Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category
Interesting article by Martin Lee in The Nation:
On January 10, 1965, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg led a march for marijuana legalization outside the New York Women’s House of Detention in lower Manhattan. A dozen demonstrators waved placards and chanted slogans, resulting in one of the iconic images of the 1960s: a picture of Ginsberg, snowflakes on his beard and thinning hair, wearing a sign that said Pot Is Fun. Another picket sign read Pot Is a Reality Kick.
The pro-pot protest was the inaugural event of the New York chapter of the Committee to Legalize Marijuana, a group launched by Ginsberg and fellow poet Ed Sanders at a time when most pot smokers remained in the closet about their recreational substance of choice. The idea, Sanders explained, was “to get people who use marijuana to stand up and agitate for its legalization.” The protest marked the beginning of a grassroots countercultural movement that would develop years later into a widespread populist revolt against conventional medicine and extra-constitutional authority.
Ginsberg sensed that marijuana, a substance essentially banned by the US government since 1937, “was going to be an enormous political catalyst.” Though marijuana prohibition didn’t deter widespread use, the funny stuff did encourage doubts about officialdom in general. It wasn’t the chemical composition of cannabis that fostered skepticism toward authority—it was the contradiction between lived experience and the hoary propaganda of “reefer madness,” enshrined in draconian legislation mandating five years in prison for possession of a nickel bag of grass.
Marijuana’s status as a forbidden substance added to its allure in the 1960s, when cannabis first emerged as a defining force in a culture war that has yet to cease. From the outset, efforts to end pot prohibition were inextricably linked to a broader movement for social justice that encompassed many causes. Marijuana was never a single-issue obsession for Ginsberg or Sanders. Both were high-profile peace activists who protested against nuclear proliferation, racial discrimination and censorship. In October 1967, Sanders and his folk-rock ensemble, the Fugs, stood on a flatbed truck and performed “The Exorcism of the Pentagon” at a huge antiwar rally that bequeathed to the world another iconic image: the stunning picture of flowers sprouting from the rifle barrels of young soldiers guarding the high church of the military-industrial complex.
For good or ill, cannabis was intimately associated with the rising tide of cognitive dissonance that prompted millions of Americans to question, re-evaluate and oppose their nation’s bully-boy foreign policy. “You couldn’t separate laws against drugs from the war,” said Yippie impresario Paul Krassner, who declared at a peace rally that he “wouldn’t stop smoking pot until it was legal.” To many onlookers, however, the widespread consumption of cannabis was a symptom—if not the actual cause—of public disorder and moral decay. Henry Giordano, chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the mid-1960s, told Congress that calls to legalize pot were “just another effort to break down our whole American system.” Denigrated by politicians and deified by dissidents, the little flower that millions loved to smoke had become a totem of rebellion, a multivalent symbol of societal conflict.
* * *
President Richard Nixon saw marijuana as a useful wedge issue that he could play for political advantage. His declaration of all-out war against illicit drugs in general, and cannabis in particular, cast aspersions on all the troublesome currents that flowed from the rebellious ’60s. For Nixon, the anti-drug crusade was more than just a formula for padding arrest statistics and appearing tough on crime. It was also a symbolic means of stigmatizing youth protest, antiwar sentiment, Black Power and anyone with a nonregulation haircut—underscoring once again that pot prohibition had little to do with the actual effects of the herb and everything to do with who was using it.
On October 27, 1970, Congress ratified the Controlled Substances Act, which placed all drugs into five different categories or “schedules” according to their safety, medical uses and potential for abuse. There was a political calculus behind Attorney General John Mitchell’s decision to label marijuana a Schedule I narcotic, a designation reserved for dangerous drugs with no therapeutic value. “This country is going so far to the right you won’t recognize it,” Mitchell blithely assured a reporter. His prediction would come to pass, and the drug war would figure prominently in American democracy’s long slide toward oblivion.
The Controlled Substances Act required the president to appoint a national commission to assess the dangers of marijuana and make long-term policy recommendations. Nixon stacked the commission with drug war hawks, who nonetheless confounded expectations by issuing a comprehensive 1,184-page report, Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, that endorsed the removal of criminal penalties for “possession of marihuana for personal use” and for “casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana.” The commission also asserted that cannabis should be studied for possible medical benefits. Nixon never read the report before dismissing its recommendations. . .
Other articles in The Nation on the topic:
Katrina vanden Heuvel: “Why Its Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana”
Mike Riggs: “Obama’s War on Pot”
Carl L. Hart: “Pot Reform’s Race Problem”
Kristen Gwynne: “Can Medical Marijuana Survive in Washington State?”
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian: “Baking Bad: A Potted History of High Times”
Various Contributors: “The Drug War Touched My Life: Why I’m Fighting Back”
And only online…
J. Hoberman: “The Cineaste’s Guide to Watching Movies While Stoned”
Harmon Leon: “Pot Block! Trapped in the Marijuana Rescheduling Maze”
Seth Zuckerman: “Is Pot-Growing Bad for the Environment?”
Jamie Doward reports in The Guardian:
Major international divisions over the global “war on drugs” have been revealed in a leaked draft of a UN document setting out the organisation’s long-term strategy for combating illicit narcotics.
The draft, written in September and seen by the Observer, shows there are serious and entrenched divisions over the longstanding US-led policy promoting prohibition as an exclusive solution to the problem.
Instead, a number of countries are pushing for the “war on drugs” to be seen in a different light, which places greater emphasis on treating drug consumption as a public health problem, rather than a criminal justice matter.
It is rare for such a document to leak. Normally only the final agreed version is published once all differences between UN member states have been removed.
The divisions highlighted in the draft are potentially important. The document will form the basis of a joint “high-level” statement on drugs to be published in the spring, setting out the UN’s thinking. This will then pave the way for a general assembly review, an event that occurs every 10 years, and, in 2016, will confirm the UN’s position for the next decade. “The idea that there is a global consensus on drugs policy is fake,” said Damon Barrett, deputy director of the charity Harm Reduction International. “The differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, when all you see is agreement. But it’s interesting to see now what they are arguing about.”
The current review, taking place in Vienna at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, comes after South American countries threw down the gauntlet to the US at this year’s Organisation of American States summit meeting, when they argued that alternatives to prohibition must be considered.
Countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico have become increasingly critical of the UN’s prohibition stance, claiming that maintaining the status quo plays into the hands of the cartels and paramilitary groups.
The draft reveals that Ecuador is pushing the UN to include a statement that recognises that the world needs to look beyond prohibition. Its submission claims there is “a need for more effective results in addressing the world drug problem” that will encourage “deliberations on different approaches that could be more efficient and effective”.
