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Mayor Bloomberg, an Honest Politician
Haven't we had enough debate about what "is" is? Aren't you tired of politicians who continue to deceive and mislead the public? Isn't it refreshing to hear one of America's top leaders finally speak honestly to us? We thank Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his courage.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's election-year comment that he not only had tried marijuana but had liked it is heading for wider distribution - although he wishes it wasn't so. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Foundation, or NORML, invoked the mayor's one-time praise for pot in a $500,000 pro-decriminalization print ad campaign that rolled out today.

Bloomberg was still a mayoral candidate when New York magazine last year asked him whether he had ever inhaled from a marijuana joint. Came his reply: "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it."

The group's marketing promotion seeks to dissuade New York City from arresting and jailing pot smokers, a law-enforcement dragnet expanded under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The ads state, "It's NORML to Smoke Pot."

Bloomberg, for one, is unmoved. He said yesterday he's "not thrilled they're using my name" to get attention, but suggested he can't do much about it. "I suppose there's that First Amendment that gets in the way of me stopping it," Bloomberg said. "I think that we should enforce the laws as they are in the Police Department. We'll do so vigorously."

The Washington, D.C.-based NORML is a nonprofit group whose mission is to "better educate the public about marijuana" and to "assist victims of the current laws."

A City University Medical School pharmacology professor is expected to participate in the group's news conference to argue that pot possession shouldn't send New Yorkers to jail.
[Source: Jessica Kowal, NORML, http://www.norml.org]

So we have this cool new mayor, right? Well, you should have heard all the nickel-bag grief he was getting yesterday. It wasn't just the marijuana activists, slapping his grinning face on a pro-legalization ad campaign. That's fair-game guerrilla politics, clever and cheap.

But here, in the big marble lobby of City Hall, was a bunch of goofy-looking people - reporters, City Council aides, even a couple of folks on the Bloomberg administration payroll, current and former potheads among them, I'm sure - tossing off the stoner puns like so many dying roaches at the end of a very long night. "Mayor Pol Pot," someone offered. "You know those famous fish tanks of his? Industrial-size bongs." "I have it," someone else announced. "Maybe we should change the name of the city back to New Amsterdam," a tribute to the hash-filled "coffee shops" and relaxed marijuana laws of our old Dutch namesake. Ah, New York!

Or as some of these exhaling citizens were no doubt saying yesterday, after news of the mayor's giddy past had wafted across the boroughs: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, New York! Were these people stoned? Had they spent too much time on tour with Snoop Dogg? How else to explain the kilos of lame druggie jokes?

All because, during last year's mayoral race, Michael Bloomberg was asked the marijuana question, and he decided to answer it straight. "Have you ever" - blah, blah, blah, blah? "You bet I did," Bloomberg told the reporter from New York magazine. "And I enjoyed it."

Mike Bloomberg might be a politician now. But he hasn't lost all his frankness yet. He was asked a question. He answered it. And he didn't weasel the way most politicians still do. He didn't swear he never inhaled, like Bill Clinton did. He didn't pretend it was only "once or twice" and that he had spent the rest of his life regretting those tiny, little tokes. That's Al Gore's line.

He didn't come up with a convoluted story like George Pataki. Pataki says that a law-school pal cooked the marijuana into a pot of baked beans - baked beans! - and only later did innocent George get around to smoking the conventional way. And of course it "had no real appeal" for him, so he stopped immediately. It's hard to know which of these stories is most preposterous. But could anyone doubt Bloomberg? That's what people like about this guy. He speaks with a shrug and comes off real.

Leave it to the George W. Bushes of the world to bob and weave around the drug-use questions. "I was young and irresponsible" - wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Bloomberg answers the way that normal people do: Yeah - and so what? At this point, I think there are only two people left in public life who haven't more or less admitted to smoking marijuana. They are Rudy Giuliani and John Ashcroft, and that should tell you something right there. One of them spent his formative years in the Reagan Justice Department. The other, now the U.S. attorney general, spent the 60s attending Pentecostal prayer meetings and speaking in tongues. I say give us old pot smokers any day.

Now let's see if we can deliver Mike Bloomberg from the personal to the political. How can we channel that lovely candor of his into a city pot policy that makes some actual sense? What's good enough for Bloomberg - "you bet I did, and I enjoyed it!" - should be good enough for the rest of us. Right, dude?

There is still huge hypocrisy in the New York drug laws. It's spread a whole lot broader than the ridiculous sentences in the Rockefeller laws. Mere pot possessors, caught with tiny amounts for personal use, are still being sent to jail by the thousands in New York. Taking police away from more important duties. Turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals. Fifty thousand people were arrested by the NYPD for small marijuana possession in the year 2000, up from 2,000 in 1992. And so far at least, Bloomberg has shown no inclination to reverse Giuliani's harsh approach. These are people who did what the new mayor did - and enjoyed it.

Questioned at City Hall yesterday, Bloomberg said he was still opposed to decriminalization. "I'm very much in favor of enforcing laws on the books," he said, responding to the new ad campaign for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. But he added: "If we don't want to enforce laws on the books we should remove them from the books."

Was it a hint? A smoke signal of some kind? Maybe not. But here at last, amid the smoke and the humor, was one perfectly sober idea.
[Source: Keith Stroup, Newsday, April 10, 2002]