The Drug Policy Alliance has started a letter writing campaign in support of H.R. 499. This is Federal legislation which would let individual states decide if, when, where and how to allow marijuana to be used legally within their borders. It would remove Federal laws against marijuana, but allow Federal enforcement of state laws if the state requested such assistance. So, for instance, state officials could request Federal help to intercept drug cartel shipments from other states and countries, but tell them to keep their noses out of state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and the farms that supply them...or they could continue to spend tax money funding private prisons, gangs and drug cartels - it would be up to the individual state to decide.
At their website, if you click on "Help end federal marijuana prohibition" you can fill in the blanks and a message urging support of the bill will be sent to your representative. The campaign invites participants to "personalize" the message provided. I, of course, could not resist. The results are below.
Cosponsor H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013
Dear [Decision Maker],
In an unprecedented effort this week, Members of Congress have gotten serious about changing our nation's drug policies, and I'm writing to urge you to cosponsor their bill. H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013, would reform federal marijuana laws and allow states to set their own marijuana policy without federal interference.
Even though I have received some of the money myself for criminal defense work, as a California taxpayer it offends me deeply that WE CAN SPEND OVER HALF A MILLION DOLLARS PROSECUTING ONE HOMELESS VETERAN ON DISABILITY for marijuana, but we "cannot afford" to house him, except in jail. This country is hemorrhaging tax money for the privilege of simultaneously rejecting tax revenue and directing huge profits to gangs, drug cartels and the owners of private prisons. We're doing this to fight a "menace" less dangerous to our health than what some of us had for breakfast this morning, a medicine that made the last bit of some of my friends lives twice as long and half as painful. When I think about this lunacy on a Federal scale it is more than I can stomach.
Equally offensive is the probability that should the profit be removed from prisons and prison labor, the pressure to keep marijuana illegal would decrease measurably.
I recognize it will be difficult to back away from even this small part of the drug war while corporations can profit from running prisons and from prison labor, and while the only way some communities can get federal funding is to have police officers ignore theft, assault, rape and murder to focus on people too poor to fund a harassment lawsuit in the name of the drug war. It is my belief, however, and that of a large number of Americans, that the answer is not flushing more money and lives down the vast sewer system that is the drug war. The answer is the removal of profit from prisons, a shift in Federal funding to law enforcement efforts that will protect us from injury, rather than cause us injury, and the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.
A recent Gallup poll found that marijuana legalization is supported by a majority of independent voters, a majority of people in Western states, a majority of people in Eastern states, a majority of people in the Midwest, and almost a majority of Americans in Southern states. 18 states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana for medical use. 15 states have decriminalized marijuana for personal use. And on Election Day, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol.
It is clear that federal law needs to be changed so that states can do what is best for their citizens without fear of federal intervention. H.R. 499 repeals federal marijuana prohibition in a way similar to the repeal of alcohol Prohibition. The federal government's role would be to prohibit the transport of marijuana into a state that prohibits it. For the time being, let the states that want to be stupid go ahead and be stupid; like the prohibition of alcohol, eventually the costs will be recognized as outweighing the benefits. The demonisation of marijuana will fade from the public mind like the flat earth theory; in other words, it will take a while and there may always be a few Fox "News" viewers who will believe it, but public policy needs to be grounded in reality and set by people who talk to real live people, not to empty chairs.
Marijuana legalization will begin to bring the currently underground and unregulated marijuana market under the rule of law, helping to curb the crime, violence and out-of-control youth access that flourish under the current prohibition. I urge you to respect the will of California voters by cosponsoring these bills.
For more information on the bill, see the Denver Post story, Colorado Rep. Jared Polis seeks to legalize marijuana at federal level
What do prison labor numbers look like? About what you would expect:
- Number of prisoner workers in UNICOR, the federal prison industries: 22,560
- Pay scale for federal prisoners who work outside of UNICOR in prison maintenance, in dollars per hour: $0.12-$0.40
- Minimum wage in Haiti in dollars per hour: $0.30
- Percent of federal prisoner-workers who work for UNICOR rather than in prison maintenance: 25%
- Minimum UNICOR wage, in dollars per hour: $0.23
- Maximum UNICOR wage, in dollars per hour: $1.15
- Number of prisons where UNICOR makes office furniture: 18
- Average hourly earnings of a non-prisoner U.S. worker making office furniture: $13.04
- Number of prisons where UNICOR makes clothing and textiles: 22
- Average hourly earnings of a non-prisoner U.S. worker in a textile mill: $10.95
For more on prison labor and private prisons in the news, see
There's an extensive lesson plan on prison labor (with lots of supporting documentation and video) here:
For an overview of the benefits of prison labor at the federal level from the perspective of those who run the program see: