"It's time for people to start accepting marijuana as part of life in America. We need to change the outmoded laws and pass new laws which are consistent with the use of other drugs," Michael Thomas, a student, told about 100 classmates last week at a conference on reform of marijuana laws at the Martin Luther King Library.
"What the govenment doesn't seem to understand is that smoking marijuana is no special pleasure. It's just a normal part of my life," said Thomas, whose remarks drew cheers from the crowd.
Thomas, a student at the D.C. School Without Walls, was the only student on a six-member panel that discussed the use, effects and legal controls of marijuana. The conference was presented by the School Without Walls' Street Law Class, taught by law students at Georgetown and George Washington law schools.
The conference focused on Washington's proposed marijuana law, which would drastically reduce penalties for possession of one ounce or less of the drug in the city of Washington.
Essentially, the bill proposes to treat possession of marijuana in much the same way as some traffic offenders are treated, with offenders being subject to a citation and fine of a maximum of $100.
A group of local ministers successfully fought and defeated a similar bill in 1975, maintaining that the proposal, if passed, would greatly weaken morals in the city.
The panelists included Clifton Mitchel of the Narcoties Treatment Administration, Peter Meyer representing the National Orgainization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, Robert Randall, who has been permitted by law to use marijuana for treatment of glaucoma, D.C. Councilman John Wilson and Thomas.
Meyer said that eight other states, including California and South Dakota have already passed laws reducing penalties for marijuana possession.
"And all we're asking is, 'Does the penalty fit the crime?'" he said. "Currently, a person caught in Washington possessing just one marijuana cigarette can be jailed for a year. Does that type of penalty make sense?"
Robert Randall, who said he smokes marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma, told the students, who came from 16 high schools across the city, that the government often does not realize that pot can be a helpful medication.
"We've forgotten that for 4,000 years people have used marijuana medically in every society where it has existed, Randall said.
"For 40 years the government has been telling us bad things about marijuana although the government's own studies show that the drug can be beneficial and that there are 3 million people with glaucoma might benefit from the treatment," said Randall, who told the students that his marijuana cigarettes are supplied by the government.
Councilman Wilson said he is concerned that there is not an equal application of existing marijuana laws. "I don't support reform of marijuana laws because I enjoy smoking pot," said Wilson. "But I believe these will have equal protection under the reformed law. But most of you here would still have no protection since the new law would only apply to adults 21 and older."
Under the latest proposed drug bill, juvenile offenders would be handled in the same way they are now, according to Councilman David Clarke, Chairman of the judiciary committee that designed the bill. Clarke was contacted at his office.
Juveniles offenders would be arrested, their parents would be contacted and the parents and law officials would decide if the case should be taken further. A judge would have the alternative of dismissing charges against a juvenile, sending him to drug education classes or sentencing him to two years incarceration at D.C. Village.
"Right now about 75 per cent of the marijuana cases are dropped," said Clarke, who noted that about 8,000 marijuana arrests were made in 1976.