Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category
Another excellent column in the NY Times series on marijuana.
Strong column in the NY Times by Jesse Wegman:
America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.
In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.
Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.
Meanwhile, police departments that presumably have far more important things to do waste an enormous amount of time and taxpayer money chasing a drug that two states have already legalized and that a majority of Americans believe should be legal everywhere.
A Costly, Futile Strategy
The absurdity starts on the street, with a cop and a pair of handcuffs. . .
It’s an amazing series—both in how it’s being done (the presentation), in the fact that the NY Times is doing it, and in the content. Quite amazing. Talk about memetic evolution!
A very strong editorial in the NY Times:
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.
There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.
We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.
But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.
The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. . .
Continue reading. It gets very specific.
And in the same issue:
Let States Decide on Marijuana, by David Firestone
The Public Lightens Up About Weed, by Juliet Lapidos
This is good news, though the DoJ seems to be digging in its heels: too much work, they say.
It will take a while to figure out best practices, and that is why we try to preserve cultural knowledge—i.e., things painfully and slowly worked out. I sound like I’m becoming a conservative.
Amazing article in the LA Times by Evan Halper:
For narcotics agents, who often confront hostile situations, Capitol Hill has been a refuge where lawmakers stand ready to salute efforts in the nation’s war on drugs.
Lately, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration has found itself under attack in Congress as it holds its ground against marijuana legalization while the resolve of longtime political allies — and the White House and Justice Department to which it reports — rapidly fades.
“For 13 of the 14 years I have worked on this issue, when the DEA came to a hearing, committee members jumped over themselves to cheerlead,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group. “Now the lawmakers are not just asking tough questions, but also getting aggressive with their arguments.”
Related story: The mother of marijuana legalization: Pot comes ‘out of the shadows’
Related story: The mother of marijuana legalization: Pot comes ‘out of the shadows’
Maria L. La Ganga
So far this year, the DEA’s role in the seizure of industrial hemp seeds bound for research facilities in Kentucky drew angry rebukes from the Senate’s most powerful Republican. The GOP-controlled House recently voted to prohibit federal agents from busting medical marijuana operations that are legal under state laws. And that measure, which demonstrated a shared distaste for the DEA’s approach to marijuana, brought one of the Senate’s most conservative members together with one of its most liberal in a rare bipartisan alliance.
How much the agency’s stock has fallen was readily apparent in the House debate, when Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) denounced the agency’s longtime chief.
“She is a terrible agency head,” Polis said of Administrator Michele Leonhart.
The two had previously clashed over the DEA’s insistence that marijuana continue to be classified as among the most dangerous narcotics in existence.
“She has repeatedly embarrassed her agency before this body,” Polis said.
Leonhart, who declined through a spokesman to be interviewed, is not getting much backup from the White House.
Read this column by Radley Balko on a drug-raid in Utah that ended badly—and from which the police took all the wrong lessons. The police seem to see themselves at war with civilians and operate as though they are in enemy territory.
So if we legalize drugs, we’ll immediately cut way back on surveillance of citizens. And studies have shown that making the drugs illegal, though extremely costly (DEA, corruption, prisons, deaths, wiretaps, etc.), has no real effect on consumption. We’re spending billions we can ill afford on a fool’s errand.
Brian Anderson reports on the wiretaps in Motherboard:
Earlier this year, a joint US-Mexico wiretap investigation netted the world’s top drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, after American agents in Arizona intercepted a mobile phone owned by the son of one of Chapo’s closest confidantes. It was a huge catch—Chapo, the elusive head of the globe-spanning Sinaloa cartel, had been on the run for 13 years.
But that was merely one eavesdrop in the bucket of narcotics-based wiretaps carried out in the US in 2013, during which the bulk of the surveillance that ultimately led to Chapo’s arrest actually went down. According to a new Administrative Office of US Courts report, wiretaps not only hit an all-time high in 2013, the most recent year for which we have data on law enforcement wiretaps. The overwhelming majority, nearly 90 percent, listened for suspected narcotics dealings.
The report breaks down the various shades and hotspots of authorized wiretap surveillance on electronic, oral, and wire communicatons in the US. All told, federal and state judges greenlit 3,576 wiretaps last year, according to the report. That’s only a five percent bump over 2012, to be sure. Compare that to a decade ago, however, when domestic law enforcement carried out about half as many wiretaps as today, and it’s clear that agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration are taking more and more after the Central Intelligence and National Security Agencies when it comes to spying.
But the real kicker is in what crimes, exactly, all these wiretaps were out for. Of all the criminal offenses investigated using wiretaps, as seen in the above chart, illegal drug offenses were far and away most prevalent. “Narcotics” constituted a whopping 3,115 of the 3,576 total wiretaps, followed by “other major offenses” (including smuggling and money laundering), homicide, and kidnapping, which was the subject of one wiretap.
No, I am not kidding. “Kidnapping” got a single wiretap last year. . . .
