Jay Leno Gets Frank with Barney About Legalization

A remarkable exchange occurred on the Jay Leno show last week between Jay and Rep. Barney Frank. It was a heavyweight bout, touching on whether or not the government should outlaw, or tax instead, consensual crimes like online gambling and smoking marijuana.

Jay struck a blow with the concern, as many do, that if it pot were legal, the likes of Phillip Morris would try to sell it to kids. Frank parried that advertising to kids could be limited, in the way that tobacco companies were forced to erase Joe Camel from their ads. He brought up the racist way that marijuana laws are enforced, without mentioning that Prop. 19, California’s ballot measure to legalize it in the fall, has been endorsed by former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and the California NAACP.

Leno stated that marijuana was de facto legal in this country, and that “anyone who wants to smoke marijuana can smoke it.” Au contraire, Jay. Unless one is lucky enough to host a talk show, or land a job as a musician on one, they likely work in an occupation which allows or demands urine testing. If they test “dirty,” they can lose their jobs, whether or not they have a medical marijuana exemption. The ability to discriminate against medical marijuana users in the workplace was affirmed the by the California Supreme Court and although Cal NORML helped pass a bill to change that, our governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself a former pot smoker who’s joked about it on Leno’s show, vetoed it twice.

Governor Schwarzenegger has one more chance, before he leaves office, to do something progressive towards cannabis law reform. Mark (not Jay) Leno’s bill SB1449 would downgrade marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction. The bill, which had been voted down in similar form by the Assembly three times in the past, sailed through this time with bipartisan support thanks to endorsements from the CA district attorneys and courts as a cost-cutting measure. Arnold, who announced he’d inhaled in the 70s just before his Gubernatorial bid and is on film doing so in “Pumping Iron,” will get to leave office with a largely symbolic step in the right direction.

Bill Clinton, the non-inhaler, saw the arrest of a record number of pot smokers on his watch and waited until he was nearly out of office to tell Rolling Stone he thought it should be legalized. Schwarzenegger, who called for a debate on legalization on Cinco de Mayo 2009, has also overseen record marijuana arrests. Last year, there were 17,008 felony and 61,164 misdemeanor marijuana arrests in California, for a total of 78,172. Matching data from 2008, these were the highest numbers since marijuana was decriminalized here in 1976.

Frank is sponsoring two bills in Congress: HR 2835, The Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act and HR 2943 the Act to Remove Federal Penalties for Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults. Citizens are encouraged to urge their congressmen to support or co-sponsor these landmark bills. (For more info, see www.norml.org.)

If Prop. 19 is defeated, and California gets the rabid anti-medical-marijuana DA Steve Cooley of LA as AG, we could be looking at a very different landscape come November. Cali’s Senator Dianne Feinstein has just announced she’ll team with LA County Sheriff Lee Baca to defeat 19, and the opposition is likely to drown the airwaves with hate speech about cannabis.

Where is Jay Leno, and others who have made a living joking about marijuana, in the struggle for our rights? Will they put their money were the mouths are, or will we take it on the chin in November?

Thanks to Drug Policy’s Grand Dame Michelle Aldrich for cluing me into this video, at http://barney2010.com/videos/barney-talks-about-fighting-jobs-jay-leno

Ellen Komp edits the award-winning blog, www.VeryImportantPotheads.com