Drug War Prisoners

Victims, Not Criminals

Credit is due to writer Yereth Rosen and the staff of Reuters News Agency for an article which appeared in at least one North American daily on October 18. The subject is the ballot initiative in Alaska to legalize the cultivation of marijuana.

The article is unique so far as can be told for being the first in mainstream publishing to record use of the expression "prisoners of war" for prisoners of the US War on Drugs - Playboy and Rolling Stone possibly excepted. The expression "prisoners of the war on drugs" is quoted, with evident approval, from the campaign literature of Free Hemp in Alaska, a group supporting the initiative.

The piece is remarkable also for the writer's own use of the term "victims." Drug War prisoners are referred to as "victims of the federal war on drugs." Victims, not criminals.

Rosen's outline of arguments for and against legalizing the cultivation of marijuana in Alaska, notably the dismissive tone in which the opposition is portrayed, makes interesting reading for a piece distributed worldwide by Reuters News Agency.

Marijuana POWs will find encouragement if viewers download and mail copies of the article into prisons. Viewers may also help to assess the state of editorial policy in mainstream publishing by emailing us if the piece appeared in the paper of their choice.

Above the byline "By Yereth Rosen, Anchorage, Alaska," The Globe and Mail adds the headlines "Alaskans asked to return to days when pot was legal" and "Proponents of marijuana argue vote is about privacy rights, not drugs." The text follows:

Forget the giant marijuana leaf painted outside campaign headquarters in Anchorage's eclectic Spenard district, the back issues of High Times in the front office and the poster of the late Jimi Hendrix puffing on a joint.

The ballot question on legalizing hemp and marijuana in Alaska, contrary to critics' claims, is not about giving potheads free license to get stoned - or so says a leader in the campaign to pass the initiative.

"It's a civil liberties issue. If someone wants to grow a crop in their garden that's no more harmful than dandelions, they should be allowed to," Al Anders, chairman of Free Hemp in Alaska, said in a radio debate. His group is the most prominent of four campaigning for the measure.

Until voters recriminalized it in 1990, possession of up to 110 grams for personal use was legal in Alaska, notwithstanding the federal government's disapproval. Now the state should reclaim that live-and-let-live heritage, Mr. Anders said from campaign headquarters in a shabby minimall.

"It's a states-rights issue," said Mr. Anders, a Libertarian Party activist. "It's a right to privacy, and the right is not being respected by the federal government."

Among other provisions, the measure would grant immunity to people convicted in the past of marijuana offences ("prisoners of war," in the words of Free Hemp in Alaska's campaign literature) or victims of the federal war on drugs.

Others working for the measure say the cannabis plant has been unfairly vilified and Alaskans should be free to grow it and explore its beneficial uses, as people do in 22 other countries.

"There's 50,000 uses and everyone tries to focus on only one of them," said Wanda Carp, treasurer of Hemp 2000, another advocacy group campaigning for legalization.

The Alaska marijuana debate has long been intertwined with the state constitution's protection for privacy and with resident's self-image as rugged individualists. Thanks to a 1975 state Supreme Court ruling, possession and use of up to four ounces of marijuana was legal here for 15 years. The court said individual rights outweighed any state interest in banning marijuana.

"Our territory, and now state, has traditionally been the home of people who prize their individuality and who have chosen to settle or to continue living here in order to achieve a measure of control over their own lifestyles, which is now virtually unattainable in many of our sister states," said the now-famous ruling.

The 1990 ballot initiative that recriminalized marijuana passed 54 per cent to 46 per cent.

Attitudes about marijuana have softened in the past decade, said pollster Ivan Moore.

Evidence of that, he said, is the passage of a 1998 ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana use.

But the sweeping nature of this year's hemp initiative, which was placed on the ballot by citizen petition, has drawn a wide array of opponents. It would turn Alaska into "Dope, U.S.A.," said the arch-conservative Voice of the Times, the editorial remnant of the defunct Anchorage Times that still runs in the Anchorage Daily News.

Unfortunately, were it to pass, Alaska would become heaven on Earth for dopers who would flock here from all over."

Reuters News Agency

Note: More than 40 percent of Alaskan voters voted for the initiative in November, a groundswell that suggests victory the next time around.


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