Monday, January 7, 2013

Candidate for City Council pushes to legalize marijuana

I chuckled when Jason Melehani told members of Durham’s City Council he favors legalizing marijuana.

“I admire your chutzpah,” said Councilman Eugene Brown after hearing Melehani’s position on legalizing marijuana and treating addiction as a health problem rather than charging people with a crime.  There were more than a few in the room willing to stand with Melehani to decriminalize marijuana. 

A few deep breaths and chuckles were needed to offset the confusion related to Melehani’s comment.  The City Council has no power to impose laws regarding marijuana usage.  Its way out of the jurisdiction of the City Council, leaving me baffled by the issue coming up in an interview to determine who replaces Woodard.

You can’t blame Melehani for placing the issue on the table.  Citizens across the nation are pressing governments to rethink the war on drugs.  The question before the council involves process.  How can Durham lead the charge to change state marijuana laws? 

Is this one we want to fight?  If so, what are the odds that state legislators will listen to those advocating for change?  Is it worth the fight?  If so, is this the time, or do we have more pressing issues that need to be placed on the local agenda?

On the surface Melehani’s mention of decriminalization seems out of place.  A further analysis unveils the correlation between poverty, incarceration and a vicious cycle that must be stopped.  It would help to know how many people are denied work in Durham due to an inability to pass a drug test. It would help to know the relationship between unemployment and substance abuse, and to begin forming strategies to employ those who can’t pass the test.

Melehani’s point is a good one.  If we approach it as a health problem it can be treated.  As long as we treat it as a crime we are left with no option but to enforce laws devoid of a strategy to end the cycle of addiction.

Someone may argue this is not a matter that the City Council is obligated to consider.  It should be left up to state legislators and law enforcement to handle.  In the meantime, the City Council should focus on economic development, housing codes, public transportation, crime and the management of the city’s infrastructure.

Someone else may argue it’s too big a problem for the City Council to take hold of at this time.  Many are content with continuing the battle over the 751 S. Development project.  More and more, it’s beginning to feel like the agenda of city government is determined by those living outside the inner city core.  How does the council determine what is worthy to be heard?  Are members of the City Council defined and limited to the few committees they serve on, and the typical line items they vote on each month?

Is there space for a conversation that could shift the tide in Durham?  

It’s an uphill battle.  It’s one that is politically charged, but maybe Melehani has made a suggestion worthy of consideration.  No, it’s not within the jurisdiction of city government.  Yes, we are faced with a conservative state government that is unwilling to listen. The obstacles facing state legalization of marijuana make it the type of battle suited for Durham.

Durham has never been defined by the politics of the rest of the state.  Maybe Durham can lead the way.  Durham has done it before.  Durham fought for stiffer gun laws.  Durham has a history of defining and redefining the meaning of the phrase “we the people”.

Members of the City Council will announce Woodard’s replacement at tonight’s City Council meeting.  Anita Daniels, Don Moffit and Ed Kwon are the other three candidates. Daniels has received the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Friends of Durham.  Moffit has the endorsement of the People’s Alliance.  Melehani and Kwon are political newcomers.

As farfetched as it may be, Melehani’s suggestion may be what North Carolina needs – a municipality that, after considerable deliberation, leads the charge for decriminalization in the state. Some may call Durham crazy, but it comes with living in a city that takes pride in having the spirit of a bull. Melehani may not get the nod, but his suggestion fits the spirit of Durham.

We don’t think like others.  We don’t act like others.  We’re the most tolerant city in America.

We consider the needs of all our citizens. 

That’s leadership.


  1. Nice post, and I not only do not think it's crazy but rather propose that it is the most sensible, compassionate, and socially responsible thing to do to thoughtfully decriminalize marijuana and now.

    Much is available to read on this topic, but it is absolutely clear that the illegality of marijuana is tied to violence and crime against both people and property from Durham to Guadalajara and beyond. While many people still equate "legalization" or "decriminalization" with "approbation", that is simply not good thinking. In a world where drunk people commit all manner of atrocities, including giving birth to sick children that become a burden to themselves and society, calling marijuana the greater evil is, quite simply, illogical nonsense.

    We cannot create public policy based on prejudice and vague notions of morality. We must create public policy, rather, based on what we know to be true and what we know is that too many lives are ruined under the current marijuana laws.

  2. Some states are now legalizing marijuana while other states may follow. This is because the drug is found to have good use in medication purposes. But we also can't predict if there are other reasons for this. And as expected, there might be an increase in marijuana addiction and more problems would arise. Quitting cannabis also might not be an option for many people.