Boy, talk about teaching the wrong lesson! Alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana, and yet Obama (when in Colorado, where marijuana is legal) turned down a joint in favor of a beer.
Check out this article by German Lopez, which contains many interesting and useful graphs, such as:
And this one:
And watch this 4-minute video for a quick rundown of how Federal policy regarding marijuana, though extremely expensive, makes no sense whatsoever:
German Lopez makes a strong case at Vox.com. It is really unclear why we don’t try experimenting with wholesale legalization, regulation, taxation, and treatment.
America’s war on drugs has, by several measures, failed to live up to its goals.
Over the past couple of decades, illicit drug use has not decreased in a significant way. At the same time, the war on drugs has fallen short of its key economic goal: to make drugs more expensive, and therefore make them less accessible to drug users.
Even the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to agree with this point. In a release detailing the Obama administration’s new anti-drug strategy, Michael Botticelli, acting director of ONDCP, wrote, “This Strategy … rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem.”
The White House’s strategy, to be sure, doesn’t completely do away with incarceration and law enforcement in the fight against drugs, but the statement acknowledges that the last 40 years of the war on drugs have not produced the desired results.
Given the failures of the war on drugs and the spread of marijuana legalization, many drug policy experts are now thinking about what’s next. What should happen with other illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, if the war on drugs isn’t working? Should illicit drugs even be considered illegal in the first place?
I reached out to three drug policy experts for answers. They agreed that the criminalization of drugs has clearly failed, but where drug policy should go next remains a matter of debate.
There’s one point of agreement: the war on drugs is a failure
No matter their academic background or political leanings, there seems to be a consensus among many drug policy experts that the criminalization of drugs hasn’t worked. This is the one point of agreement among Mark Kleiman, drug policy expert at UCLA; Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard University and the libertarian Cato Institute; and Isaac Campos, a drug historian at the University of Cincinnati.
The war on drugs goes after drug producers and dealers in an attempt to cut drugs at the source — before they reach the user. The idea is to cut down the supply, so drugs are more expensive and, therefore, less affordable and accessible for a drug user. [And, OTOH, with more money at stake and to be made, you have created a lucrative opportunity for miscreants who don't shirk from breaking the law. It seems counter-productive---and, in fact, it is, as the article demonstrates. - LG]
One way to check whether this strategy has succeeded is by looking at whether the price of drugs has gone up during prohibition. According to the most recent report from the White House’s ONDCP, that’s not the case. The prices of cocaine, crack, and heroin plummeted then stabilized in the past few decades, and meth’s price has remained largely stable since the 1980s. . .
Good rundown in this McClatchy story by Rob Hotakainen. From the story:
In Maryland, Republican Rep. Andy Harris is getting a taste of things to come.
Last month, Americans for Safe Access ran an ad against Harris after he gave a speech opposing medical marijuana and voted against the bill to strip funding from the Justice Department.
He’s also upset officials in Washington, D.C., by trying to block the city from decriminalizing marijuana. In March, the D.C. Council voted to make possession of a small amount a misdemeanor with a $25 fine, but Congress must approve the law. Harris got the House Appropriations Committee to back an amendment to kill the plan.
“Congress has the authority to stop irresponsible actions by local officials, and I am glad we did for the health and safety of children throughout the District,” Harris said in a statement.
Last week, Democratic D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray urged residents of the nation’s capital to stay away from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a vacation spot in Harris’ district.
And Eidinger said pot activists were ready to campaign heavily in Harris’ district before the Nov. 4 general election.
“This is serious business,” Eidinger said. “If he’s successful, we’ll have nothing to do but go campaign and fight to get him out of office to make an example of him. That’s all we’ll do.”
The story includes some examples of ads. This one’s similar to those in the article:
Alex Kane reports at AlterNet:
It was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one in the United States.” With those words, Nixon ushered in the “war on drugs,” the attempt to use law enforcement to jail drug users and halt the flow of illegal substances like marijuana and cocaine.
Thirty years later, another president, George W. Bush, declared war on another word: terrorism. But the war on drugs hadn’t ended yet. Instead of one failed war replacing another soon-to-be-failed war, both drugs and terrorism remain targets for law enforcement and military action that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and have cost billions of dollars.
In fact, the war on terror and the war on drugs have merged to form a hydra-headed monster that rapaciously targets Americans, particularly communities of color. Tactics and legislation used to fight terrorism in the U.S. have been turned on drug users, with disastrous consequences measured in lives, limbs and cash. And money initially used to combat drugs has been spent on the war on terror. From the Patriot Act to the use of informants to surveillance, the wars on drugs and terror have melted into one another.
On Oct. 26, 2011, after remarkably little debate, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) into law. Some elected officials admitted they hadn’t read the entire legislation before voting on it. The Patriot Act was renewed in 2011 by President Barack Obama.
The purpose of the legislation was “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world [and] to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools.” Buried in the act is a hint that the wars on terror and drugs were being paired. The Patriot Act appropriated $5 million to the Drug Enforcement Administration to train Turkish forces in anti-drug measures and to increase the apprehension of drugs in South and Central Asia.