Venezuela is pushing for the draft to include a new understanding of “the economic implications of the current dominating health and law enforcement approach in tackling the world drug problem”, arguing that the current policy fails to recognise the “dynamics of the drug criminal market”.
Experts said the level of disagreement showed fault lines were opening up in the globally agreed position on drug control. “Heavy reliance on law enforcement for controlling drugs is yielding a poor return on investment and leading to all kinds of terrible human rights abuses,” said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. “The withdrawal from the most repressive parts of the drug war has begun – locally, nationally and globally.”
Attacking the status quo is not confined to South American countries, however. Norway wants the draft to pose “questions related to decriminalisation and a critical assessment of the approach represented by the so-called war on drugs”. Switzerland wants the draft to recognise the consequences of the current policy on public health issues. It wants it to include the observation that member states “note with concern that consumption prevalence has not been reduced significantly and that the consumption of new psychoactive substances has increased in most regions of the world”. It also wants the draft to “express concern that according to UNAids, the UN programme on HIV/Aids, the global goal of reducing HIV infections among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015 will not be reached, and that drug-related transmission is driving the expansion of the epidemic in many countries”.
The EU is also pushing hard for . . .
The US seems not only wrong but pig-headed to boot.
I recently blogged about the movie TWA Flight 800, which I saw on Netflix streaming. I don’t think the movie trots out a conspiracy theory, though it would be easy to weave one from the findings presented. But rather than theory, the movie focuses mainly on physical evidence and the process used in the investigation—both of which are quite damning to the final report.
Conspiracy theories are in the news again because of various speculations about the JFK assassination, whose 50th anniversary was on 22 November. But conspiracies do in fact happen, so simply saying “conspiracy theory” is insufficient to dismiss a theory (unless you believe that no conspiracy ever exists). At ConsortiumNews.com Robert Parry writes about an earlier conspiracy that at the time was dismissed as a “conspiracy theory”:
In the insular world of Manhattan media, there’s much handwringing over the latest blow to print publications as New York Magazine scales back from a weekly to a biweekly. But the real lesson might be the commercial failure of snarky writing, the kind that New York demonstrated in its recent hit piece on “conspiracy theories.”
What was most stunning to me about the article, pegged to the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, was that it began by ridiculing what is actually one of the best-documented real conspiracies of recent decades, the CIA’s tolerance and even protection of cocaine trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s.
According to New York Magazine, the Contra-cocaine story – smugly dubbed “the last great conspiracy theory of the twentieth century” – started with the claim by ”crack kingpin” Ricky Ross that he was working with a Nicaraguan cocaine supplier, Oscar Danilo Blandon, who had ties to the Contras who, in turn, had ties to the CIA.Author Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes: “The wider the aperture around this theory, the harder its proponents work to implicate Washington, the shakier it seems: After several trials and a great deal of inquiry, no one has been able to show that anyone in the CIA condoned what Blandon was doing, and it has never been clear exactly how strong Blandon’s ties to the contraleadership really were, anyway.”
So, it was all a goofy “conspiracy theory.” Move along, move along, nothing to see here. But neither Wallace-Wells nor his New York Magazine editors seem to have any idea about the actual history of the Contra-cocaine scandal. It did not begin with the 1996 emergence of Ricky Ross in a series of articles by San Jose Mercury-News investigative reporter Gary Webb, as Wallace-Wells suggests.
The Contra-cocaine scandal began more than a decade earlier with a 1985 article that Brian Barger and I wrote for the Associated Press. Our article cited documentary evidence and witnesses – both inside the Contra movement and inside the U.S. government – implicating nearly all the Contra groups fighting in Nicaragua under the umbrella of Ronald Reagan’s CIA.
Our Contra-cocaine article was followed up by a courageous Senate investigation led by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts who further documented the connections between cocaine traffickers, the Contras and the Reagan administration in a report issued in 1989.
Yet, part of the scandal always was how the Reagan administration worked diligently to undercut investigations of the President’s favorite “freedom fighters” whether the inquiries were undertaken by the press, Congress, the Drug Enforcement Administration or federal prosecutors. Indeed, a big part of this cover-up strategy was to mock the evidence as “a conspiracy theory,” when it was anything but.
Big Media’s Complicity
Most of the mainstream news media played along with the Reagan administration’s mocking strategy, although occasionally major outlets, like the Washington Post, had to concede the reality of the scandal.
For instance, during the drug-trafficking trial of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1991, U.S. prosecutors found themselves with no alternative but to call as a witness Colombian Medellín cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder, who — along with implicating Noriega — testified that the cartel had given $10 million to the Contras, an allegation first unearthed by Sen. Kerry.
“The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time,” a Washington Post editorial on Nov. 27, 1991, acknowledged. “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.”
Yet, despite the Washington Post’s belated concern about the mainstream news media’s neglect of the Contra-cocaine scandal, there was no serious follow-up anywhere in Big Media – until 1996 when Gary Webb disclosed the connection between one Contra cocaine smuggler, Danilo Blandon, and the emergence of crack cocaine via Ricky Ross.
But the premier news outlets – the likes of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – didn’t take this new opportunity to examine what was a serious crime of state. That would have required them to engage in some embarrassing self-criticism for their misguided dismissal of the scandal. Instead, the big newspapers went on the attack against Gary Webb.
Their attack line involved narrowing their focus to Blandon – ignoring the reality that he was just one of many Contras involved in cocaine smuggling to the United States – and to Ross – arguing that Ross’s operation could not be blamed for the entire crack epidemic that ravaged U.S. cities in the 1980s. And the newspapers insisted that the CIA couldn’t be blamed for this cocaine smuggling because the agency had supposedly examined the issue in the 1980s and found that it had done nothing wrong.
Because of this unified assault from the major newspapers – and the corporate timidity of the San Jose Mercury-News editors – Webb and his continuing investigation were soon abandoned. Webb was pushed out of the Mercury-News in disgrace.
That let the mainstream U.S. media celebrate how it had supposedly crushed a nasty “conspiracy theory” that had stirred up unjustified anger in the black community, which had been hit hardest by the crack epidemic. The newspapers also could get some brownie points from Republicans and the Right by sparing President Reagan’s legacy a big black eye.
But Webb’s disclosure prompted the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz to undertake the first real internal investigation of the ties between the Contra-cocaine smugglers and the CIA officers overseeing the Contra war in Nicaragua.
The CIA’s Confession
When Hitz’s final investigative report was published in fall 1998, the CIA’s defense against Webb’s series had shrunk to a fig leaf: that the CIA did not conspire with the Contras to raise money through cocaine trafficking. But Hitz made clear that the Contra war had taken precedence over law enforcement and that the CIA withheld evidence of Contra drug-smuggling crimes from the Justice Department, Congress, and even the CIA’s own analytical division.
