Old marijuana laws are being argued as racially driven by a lawyer in Connecticut that is defending a man that was arrested with over a pound of marijuana in his possession and that was already on probation for a prior marijuana related offense. The lawyer’s argument may seem like a stretch on the surface, however with the sentiment towards marijuana changing here in the United States, it is these sorts of arguments that could be the key to the long term changes cannabis advocates are looking for. Arguments by lawyers against old laws like the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 not only plays to the cannabis movement but also the racial inequality outrage that is circulating throughout the country. What do you think the chances are that the case makes it to the supreme court?
HARTFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut lawyer is hoping his arguments in a drug case eventually are used by attorneys across the country to fight marijuana charges and bans on pot possession.
Aaron Romano says many state laws criminalizing marijuana were based on the federal “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937,” which essentially criminalized marijuana by imposing harsh financial penalties. He argues the federal law was rooted in racism and bigotry against blacks and Mexicans and therefore was unconstitutional, as are the state bans based on the law including Connecticut’s.
“It was racially motivated and states just adopted it wholesale,” said Romano, a Bloomfield attorney who also is legal counsel for the state chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. “With the growing awareness of cannabis’ health benefits … at this point there is no reason to maintain its illegal status.”
The prosecutor in the case, Russell Zentner, declined to comment, while at least one drug law expert doesn’t believe such an argument would be successful.
Romano made the unusual argument Tuesday in a motion to dismiss marijuana possession and probation violation charges against his client, William Bradley. The Clinton resident was caught with nearly a pound of marijuana in January while on probation for a previous marijuana conviction. He is detained while awaiting trial because he can’t post $150,000 bail.
Pretrial discussions in Bradley’s case are scheduled for Tuesday in Middletown Superior Court.
Romano said his arguments are different than past, unsuccessful challenges to marijuana bans because his case focuses on the discriminatory origins of such prohibitions, instead of how the laws have resulted in minorities being arrested at disproportionate rates compared with whites.
Romano’s motion to dismiss the charges against Bradley cites a variety of publications in saying century-old pot bans were rooted in discrimination. The first bans were enacted in the early 1900s in states with large numbers of migrant workers from Mexico, where marijuana use was more common, and were designed to make the workers vulnerable to prosecution, the motion says.
Romano also said the 1937 federal law was successfully pushed by Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
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