of the political spectrum – liberal stalwart Barney Frank of Massachusetts and libertarian Ron Paul of Texas?
Reps. Frank, D-Mass., and Paul, R-Texas, Wednesday wrote a joint letter to President Obama, urging the federal government to refrain from prosecuting marijuana cases in states where it has been legalized. Two states, Colorado and Washington state, voted by popular referendum to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the Nov. 6 election.
Additionally, Massachusetts’ voters legalized the substance for medicinal purposes in this month’s election, putting the Bay State in the same position as California — which has witnessed federal prosecutions at odds with the Golden State’s 1996 legalization of marijuana for medicinal use.
“Ron and I think it’s a matter of individual freedom,” Frank said in an interview.
Frank argued that the federal government should respect states’ rights when states are not passing laws that seek to oppress their citizens. Frank also said it is hypocritical to illegalize marijuana while alcohol and tobacco are legal.
Both Frank and Paul argued the public will now have an opportunity to see if there are adverse consequences to legalization.
“We believe that respecting the wishes of the electorates of Colorado and Washington and allowing responsible state authorities to carry out those wishes will provide valuable information in an important national debate,” Frank and Paul wrote in their letter to Obama.
While a political odd couple, Frank and Paul are veteran members of Congress who are retiring from public office at the end of this year, and who served together for many years on the House Financial Services Committee.
Paul was the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1988, and marshaled his libertarian following in unsuccessful bids for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and this year.
Since California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, federal authorities have prosecuted dispensaries on trafficking charges. An October report in The New York Times estimated federal attorneys had shut down more than 500 dispensaries in the state.
Lawmakers in four New England states—Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont—are currently pushing for legalization similar to Colorado and Washington, according to Robert Capecchi, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. His group advocates a reduction or elimination of penalties for marijuana use.
Capecchi said his group is lobbying members of Congress to respect state legalization, and counted Frank and Paul as major allies.
“Federal resources are not best spent on enforcing policies that states have clearly said they do not support,” Capecchi said.
Massachusetts state Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat who has filed legislation to regulate and tax marijuana, said the state’s November medical marijuana legalization creates an awkward relationship between the federal government and Bay Staters.
“The main problem is that it cannot be grown or studied,” Story said.
Without the freedom to study the substance, Story said the public would be unable to obtain information on the drug’s benefits and problems.
William Downing, president of the Massachusetts branch of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said his group is pushing for a legalization in Massachusetts in 2016 similar to what passed this month in Colorado and Washington.
His group is also pursuing action in the Massachusetts Legislature. But, if that fails, he expressed optimism that a ballot referendum would be approved, buoyed by high turnout from a presidential election.