Besides tracing the extensive evidence of Contra trafficking through the entire decade-long Contra war, the inspector general interviewed senior CIA officers who acknowledged that they were aware of Contra-drug smuggling but didn’t want its exposure to undermine the struggle to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
According to Hitz, the CIA had “one overriding priority: . . .
Lauren Vazquez offers some good advice at LadyBud.com:
If you use pot you are a criminal.
This is true even in Colorado and Washington, where the feds continue to outlaw cannabis. This is also true in California and other states that provide medical protection. This means the police not only have the right, but the obligation to try and stop you (though state police cannot enforce federal law). Fortunately, you do not have to help them. The United States Constitution gives you rights that protect you during police encounters. It is the job of the police to find evidence of a crime. It is not your job to confess or help them. They get paid quite well, so please do not do their job for them. Your job is to do and say the right things to protect yourself and defend your rights.
During a police encounter, the best case scenario is you will be let go with a warning or simple citation. The worst case is, you or someone you love will get hurt. No one should be the victim of police brutality, but it happens. Cops are jumpy. They are trained to be suspicious. Do not make any sudden moves they can claim were threatening. Be polite and respectful, even if the courtesy is not returned. Remember, the police do not have the final word and while they may be able to harass, intimidate, and arrest you, the real fight is in the courtroom before the judge and jury. But you must actually survive the police encounter first before you can win the battle in court.
To win that court battle, your lawyer needs to be able to prove the police acted illegally and the evidence should therefore be thrown out. The goal is to get all the evidence tossed so that there is no case left against you. If you give police permission, your lawyer will not be able to argue they acted illegally and there will not be much s/he can do to defend you. This is why what you do and say are very important. Your lawyer needs you to say the “magic words.” These are words that limit what the police can do and will help your lawyer prove the police acted illegally.
The Magic Words
What are the magic words, you ask? The first magic words can set you free. Simply ask,
“AM I FREE TO GO?”
If they reply that you are free to go, then you are free to go. You may have to wait for the officer to finish the citation, but yes, you are free to go. If you are not free to go, then you must use the other magic words,
“I DO NOT CONSENT TO ANY SEARCHES,”
“I WANT TO REMAIN SILENT,”
“I WANT A LAWYER.”
You must use all of the magic words and use them in this order. You must memorize and practice the magic words. During a stop, the police will not always tell you your rights or help you understand them. In fact, they are trained to harass, scare, and trick you into giving up your rights. You have to be strong while they get in your face and insult you. They are even allowed to lie. Do not believe them. Say the magic words, follow police orders, and shut up!
How do the magic words work? . . .
The title refers to a common “objection” to legalizing marijuana. It’s not a valid objection, however. In rebuttal, consider this: wine glasses are smaller than beer glasses and larger than shot glasses. If a drug is concentrated, people use less. People don’t drink bourbon from beer glasses.
I recall Timothy Leary taking LSD trips with prisoners. He thought that LSD would enable them to remold some aspects of their personality—break old patterns and get new insights—in an effort to reduce recidivism. I don’t recall how the research came out, but the recent findings about marijuana’s effect in “rebooting” repetitive patterns and its observed effects on memory (see this post) might offer a therapeutic approach to interrupting the patterns of thought of PTSD.
Vanessa Walz writes at Ladybud.com:
After Staff Sargent Mike Whiter returned home from serving his country, he tried to kill himself three times.
Whiter served in the US Marines for 11 years, including combat tours in Kosovo and Iraq. After his medical discharge, Whiter sought help from the Veterans Administration for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as his physical injuries.“They put me on 36 different medications in 6 years,” recalls Whiter. “I was on methadone and morphine, benzos, klonopin, xanax, SSRIs…You name a drug, I’ve been on it. I couldn’t sleep, I was having nightmares, I couldn’t leave my house – I was afraid to leave my house.”
Whiter believes that prescription drugs, particularly SSRIs, are contributing to veteran suicides. “SSRIs have suicide listed as a side effect,” Whiter explains. “And they’re giving these pills to people who are already suicidal.”
According to a study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February of 2013, 22 veterans take their own lives every day – one suicide every 65 minutes. A 2013 survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 30% of service members have considered or attempted suicide, and 45% reported that they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide. In recent years, there have been significantly more US veteran and military deaths by suicide than in combat.
HOPE FOR VETERANS
Mike Whiter’s life today is very different than it was a few years ago. After learning about medical marijuana and PTSD on the Discovery Channel, Whiter believed it might help him.
Since he started using marijuana, Whiter has been able to stop taking all of his prescription medications. No more sleepless nights, no more flashbacks, no more isolation in his home – in fact, Whiter is now the co-director of Philadelphia NORMLand the founder of Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana. He has been a featured speaker at numerous public events and rallies, unimaginable during the time he suffered from crippling social anxiety due to his PTSD.
“Marijuana saved my life,” Whiter says. “And when I say that, I’m not exaggerating at all. Those medications would have killed me if I hadn’t taken my own life first. The medications that the VA prescribes are killing veterans.”
In addition to relieving his PTSD symptoms, Whiter credits marijuana for . . .
David Nutt writes in The Guardian (emphasis added):
enjoying a seasonal drink at a Christmas party without the risk of a hangover the next day, or being able then to take an antidote that would allow you to drive home safely. It sounds like science fiction but these ambitions are well within the grasp of modern neuroscience.
Alcohol is both one of the oldest and most dangerous drugs, responsible for about 2.5 million deaths worldwide, which is more than malaria or Aids. The reasons for this are well known: alcohol is toxic to all body systems, and particularly the liver, heart and brain. It makes users uninhibited, leading to a vast amount of violence and is also quite likely to cause dependence, so about 10% of users get locked into addiction. If alcohol was discovered today it could never be sold as it is far too toxic to be allowed under current food regulations, let alone pharmaceutical safety thresholds. In this health-conscious age, it is odd that these aspects of alcohol are rarely discussed.
The only proven way to reduce alcohol harms is to limit consumption through increased pricing and limiting availability. Most governments have shied away from this because of public opinion and fears of lost tax income – the notable exception being Scotland with its minimum pricing strategy. An alternative strategy that offers greater health benefits would be to make a safer version of alcohol.
We know that the main target for alcohol in the brain is the neurotransmitter system gamma aminobutyric acid (Gaba), which keeps the brain calm. Alcohol therefore relaxes users through mimicking and increasing the Gaba function. But we also know that there are a range of Gaba subsystems that can be targeted by selective drugs. So in theory we can make an alcohol surrogate that makes people feel relaxed and sociable and remove the unwanted effects, such as aggression and addictiveness.
I have identified five such compounds and now need to test them to see if people find the effects as pleasurable as alcohol. The challenge is . . .
The boldfaced paragraph is why I support marijuana legalization, particularly since data show that people use less alcohol when marijuana is available.
And yet, the statement is perfectly true—big-time true, since alcohol is much more addictive and much more dangerous. People regularly die of alcohol poisoning (hazing incidents, for example), and alcoholics find their body severely damaged by alcohol. None of that happens with marijuana. And people are not supposed to know this? It’s supposed to be kept secret so the alcohol industry can make more money? From an AlterNet article:
Chris Thorne at the Beer Institute told National Journal that it’s a red herring to compare alcohol to pot. “We believe it’s misleading to compare marijuana to beer,” he said, “Beer is distinctly different both as a product and an industry. Factually speaking beer has been a welcome part of American life for a long time. The vast majority drinks responsibly, so having caricatures won’t really influence people,” he said.
There are no caricatures in comparing the harm, to the individual and to society, from alcohol and from marijuana. (This is not to comment on the damage to society from the war on marijuana, which has been enormous.) And even the slightest investigation reveals that marijuana is much more benign than alcohol. (I do use alcohol, BTW, so I am not speaking as a teetotaler.)
Still, I understand their fear: it’s highly likely that legalized marijuana will lead to a significant decline in alcohol sales. Certainly that’s been the experience in California, just with making medical marijuana available.
The Nation seems to have devoted their current issue to the growing move toward marijuana legalization. Beyond the article mentioned in the the title are these:
Katrina vanden Heuvel: “Why Its Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana”
Carl L. Hart: “Pot Reform’s Race Problem”
Kristen Gwynne: “Can Medical Marijuana Survive in Washington State?”
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian: “Baking Bad: A Potted History of High Times”
Various Contributors: “The Drug War Touched My Life: Why I’m Fighting Back”
And only online…
J. Hoberman: “The Cineaste’s Guide to Watching Movies While Stoned”
Harmon Leon: “Pot Block! Trapped in the Marijuana Rescheduling Maze”
Seth Zuckerman: “Is Pot-Growing Bad for the Environment?”
The article about Obama’s antipathy to making marijuana legal, even for medical purposes, was written by Mike Riggs and begins:
In February 2013, three months after Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana, a sullen Gil Kerlikowske, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), shared his regrets with the Canadian magazine Maclean’s. “The administration has not done a particularly good job,” he said, “of, one, talking about marijuana as a public health issue, and number two, talking about what can be done and where we should be headed on our drug policy.” People in mourning are given to melodrama, but Kerlikowske’s attempt to blame marijuana legalization on poor messaging was evidence of psychosis.
From day one of Obama’s presidency, the press—from local outfits to the major networks—had hailed his administration’s promise to treat drugs as a “public health issue” as if it were a novel idea. It wasn’t. White House Czar Calls for End to ‘War on Drugs,’ the headline of a 2009 Wall Street Journal profile of Kerlikowske, could just as easily have been written in 1996 about Gen. Barry McCaffrey, drug czar under Bill Clinton. Another popular Kerlikowske line—“You can’t arrest your way out of the drug problem”—similarly echoed McCaffrey’s statement that “the solution to our drug problem is not in incarceration.”
This tradition of critiquing the drug war while continuing to wage it was similarly evident in the 2012 claim by the ONDCP that marijuana’s potency has “almost tripled over the past 20 years”—a statement only slightly less hysterical than its warning to parents, ten years earlier, describing today’s marijuana as having “potency levels ten to twenty times stronger” than the pot of their generation. Anti-legalization advocate Kevin Sabet, who worked on drug policy under both George W. Bush and Obama, has described the potency of today’s marijuana as “five-to-six times greater” than the pot that baby boomers smoked in their youth. (While it’s true that you can buy stronger pot today, you can also—thanks to the botanical tinkering of the medical marijuana community—find strains that are milder. If boomers can’t find the pot of their youth these days—stuff grown and sold before the Controlled Substances Act—it’s because prohibition historically encourages a disproportionately high potency-to-volume ratio. See: bathtub gin.)
Nevertheless, Obama’s drug policy was hailed as revolutionary by the press even as the Drug Enforcement Administration wreaked havoc on medical marijuana communities in California, Colorado and Montana during his first term. On September 25, 2012, in the midst of re-election season, the DEA tried to shut down more than seventy medical marijuana dispensaries in and around Los Angeles. According to LA Weekly’s reporting at the time, “Federal authorities sent warning letters—which tell operators to shut down—to 68 stores. Additionally, three shops were hit with asset-forfeiture lawsuits and another three were raided via search warrant.”
Yet the next day, CNN ran a segment titled “The ‘War on Drugs’ Withdrawal: Administration Focusing on Prevention.”
Ineffective messaging was clearly not the problem. By November 2012, Americans likely knew as much as an average person could be expected to know about Obama’s supposed public-health-centered approach to drug policy. Yet in Colorado, Washington and Massachusetts (states where medical marijuana was on the ballot), voters still pulled the lever in favor of liberalization. In Arkansas—a state that Mitt Romney won by a landslide—a medical marijuana initiative received more votes than Obama.
Support for legalization has only increased in the last year. A Gallup poll released in late October found that 58 percent of Americans think recreational marijuana should be legal. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted weeks earlier found majority support for legalizing pot in deep-red Texas. A legalization initiative in Portland, Maine, had majority support as of late October, and studies suggest that if Californians voted on the issue today, they’d legalize pot despite refusing to do so in 2010. As with so many issues, the federal government is lagging behind the rest of the country.
* * *
The disconnect between narrative and reality when it comes to the Obama administration’s drug policy can be partly traced to a memo released by the Justice Department in October 2009. Raids on dispensaries and growers had already picked up following Obama’s inauguration, despite his campaign promise to cease targeting state-legal pot clubs. But this memo, colloquially referred to as the Ogden memo, was supposed to change that. It stated that medical marijuana would not be a priority for federal law enforcement unless it was being grown or sold in conjunction with a larger criminal enterprise.
The memo inspired celebration among medical marijuana advocates, and a sense of relief in state and local lawmakers. Yet less than a year later, DEA agents raided the home of 68-year-old Joy Greenfield, a Mendocino County, California, resident who grew marijuana with the blessing of her local sheriff. Agents destroyed Greenfield’s plants and seized her money and computer. As they have many times since, the DEA and US Attorneys then had the records sealed—a common practice in cases where releasing information might reveal the identity of a tipster or jeopardize an investigation, but hard to understand in the case of Greenfield, whom officers didn’t even bother to arrest. If the real goal is to conceal the extent to which agents have targeted small-time growers with no ties to cartels or interstate trafficking operations, however, sealing such records is an effective way to do so.
A June 2013 report issued by Americans for Safe Access found that . . .
Continue reading. (And note that it’s a two-page article.)
Interesting: now that scientists are actually getting a chance to study marijuana, it turns out to be a very useful plant for industry (hemp fibers and hemp oil) and medicine, in addition to its recreational use. Martin Lee writes in The Nation:
For many years, the federal government has subsidized studies designed to prove the negative effects of marijuana, while blocking inquiry into its potential benefits. Ironically, the government’s steadfast search for harm has yielded remarkable scientific insights that explain why cannabis is such a versatile remedy and why it is the most sought-after illicit substance on the planet.
Cannabis and the unique chemical compounds produced by the plant, called cannabinoids, have been at the center of one of the most exciting—and underreported—developments in modern science. Research on marijuana’s effects led directly to the discovery of a molecular signaling system in the human brain and body, the endocannabinoid system, which plays a crucial role in regulating a broad range of physiological processes: hunger, sleep, inflammation, stress, blood pressure, body temperature, glucose metabolism, bone density, intestinal fortitude, reproductive fertility, circadian rhythms, mood and much more.
Within the scientific community, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system is increasingly recognized as a seminal advance in our understanding of human biology. The Rubicon was crossed in 1988, when a government-funded study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine determined that the mammalian brain has an abundance of receptor sites—specialized protein molecules embedded in cell membranes—that respond pharmacologically to compounds in cannabis.
More than 100 unique cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis; of these, the best known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s principal psychoactive component. In addition to the phytocannabinoids produced only by the marijuana plant, there are endogenous cannabinoids that occur naturally in the human brain and body (our “inner cannabis,” so to speak), as well as potent synthetic cannabinoids created by pharmaceutical researchers.
In October 2003, the federal government awarded the Department of Health and Human Services a patent titled “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants,” which states: “Cannabinoids…are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
Some highlights from the exploding field of cannabinoid science:
§ THC and other plant cannabinoids are not only effective for the management of cancer symptoms (pain, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, etc.); they also confer a direct anti-tumoral effect, according to peer-reviewed studies by scientists at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and Complutense University in Madrid, Spain.
§ Investigators at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, found that THC inhibits an enzyme involved in the accumulation of beta amyloid plaque that disrupts communication between brain cells, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s-related dementia.
§ According to researchers at Kings College in London, cannabinoid receptor signaling choreographs neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) in adult mammals and also regulates the migration and differentiation of stem cells.
§ Chinese scientists have shown that the painkilling effects of acupuncture are mediated by the same cannabinoid receptors that are activated by THC.
§ Pharmaceutical companies are exploring ways to induce therapeutic outcomes by manipulating levels of the body’s own cannabinoids. Animal studies indicate that it’s possible to attenuate a wide range of pathological conditions (including hypertension, colitis, neuropathic pain and opiate withdrawal) by preventing or delaying the enzymatic breakdown of endogenous cannabinoids.
Cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of the cannabis plant, is generating quite a buzz among medical scientists and health professionals. Nothing else is able to help treatment-resistant epileptic children with Dravet syndrome and related disorders. On August 11, 2013, Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s nationally televised report on CNN discussed the astonishing transformation of Charlotte Figi, a 7-year-old epileptic who had 300 “tonic-clonic” seizures a week until she ingested a CBD-infused tincture. She has been nearly seizure-free since her parents began giving her a daily dose of CBD. Nor is Charlotte an isolated case: dozens of families with children suffering from intractable epilepsy are reporting dramatic results with cannabidiol.A gifted compound with a wide spectrum of action, CBD shows promise as . .
A very interesting series of brief video segments, in which the Washington Post interviews the Post‘s Reid Wilson and Marijuana Policy Project’s Dan Riffle about efforts to legalize and decriminalize marijuana use in several U.S. states. One neat formulation: when the interviewer asked a question about “legalizing” marijuana, Riffle responded that instead of using the word “legalize,” they prefer “tax and regulate.”
It’s a backgrounder, so there’s quite a bit of useful and interesting information.
Because the Federal government has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug—no medical benefits—and research into possible medical benefits is not allowed (because there aren’t any, as stated in the law), we really don’t know much about the benefits of marijuana (other than the benefit of enormous sums of money flowing to law enforcement, which (probably coincidentally) opposes legalization).
Jane Brody, in the NY Times today, discusses where we might go from here:
Marijuana has been used medically, recreationally and spiritually for about 5,000 years. Known botanically as cannabis, it has been called a “crude drug”: marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals from 18 chemical families. More than 2,000 compounds are released when it is smoked, and as with tobacco, there are dangers in smoking it.
Medical marijuana clinics operate in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and its recreational use is now legal in Colorado and Washington. A Gallup poll conducted last month found that 58 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana.
Yet researchers have been able to do relatively little to test its most promising ingredients for biological activity, safety and side effects. The main reason is marijuana’s classification by Congress in 1970 as an illegal Schedule I drug, defined as having a potential for abuse and addiction and no medical value.
American scientists seeking clarification of marijuana’s medical usefulness have long been stymied by this draconian classification, usually reserved for street drugs like heroin with a high potential for abuse.
Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said the classification was primarily political and ignored more than 40 years of scientific research, which has shown that cellular receptors for marijuana’s active ingredients are present throughout the body. Natural substances called cannabinoids bind to them to influence a wide range of body processes.
In a lengthy report entitled “Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana,” published last year in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Dr. Bostwick noted that the so-called endocannabinoid system has an impact on the “autonomic nervous system, immune system, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive system, cardiovascular system and endocrine network.”
There is evidence that several common disorders, including epilepsy,alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder, involve disruptions in the endocannabinoid system, suggesting that those patients might benefit from marijuana or its ingredients.
The strongest evidence for the health benefits of medical marijuana or its derivatives involves the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain and thespasticity caused by multiple sclerosis. Medical marijuana is widely recognized as effective against nausea and appetite loss caused bychemotherapy, although better treatments are now available. But preliminary research and anecdotal reports have suggested that marijuana might be useful in treating a number of other conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, migraine,cancer growth, abnormal heart rhythms, Alzheimer’s disease,fibromyalgia, incontinence, bacterial infections, osteoporosis, intenseitching, Tourette’s syndrome and sleep apnea.
“Medical experts emphasize the need to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug to facilitate rigorous scientific evaluation of the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids and to determine the optimal dose and delivery route for conditions in which efficacy is established,” Diane E. Hoffmann and Ellen Weber, legal experts at the University of Maryland, wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Marijuana’s best-known ingredient . . .
