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LEAP’s Neill Franklin says the budget bill bans the feds from going after states with legal medical marijuana, but may prevent DC from legalizing marijuana

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Two provisions in Congress’s recently passed budget bill have serious ramifications for pot users and the war on drugs. The omnibus spending bill prohibits the use of federal funds to prosecute individuals in the 23 states and Washington, D.C., that have all legalized medical marijuana. However, it may contain a setback for Washington, D.C., residents who approved D.C.’s Initiative 71 that legalizes a small amount of marijuana possession.

Now joining us to discuss all this is Neill Franklin. He’s the executive director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He was a 33-year police veteran, led a multijurisdictional antinarcotics task force for the Maryland State Police, and ran training for the Baltimore Police Department.

Thank you so much for joining us again, Neill.


NOOR: So, Neill, this bill has been sort of debated in the media about the impact it would have on pot users in Washington, D.C. D.C. did just pass Initiative 71 by a wide margin. And we’ve heard both sides of the story, some saying the bill would prevent D.C. from putting this into effect, and some saying and others saying that it’s only going to apply to future marijuana reforms that D.C. may implement in the future. But regardless, give us your comment about what this type of interference by the federal government on Washington, D.C., kind of the implications of that.

FRANKLIN: Yeah. It’s problematic in a couple of different ways. And I think most important: here you have almost 70 percent of the citizens of Washington, D.C., decide that they want to move forward with initiative 71 and end the prohibition of marijuana. And now you have our representatives, who are supposed to represent us and our views and are wishes and our wants, go against almost 70 percent of the voting population in D.C. There’s something inherently wrong with that. There’s something really, really wrong with that. And I’ll say it. Representative Andy Harris, from the eastern shore of Maryland, is actually my representative. I live in his district. Who does he represent? Himself or the voters? And I think that’s very important.

Now, so what does that mean? Okay. Is the district going to be able to move forward with ending the prohibition of marijuana? Some say that they will. Some say that they won’t. It’s a timing issue. It affects legislation down the road, but not Initiative 71. I don’t know. I guess we’ll really find out when we begin to work Initiative 71 and see what type of resistance or pushback that we get, whether it’s legal or otherwise.

NOOR: The bill did have some good news for medical marijuana users. The federal government, it was not going to prosecute states that have legalized it. So that’s 23 states and Washington, D.C. What’s your response to that?

FRANKLIN: Yeah, you can’t be completely mad at this piece of legislation surrounding the spending bill, because for medical marijuana, which I think is extremely important–we’re talking about the health of people. We’re talking about a better quality of life for people. So, yes, no federal dollars can be spent in those states that have medical cannabis legislation. So that means these states can now move forward. They can move forward with the much-needed research that needs to be done and putting these policies in place quickly, making it easy for patients–and a lot of these patients are children–making it easier for them to get the medication that they need to deal with their issues.

NOOR: And for proponents of marijuana legalization, such as yourself, a lot of work remains. Talk about what efforts are underway right now and talk about who the opposition is, where this stiff opposition to changing the drug laws in this country comes from.

FRANKLIN: Right. So, yeah, the district, yeah, that’s kind of up in the air right now, Washington, D.C. But we’ve added two states to ending the prohibition of marijuana. So we now have Alaska and we have Oregon on board. And over the next couple of years you’re going to see more states come on board. You’re going to see more states in New England, from Maryland, north on the East Coast.

So what this bill did to retard the process in Washington, D.C., it’s not really going to affect the overall movement to end the prohibition of marijuana in this country.

So the opposition, unfortunately, it’s still law enforcement in large numbers; however, not as it used to be. We’re experiencing a lot of change. A lot of our law enforcement community is finally coming to the table and saying, okay, we want to be part of this reform, because that’s the smart thing to do.

NOOR: And I know a few years ago I did a piece for The Real News about some of the leading opposition to this, and a fellow member of LEAP told me that it’s really the police unions that are the most powerful lobby in D.C. that is fighting this. Are they starting to come around or are they maintaining this position?

FRANKLIN: Well, in D.C. I don’t think that’s pretty much a problem. Elsewhere, across the country, I believe it is.

I mean, in D.C., a large number of clergy, ministers, came out in support of this initiative. And that’s huge. Historically, that used to be part of the opposition, but now that’s changing. And so really the last frontier here is really pretty much law enforcement.

And, unfortunately, I think a lot of that has to do with things such as civil asset forfeiture, because the lion’s share of access to civil asset forfeiture comes from marijuana enforcement.

NOOR: And so this is if you’re driving through a state, you get pulled over, they find some pot, and then they can take your property. They literally have take–if you have cash on you, the local law enforcement can take that, and they use that. And I know many law enforcement agencies are funded by these massive seizures as well.

FRANKLIN: Right. See, Jaisal, the goal here is to search you, to search your car, okay, to look for contraband or other things that I can seize. Because of the distinct odor of marijuana, whether it’s burning or whether it’s not, when I walk up to your car as a police officer, I can smell it if it’s in your car or about your person. Therefore I now can arrest you, and incident to arrest I can conduct a search. Even if I don’t smell it, unfortunately, we have police officers out here who aren’t as honest as we’d like them to be. But even if I don’t smell it, but yet I say I do, how can you challenge that as a citizen? How do you refute that? What recourse do you have? Little, if any.

NOOR: Well, Neill Franklin, thank you so much for joining us.

FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me, Jaisal.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Neill Franklin is the executive director of The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, otherwise known as LEAP. He's a 33-year police veteran whose led multi-jurisdictional anti-narcotics task forces for the Maryland state police and ran training centers for the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police.