Pot-friendly politics

Andrea Chang

If two members of the new Illinois Marijuana Party have their way — and make it into office — it soon may be legal to smoke up between classes.

Richard J. Rawlings and Brian K. Meyer, members of the Illinois branch of the U.S. Marijuana Party, announced their candidacy last week for U.S. Congress in 2004.

Rawlings, who said he has smoked marijuana since he was 12, founded the Illinois Marijuana Party earlier this year. Rawlings, 42, is running against Republican Rep. Ray LaHood in the 18th Congressional District, which includes Peoria and Springfield.

Meyer of Belleville, Ill., is running against incumbent Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello in the 12th Congressional District in southwest Illinois. Meyer served five years in a federal prison for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute after he was arrested in 1992 with 2.4 kilograms of hemp he says he found on the side of the road.

“I lost my wife and my two children — everything I owned,” said Meyer, 40. “I can name a list 200 miles long of benefits that I’ve lost. Most people are unaware of what they lose because of a simple possession charge.”

Meyer, an independent with libertarian values, said he joined the Illinois Marijuana Party because he is a victim of the drug war and he wants to protect marijuana users’ civil liberties and rights to privacy.

“I’m against the government being able to incarcerate, remove funding and seize assets based upon personal choices to use marijuana,” Meyer said. “There are no government studies and there are no private studies that show that cannabis has more toxic effects than alcohol, nicotine or caffeine, yet those three are legal.

“If they didn’t make such a big deal about it, probably a lot less people would use it,” he added.

State Rep. Julie Hamos, D-Evanston, said she is against the legalization of marijuana but supports the dialogue regarding the war on drugs that the pro-marijuana candidates will promote.

“We have to recognize that the war on drugs has been a failure,” she said. “Because it has, I think we should open discussion about what we could do better and differently. If this candidacy does that, then I think it’s very interesting.”

Weinberg sophomore Corey Robinson said he would consider a pro-marijuana platform but thinks there are more important issues for politicians to address.

“If alcohol is legal, why isn’t marijuana?” Robinson said. “(But) if that’s the only basis for their campaign, I’m not interested — you don’t want a pothead for president.”

Chris Scheld, a Weinberg freshman, said he does not support the pro-marijuana candidates and does not think the party will become popular.

“I don’t think a significant part of our population will support it,” Scheld said. “It’s just too radical and there are a lot of negatives associated with it.”

But Meyer said he has been encouraged by the response people have been giving his pro-marijuana platform.

“I may change my mind and run for president in 2004,” he said, “because the support I’m getting is overwhelming.”