It should be noted that the War on Drugs is totally discretionary: there are many other approaches to drugs than warfare, and the other approaches turn out in practice to be less expensive and more affective. Of course, they don’t involve guns…
Robert Kahn reports at Courthouse News:
Every so often, powerful government officials pull a stunt so arrogant and stupid you have to wonder whether they’ve lost their minds.
Such was the case in a lawsuit filed in Houston this week against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Courthouse News reporter Cameron Langford wrote in his Thursday story: “DEA officials ‘commandeered’ a small businessman’s truck and left him to pay for the damage after it was ‘shot to smithereens’ in a shootout between federal agents and the Zeta drug cartel.”
That’s right: Without telling the businessman, who owned two trucks, the DEA arranged for him to hire an undercover snitch to drive a load of dope in one. But the Zetas got wise, shot the truck to pieces, killing the snitch and wounding a sheriff’s deputy – and the DEA stuck the businessman with the bill for the bullet-riddled truck.
Then the DEA had the brass to demand to search the poor businessman’s house.
No one who has had to deal with the DEA will doubt this story. It reminds me of a man I met when I worked as a paralegal inside U.S. immigration prisons.
This fellow had a signed letter from a death squad threatening to kill him for working with the DEA, but I couldn’t help him apply for political asylum.
This was in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was arming, training and covering up for death squads who were murdering and torturing to death thousands of innocent people in Central America.
The fellow with the letter from the death squad was not innocent. He was a drug dealer. He told me so. The DEA got him busted in his home country and turned him into a snitch. With his help, the DEA intercepted a ship carrying more than 1,000 tons of marijuana, then blew his cover and left him at the mercy of the cartels.
He fled to the United States, was busted by the Border Patrol and sent to an immigration prison, where he told me his tale.
He showed me the letter from the death squad, which stated clearly, in Spanish, that they would kill him for working with the DEA. He saved the envelope, too, with the postmark. He showed me two newspaper articles about the bust of the ship.
There was no question that the DEA had turned this guy and then thrown him to the sharks.
I couldn’t help him because he didn’t qualify for political asylum. He was a criminal.
I told his story to our attorneys and asked if there was anything we could do for him, as he was a dead man in his home country.
The next day, news of the Iran Contra scandal broke, and the DEA snitch got lost in the shuffle. I don’t know what happened to him.
Also lost in the shuffle, by a spineless U.S. press, was that Uncle Sam’s criminal intermediaries were allowed to fly planeloads of cocaine and marijuana to the United States after the CIA contract planes had been emptied of missiles for the ayatollah.
This was a key element of the Iran Contra deals, but practically no one remembers it, or was informed of it at the time.
I have no beef with the frontline agents of the DEA. They are brave men and women. They risk their lives every day dealing with murderous scumballs. If they turn the scumballs into snitches on their bosses, so be it.
But there is no excuse for the DEA to entangle an innocent businessman in its toils, at the cost of half of his “fleet” of trucks; nor to make him pay to repair his truck after the DEA-inspired bloodbath; nor to endanger his life because the shootout, which made the evening news, made him, according to the federal lawsuit, “fear, of course, that his identity would be discovered by the Zeta cartel and that they, believing he had cooperated with … the Task Force, might seek retribution.”
It’s arrogance and stupidity like this that is making the United States hated around the world, and now, even at home.
People are beginning to wake up to the tradeoffs that we made in having alcohol be legal and marijuana illegal. The editors of the NY Times write:
Americans are growing more comfortable with marijuana, with 58 percent favoring legalization, according to the latest Gallup poll. At the same time, some researchers believe they have identified a side benefit to increasing availability of the drug: It could lead to decreased consumption of alcohol among young people.
In a paper in the winter issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, two researchers — D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado at Denver — report that legalization of marijuana for medical purposes has been associated with reductions in heavy drinking, especially among 18- to 29-year-olds, and with an almost 5 percent decrease in beer sales. In addition, the increase in the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 seems to encourage greater marijuana use among people under 21, usage that drops sharply when they reach the legal drinking age.
If marijuana is widely legalized for recreational purposes (only Washington State and Colorado have taken that step), the consequences are far from clear. But assuming the argument that alcohol and marijuana are “substitutes” bears out, that could be good news, especially for road safety. Of the two substances, alcohol is far more hazardous.
For the most part, marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on road tests. Several studies have suggested that drivers under the influence of marijuana actually overestimate their impairment. They slow down and increase their following distance. The opposite is true of drivers under the influence of alcohol.
A lot of statements about the effects of legalizing marijuana are pure supposition with no grounding in experience, and experience is still rich enough to offer surprises: it’s better to base conclusions on evidence rather than “common sense.”
“The dangers of smoking marijuana” is a tired canard, and increasingly irrelevant as medical patients use marijuana ingestibles and a growing number use vaporizers rather than combustion. (It’s never a good idea to inhale products of combustion, though studies referenced in the article below show that marijuana smoke is pretty much harmless—it certainly does not cause cancer, unlike cigarettes.)
Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink, writes at AlterNet:
As public support for amending America’s antiquated and failed cannabis criminalization policies continues to grow to record levels, stalwart prohibitionists – predictably – are doubling down on tried-and-true propaganda tactics to attempt to turn the tide. One of their most common strategies is to emphasize alleged health risks associated with marijuana consumption, in particular the claim that cannabis smoking causes cancer and other tobacco-related respiratory risks.
A recent example of this argument appeared in an October 29, 2013 Seattle Post-Intelligencer commentary , entitled “Marijuana smoking and the risk of lung cancer” by Eric Vallieres of the Swedish Cancer Institute. (Sweden, as a nation, imposes strict anti-drug prohibitions relative to most of Europe.) Predictably, his alarmist commentary is heavy on rhetoric but woefully short on facts.
Of course, no one argues that the ingestion of combustive smoke, whether it is tobacco smoke or cannabis smoke, is healthy. However, it is inaccurate to allege that the risks to the consumer posed by these two substances are equal. In fact, the most recently available peer-reviewed science clearly rebukes the allegation that cannabis is as equal to or more dangerous than tobacco. For example, writing in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2012, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco reported that occasional to moderate cannabis consumption was not associated with the adversely pulmonary risks associated with tobacco smoking. Investigators “confirmed the expected reductions in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration) and FVC (forced vital capacity)” in tobacco smokers. By contrast, “Marijuana use was associated with higher FEV1 and FVC at the low levels of exposure typical for most marijuana users. With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (e.g., 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function.” The full study may be read online here.
The findings in JAMA were hardly a surprise. Previously, the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. Summarizing the study’s findings in The Washington Post, lead investigator and pulmonologist Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA concluded , “”We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.” The full study is available here . (Notably, pot propagandists such as Dr. Vallieres try to in vain to undermine these findings by citing a 2008 New Zealand study, which some purport to definitively demonstrate a link between cannabis use and lung cancer. In reality, that study  only reported a positive correlation in 14 heavy using subjects – a sample size far too small to draw any conclusions from and a result that has, to date, never been replicated in any large-scale population case-control models. Moreover, the same study also found that light-to-moderate lifetime cannabis consumers, who consisted of the majority of the trials’ participants, possessed no increased risk of cancer.)
More recently, this past May presenters at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research reported that subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke possess no greater risk of lung cancer than do those who consume it occasionally or not at all — according to an analysis of six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world. They concluded , “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”
Most recently, an editorial in July published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society concluded : “Cannabis smoking is not equivalent to tobacco smoking in terms of respiratory risk. … [C]annabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or airway cancers. In fact, there is even a suggestion that at low doses cannabis may be protective for both conditions. … This conclusion will affect the way health professionals interact with patients, parents with teenagers, and policy makers with their constituents. … Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, [those] who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”
Why have scientists not identified a cannabis smoke/cancer link? The answer may be because cannabis, unlike tobacco, contains anti-cancer causing agents  – a fact most recently reaffirmed this week in Newsweek on October 29 under the headline “Marijuana might kill cancer.” Reports the story , “In a paper published in October’s Anticancer Research, Wai Liu, a senior research fellow at St. George’s University of London, reports that he found six cannabinoids – active components of the cannabis plant – that can slow or outright kill cancer cells.” Previous peer-reviewed assessments of the properties of cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke further acknowledge  that the pharmacological activities of these substances differ in such a manner that they are by no means equally carcinogenic.
It is true that some studies of cannabis smoke and pulmonary function indicate  that chronic exposure may be associated with an increased risk of certain respiratory complications, including cough, bronchitis, phlegm. That said, the ingestion of cannabis via alternative methods such as edibles, liquid tinctures, or via vaporization  — a process whereby the plant’s cannabinoids are heated to the point of vaporization but below the point of combustion –- virtually eliminates consumers’ exposure to such unwanted risk factors and has been determined  to be a ‘safe and effective’ method of ingestion in clinical trial settings.
Cannabis smoking is certainly not without potential risks. But these risks should not be overstated, nor should they be asserted as a justification for a public policy that continues to criminalize and stigmatize responsible, adult cannabis consumers.
Mercedys McNight writes at Ladybud.com:
When Billy Fisher asked the state of Washington for help in removing his infant daughter from a dangerous living situation while in the care of her mother, he never imagined that CPS would place his child into foster care because of his use of medical marijuana.
Washington State has had a medical marijuana law for 15 years that includes protection of parental rights, not to mention that Washington voters passed an initiative to legalize adult recreational use last year.
But despite these laws, the state has demanded that Billy quit using his medicine, attend 30 days of inpatient cannabis dependency treatment, and complete a two-year outpatient treatment program for his marijuana use before they will even consider giving him custody of his one-year-old daughter, Lilly.
Any parent would be tempted to concede to the state’s demands in hopes their child would be allowed to go home. This would seem especially tempting for Billy, since the state has already begun talking about putting Lilly up for permanent adoption.
Billy, however, is refusing to back down because he believes that the Fight for Lilly Fisher is about more than a parent’s right to choose a nontoxic medication. It’s about more than the state’s responsibility to uphold state law. It’s about the fact that medical marijuana usage does not harm our kids and that patients are not inherently bad parents. It’s about protecting the rights that all parents should have: to enjoy having a family without governmental interference unless there is evidence of risk, abuse, neglect, or harm. These facts must be acknowledged for justice to reign supreme.
There are many more heartbreaking stories of children being torn from their families, their lives dragged through the hell of the family law court system, and some even lost to their families forever through forced adoption, all because family protection agencies, court systems, and specialists refuse to realize that marijuana is not dangerous and does not present the immediate harm required by law to remove a child from their family.
The most heartbreaking consequence of these situations is that . . .
Drug warriors have many untested beliefs about various drugs—untested because it’s difficult to do large-scale studies of illegal drugs, particularly of a Schedule I drug like marijuana. A Schedule I drug is one that satisfies the following criteria:
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Of course, marijuana fails all three criteria:
- Marijuana is much less addictive than alcohol or tobacco—less addictive than coffee, in fact—and has caused zero deaths from overdose. So far as experience shows, it has low potential for abuse.
- Obviously, marijuana provides medical benefits for many, thus the use of medical marijuana: to ease nausea for cancer patients, to ease pain for various ailments such as arthritis, to prevent seizures in epileptics, and so on.
- Marijuana is an extremely safe drug, with no reported deaths from overdose. It is safer than aspirin.
Still, the facts often are irrelevant to the law, and so it is here: Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug (though the DEA’s own administrative judge long since called for reclassification).
With years of experience now with medical marijuana, so facts are becoming clear.
As noted in this NY Times article by Adam Nagourney and Rick Lyman, people use marijuana as a substitute for alcohol—a good choice, since marijuana is not so harmful as alcohol and is also less addictive than alcohol. Instead of being a “gateway drug” that leads to greater drug use, marijuana turns out to be an exit drug that leads people away from alcohol—and so far as statistics show, the true “gateway drug” is alcohol.
As the article states, many expectations regarding legalization of marijuana have turned out not to be the case:
California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.
Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded.*
Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.
Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use.
And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption.
Imposing a local tax on medical marijuana, as Oakland, San Jose and other communities have done, has not pushed consumers to drug dealers as some analysts expected. Presumably that is because it is so easy to get reliable and high-quality marijuana legally.
* I was raised in a dry state: alcoholic beverages were illegal in Oklahoma. But in 1956, liquor became legal (and regulated and taxed), and I happened to be in my hometown on the summer day that the (sole) liquor store opened for business. There was an uneasy feeling in the town that we would see wild car rides, shootouts, broken windows, fights, people reeling down the street, etc. That was what the “drys” had long prophesized. But it was a totally calm day. Those who actually wanted alcohol had long had access through bootleggers, and indeed the state had been kept dry though a powerful alliance of bootleggers and Baptist preachers, both of whom wanted alcohol to remain illegal.
But it didn’t, and the result was little change except that the bootleggers went out of business.
Alcohol can indeed cause serious problems, but the approach to preventing and solving those problems is not, we learned, to make alcohol illegal: that simply compounds the problems, as we found during Prohibition. It turned out to be better to have alcohol legal, regulated, and taxed and to deal with problems of alcoholism as medical problems.
Kevin Drum has a post with an interesting graph:
Today, for the first time ever, Gallup reports that a solid majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana.I’ve drawn my own chart of Gallup’s data because I think their chart doesn’t really give a good sense of just how quickly public opinion on this is changing.
