Lawyer and marijuana advocate: "respect the herb"
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    Students filled the lecture room in Harris Hall Thursday night to discuss a controversial topic: the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. Many of them were, like myself, members of the Northwestern and Illinois branch of NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

    We had assembled this evening for a discussion with Peter Vilkelis, a Chicago attorney and marijuana advocate as well as a member of the NORML Board of Directors. He touched on many arguments in favor of changing cannabis laws – arguments that I agree with.

    Vilkelis’ first argument was that cannabis is a fairly physically harmless drug. Recent studies have shown that the smoking marijuana isn’t as harmful to the lungs as previously thought. In fact, cigarettes are more damaging.

    Furthermore, cannabis can be consumed with little effect on the lungs. Vaporization allows the chemical THC to be inhaled without burning the herb or releasing any toxins. Also, THC is fat-soluble, so it can be captured for baking purposes in butter or vegetable fats.

    In addition, new research shows that cannabis has little or no addictive properties. If you ask me, any drug or activity can be addicting to people with addictive personality traits, of which I admit I have quite a few.

    There are legal drugs that people abuse even more readily than marijuana, such as tobacco, alcohol and even caffeine. All of these drugs are harmful to the body to some extent and can be easily abused, yet they’re legal.

    Moreover, studies have shown that cannabis has many possible medicinal uses. There is promising research which suggests marijuana’s potential for use as an anticonvulsant during treatment of epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, and other neurological diseases. Also, cannabis can be used to treat nausea and induce appetite for patients facing symptoms caused by chemotherapy and AIDS.

    There are dozens of other medicinal marijuana studies showing the many uses of the herb, but much more research and discoveries will be possible when marijuana can be more easily obtained.

    It’s almost comical how strict America’s laws are when it comes to marijuana. Fairly harmless marijuana is placed as a Schedule 1 level drug. That’s higher than cocaine and meth and on the same tier as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. This seems preposterous.

    Thousands of police are spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to track down and bust people who possess cannabis. Shouldn’t they have “bigger fish to fry,” like hard-drug dealers, gang-bangers and car thieves?

    In making so many cannabis arrests, police also tie up the court system, which slows everything down and costs the state more money. It’s ludicrous. A citizen should be able to use a small amount of a safe substance responsibly and in private without the threat of legal action.

    Here’s what Vilkelis had to say about criminalization:

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    Instead of spending money to “fight” marijuana use, the government could generate income through marijuana taxation. Simply look at what tobacco tax has done for America.

    My biggest qualm, however, is with university policies. A single drug infraction causes a college student to lose all of his or her financial aid. Furthermore, it is Northwestern’s policy that if marijuana is smelled in the dorm, the plan of action for Community Assistants is to phone the police, no questions asked. In other words, Northwestern simply refuses to touch the issue. Dorm residents will get written up for possessing alcohol, an equally illegal activity, but they will have police at their door for pot.

    Vilkelis’ comments on Northwestern’s marijuana policies:

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    I personally feel that cannabis possession should be decriminalized and that the current system of enforcement isn’t working. You should examine the facts for yourself and form your own opinion, but as Peter Vilkelis put it, “respect the herb.” If you do feel strongly about decriminalization, get involved and help spur on change.

    Vilkelis tells you how:

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    Enough with my soap-box ranting. For anyone currently dealing with pot-related legal trouble, Vilkelis had this advice:

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