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Group asks city to join fight against pot laws

Wed, Jun. 02, 2004
Baird Helgeson
Duluth News Tribune

Duluthians love lively community debate.

They have anguished over the smoking ban, East High School's hockey coach and the Ten Commandments monument that once adorned the lawn outside City Hall.

Fear not, community watchdogs. Here comes a new issue that might tickle the hearts and minds of Duluthians, although city leaders are running the opposite direction of this debate.

A group has asked the city to take the lead in the push for looser marijuana laws. Ideally, they would like recreational marijuana use to be legal.

"The huge prison population of the U.S.A. is composed primarily of nonviolent drug offenders, essentially victimless crimes," said David Hopkins of Superior, a member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the Community Cannabis Coalition. "This violation of civil rights disrupts families, places of employment and communities."

The group wants Duluth city leaders to support a resolution that asks state and federal lawmakers to throttle back on the enforcement of personal marijuana use. They also want marijuana to be allowed for medical reasons and to let farmers to grow hemp, a nonaddictive cousin of marijuana that can be used to make clothing, rope and other products.

Hopkins calls the ban on marijuana for medical uses "a slap in the face of the medical community, who are forbidden from using this healing herb."

Marijuana is known to help AIDS patients reduce nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Glaucoma patients have used it to reduce eye pressure, chemotherapy patients claim it calms the effects of treatment and those with multiple sclerosis say it reduces muscle pain and spasms caused by the disease.

The group has asked Councilor Greg Gilbert to take the lead on the issue. But Gilbert isn't fired up over another potentially divisive issue that has little bearing on getting streets paved, balancing the budget or promoting economic development.

Gilbert sent an e-mail to other councilors about the request and said it falls into the category of: "Can't we ever get a break in this world?"

Councilors have about reached their quota of divisive issues this year, he said. "First, the Ten Commandments, then the public subsidies and unions, and now the Cannabis Community Coalition."

Mayor Herb Bergson, a former police officer in Superior who busted his share of marijuana users over the years, was similarly underwhelmed by the idea of a public debate more suited to state and federal officials.

"I spent 27 years taking the stuff away from people. Now there are people trying to give it back to them," Bergson said Wednesday. "I will say, however, that while I see the damage drugs have caused in society yesterday and today, I also understand that alcohol has caused much more suffering and death than marijuana."

Hopkins and his group at least want a public hearing in council chambers.

"Hopefully, a city resolution will contribute to the movement to regain more local authority for marijuana legislation," Hopkins said.

For now, the issue isn't on any council agenda.

Copyright © 2004, Duluth News Tribune