I have a rule of thumb that favorability ratings need to reach about 65 percent before you hit a tipping point where a major social change starts getting codified into law nationwide. There’s nothing magic about this threshold. It’s just a general sense based on previous issues similar to this. And as you can see, public opinion isn’t merely rising on marijuana legalization, it’s accelerating. The rate of increase has gone from about 0.5 points per year in the 90s to 1.5 points in the aughts to 4 points so far in the teens. If this keeps up, we’ll pass the 65 percent threshold by 2016 or so.
There’s a lot of noise in polls like this, and we might see a bit of regression to the mean in the next few years. And Mark Kleiman offers a few other cautionary notes here. So 2016 is hardly a sure thing. But 2020? That seems like a pretty safe bet in most of the country. By coincidence, this was my horseback guess when I wrote about marijuana back in 2009, and it looks like I don’t have any good reason to change my mind on that.
In the meantime, the Obama DoJ is still doing its best to send to prison those operating medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal under state law, despite repeated assurances from Obama and Holder that this would not happen. The latest target is a medical marijuana provider in Oakland CA, as reported by Nicole Flatow:
A novel legal challenge by the city of Oakland, Calif. has spared the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary from shutdown for likely at least another year. A federal judge ruled last week that the Department of Justice could not proceed with its action to evict Harborside Health Center and seize its assets until Oakland completed its appeal of a lawsuit against the DOJ challenging the crackdown.
Oakland escalated the local-federal showdown over marijuana last fall when itfiled the first lawsuit by a jurisdiction to challenge federal crackdowns on dispensaries that are complying with state and local laws. The federal trial judge rejected the challenge, holding that the city did not have standing to challenge the action. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James ruled last week that Oakland had presented a novel legal challenge that a federal appeals panel might interpret differently, and that Oakland should therefore have the opportunity to make this argument before it is mooted by Department of Justice action. Lawyers have estimated the appeal will take at least a year.
Harborside Health Center, which has locations in Oakland and San Jose, Calif. and more than 100 employees, has held itself out as a model for legal, regulated medical marijuana distribution, and has been praised by Oakland officials as providing “access to safe, affordable and effective medicine.” It is also a major source of tax revenue for the city, and is expected to generate $1.4 million in city sales tax this year. The dispensary has thus far beat back several shutdown attempts, and Oakland argued in its latest legal filing that the dispensary’s shutdown would precipitate a “’a public safety crisis it’s not yet equipped to meet,’ by forcing tens of thousands of patients who are served by medical cannabis dispensaries to either forgo their medicine or turn to illegal markets to obtain it, thereby endangering their health and safety and further straining the limited resources of the Oakland Police Department.”
But in spite of resounding calls for the federal government to step back its sometimes-aggressive actions against state-compliant dispensaries, the federal government retains constitutional supremacy over federal drug law. So Oakland can only succeed if a court is persuaded by its case-specific arguments that the Department of Justice exceeded its authority by missing time limits for following suit, and acting contrary to earlier statements and actions that indicated it would not crack down on state-compliant distributors. After two states passed ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana, President Obama made similar statements that he has “bigger fish to fry” than “going after recreational users” in states that have legalized their conduct. Butrenewed medical marijuana crackdowns suggest the federal government is continuing to make a policy distinction between users of marijuana and distributors.
Last week, Berkeley became the second city to file a legal challenge against federal crackdowns, intervening in a similar action to seize the assets of that city’s largest medical marijuana dispensary.
Amazing change from a decade ago. Philip Bump reports at Atlantic Wire:
For the first time since the pollster began asking, Gallup finds that a clear majority of Americans support the legalization of marijuana — a 10 point increase since last November.
That change, visible in the chart at right which goes back to 1996, has been dramatic. 2013 marks the first time more than half of the country endorses legalization. (In 2010, exactly half did so.)The polling firm credits the shift to independent voters. In 2012, independents were split 50-50 on whether or not marijuana should be legal. Now, 62 percent support it. (The numbers for Democrats and Republicans remained consistent; your stereotypes about how they feel about the drug are correct.) But it’s not only independents. It’s also young people. Two-thirds of people under 30 support legalization, compared with fewer than half of those over 65.
Differences reflected in age groups echoed another controversial topic that’s recently seen a shift in public opinion. When Gallup looked at the legalization of same-sex marriage in July, it found that the four groups most likely to support the policy were Democrats, liberals, atheists, and people under the age of 35.
When you compare the two issues, it’s remarkable how public perception of both have shifted in unison. Below is a graph showing net approval for each policy — the percentage of those who support it minus those who oppose — since 1996. Minus a few hiccups, the change over time has been almost identical. . .
Continue reading. Active graphics at the link.
Phillip Smith writes in the Drug War Chronicles:
Five Democratic members of Congress are calling on President Obama to use the nomination of a new drug czar as an opportunity to take a big step toward fully embracing a drug policy based on science, reason, and facts. The five representatives made their call in a letter sent to the White House Thursday.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (the drug czar’s office) is charged with advising the president on drug control issues, setting federal drug control policy, and producing an annual report on national drug control strategy. Its current head, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, is resigning to take on the position of commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
“We commend you and your Administration on the recent steps you have taken to pursue smarter sentencing and policies that respect state laws regarding marijuana,” the congressmen wrote. “We urge you to nominate a new director of ONDCP who will develop policies based on science rather than ideology and move away from the failed policy of criminalizing marijuana. The new director should promote fact-based education and use medical science and behavioral research to end the questionable practice of equating marijuana with dangerous drugs like heroin, crack, and methamphetamine.”
The signatories are US Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Jared Polis (D-CO).
The congressmen noted that the position of drug czar has historically been filled by individuals with law enforcement backgrounds who have viewed drug policy as a matter of criminal enforcement rather than as a matter of public health — regardless of the medical science and public research available. That needs to change, they said.
“We ask that you break from this tradition and nominate someone with a background in science,” the letter said. “Particularly in light of the rapidly growing public support for marijuana legalization and broader drug policy reform, it would be a mistake for you to appoint someone who merely continues to prosecute the failed war on drugs.”
Instead, they wrote, “the new director of ONDCP should promote scientific research into the benefits and risks of marijuana legalization and be guided by the results of those findings. He or she should take note of the growing movement at the state level to make marijuana legal for medical or personal use and help shape national policies based on the lessons learned in those states. At a minimum the new director should urge strict adherence to the recent DOJ guidelines regarding criminal enforcement in those states.”
It has been nearly six weeks since Kerlikowske’s pending resignation was announced, but there has so far been little hint of who the White House has in mind to replace him. The congressmen are suggesting that it’s time to break the mold and head in a new direction.