Medical marijuana activist and former talk show host Montel Williams was cited for possession of a marijuana pipe at the International Airport in Milwaukee yesterday. TSA employees found the pipe as he passed through a security checkpoint. He paid a $484 citation and was released. Of course, he easily could have been arrested. The police made almost 760,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2009 alone (the latest year comprehensive data is available).
It's bad enough that TSA is wasting time and taxpayer money looking for marijuana and other drugs when they should be singularly focused on finding bombs and other threats. It's even worse given the enormous public support for changing our country's failed marijuana laws. Polls show Americans support medical marijuana by large margins (consistently more than 70%), and a near majority support legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana like alcohol. No other set of laws is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace.
Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999 and went public with about his medical marijuana use in late 2003. Since then, he has tirelessly campaigned for changes in state and federal laws to expand access to marijuana as a medicine. In addition to writing Climbing Higher, his 2004 autobiography that detailed his struggle with MS and the therapeutic benefits of marijuana, Williams has hosted TV shows on the topic of medical marijuana, authored op-ed pieces in major newspapers, and used his platform as a public figure to press legislators across the country to enact new drug policies based on compassion, reason and science. In particular, Williams traveled to state capitals in Albany, NY and Trenton, NJ, as well as Washington, D.C., to urge elected officials to pass medical marijuana legislation.
Fifteen states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana for medical use. Yet even though politicians from Sarah Palin to President Obama have admitted to using marijuana, possession of marijuana for any reason remains a federal crime. Federal law enforcement officials even go so far as to arrest medical marijuana patients and their caregivers in states that have legalized medical marijuana. This defies both the will of the voters and common sense. It is long past time for Congress to take action. Changing federal law to protect medical marijuana patients like Montel Williams would be a good first step.
Bill Piper is the director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance