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Medical Marijuana Reforms Gaining Ground With Dems

Presidential candidates, including Democrats, have historically been a little gun-shy when it comes to supporting liberalization of archaic drug laws. That may soon change, thanks to Governor Bill Richardson, who just signed into law a bill making New Mexico the 12th state to protect patients using medical marijuana from arrest. The other states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Asked by the Associated Press about the political risk involved, Richardson replied "So what if it's risky? It's the right thing to do...This is for medicinal purpose, for ... people that are suffering. My God, let's be reasonable."

It's not likely that Richardson's presidential campaign will suffer as a result. Opinion polls taken in the 21st century indicate that between 70 and 80 percent of the public supports protecting medical marijuana users from arrest. Indeed, the interesting question is whether Richardson may win votes as a result. Federal government statistics indicate that 80 million Americans admit they have smoked marijuana, 20 million during the last year.

Yet more than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses during the last decade, 90 percent for simple possession. About 700,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses during the last year. As former President Jimmy Carter has said "Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use." In singing the legislation, Richardson may have enhanced his image as a practical problem-solver. Democratic Presidential candidates John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have said they oppose arresting and jailing patients who use medical marijuana, as did former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry. Kucinich supports decriminalization of marijuana smoking. Senators Obama and Clinton have no information about their positions on medical marijuana on their web pages. Former President Clinton came out in favor of decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2000, softening his previous hard line position against medical marijuana.