Even more significant was Section 213 of the act, which legitimizes what are known as “sneak and peek warrants.” These warrants, approved by a judge, allow the police to enter into a home without notifying the suspect in that home for at least 30 days—90 days if a judge is convinced the police need it. The 90-day extensions can be repeatedly re-authorized. Authorities are able to enter a home or office, rifle through private property and take photographs all without the suspect knowing, which is contrary to how normal warrants work. While “sneak and peek” authority was allowed in limited cases before the 2001 legislation, the Patriot Act has dramatically expanded its use. And the vast majority of cases where it’s used had nothing to do with terrorism, despite the FBI’s claim that the warrants are an “invaluable tool to fight terrorism.”
From October 2009 to September 2010, law enforcement agents executed . . .
Well, one thing happens: people aren’t made to suffer so much for smoking pot, going to prison less often and for shorter sentences. I imagine they would see that as a big win, and so would I. Tom Jacobs writes in Pacific Standard:
As Washington becomes the second American state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and Washington, D.C., moves toward decriminalization of the drug, critics worry that these changes in the law will alter people’s behavior. As pot becomes less stigmatized, they argue, more people will be tempted to start lighting up.
California Governor Jerry Brown put these concerns in the form of a (presumably) rhetorical question this past spring, asking: “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
Recently published research from the U.K. suggests the governor can chill. It finds the 2004 “declassification” of marijuana in that nation, in which penalties for possession were drastically reduced, apparently had very little effect on people’s behavior.
“Our findings suggest essentially no increases in either cannabis consumption, consumption of other drugs, crime, and other forms of risky behavior,” writes economist Nils Braakmann of Newcastle University and his co-author, Simon Jones. Their research is published in the August issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.
In 2004, cannabis was declassified from a Class B to a Class C drug in the U.K. This “led to a large reduction in the potential punishment for cannabis possession,” lowering the maximum penalty from five years to two, and also reducing fines. . .
Really: we’re spending billions of dollars every year to enforce laws against something for which the usage would change not at all if we simply made it legal, started taxing it, and close down our paramilitary/military/law-enforcement money-pit. That’s what we spending all that money for—and ruining all those lives, including deaths of law-enforcement officers as well as criminals and innocent bystanders (e.g., shot to death in a SWAT team serving a summons through no-knock entry with flash-bang grenades, only to discover that they (the SWAT team) were at the wrong house, and that actually happens—repeatedly). That is, we incur those losses in order to make zero change in behavior.
Is there something wrong with this picture?
Now that is reporting that should (but probably won’t) change people’s views to better coincide with reality. But many will continue to cling to old beliefs. Evidence schmedivence.
Killing progress, fighting knowledge: Professor who was to study efficacy of using marijuana to help with PTSD fired—no reason given
April Short reports at AlterNet:
The University of Arizona has fired Sue Sisley, a researcher in the psychiatry department, without warning or explanation. Sisley planned to lead a clinical study of marijuana as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans and UA had agreed to play host.
The study recently became the first to receive approval from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to obtain government-approved pot for research—a historic decision that broke the institute’s track record of blocking all independent pot studies. The study’s protocols were already approved by the FDA three years ago as well as by the University of Arizona Institutional Review Board (IRB).
The study is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which has been trying to get a scientific study of pot approved for decades. In an LA Times article, Rick Doblin, director of MAPS, called firing Sisley a “repression of science.”
“What happened here is the repression of science for political purposes,” he said. “It is astonishing in this day and age.”
MAPS, alongside the American Civil Liberties Union, is looking into ways to overturn Sisley’s termination.
Sisley has been vocal in recent months about the importance of US policy change when it comes to medical marijuana and she told the LA Times she thinks her termination has everything to do with her research and “personal political crusading.” She said she suspects she drew the attention of Republicans who control university funding.
“This is a clear political retaliation for the advocacy and education I have been providing the public and lawmakers,” Sisley told the Times. “I pulled all my evaluations and this is not about my job performance.”
As a psychiatrist and physician focused on internal medicine, Sisley regularly treats first responders and military veterans with PTSD. After years observing and speaking with patients she learned many of them were using marijuana to successfully manage their symptoms. Sisley was excited at the opportunity to conduct the PTSD study, which would look at cannabis’ effect on 12 treatment-resistant combat veterans with PTSD.
Sisley told AlterNet in February that the need for psychiatrists to better understand and treat PTSD is dire, “not just for combat vets but for all our citizens who are plagued by this.” Sisley noted that 22 veterans kill themselves per day in the U.S. according to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Any physician who’s also a human being can’t rest when we know that there’s something out there, in this case a plant, that has the potential to reduce human suffering.”
Letters from the UA informed Sisley on Friday that her relationship with the university would be over come September 26, according to the Times.
The Times article notes that . . .
Reported by Laura Pegram at AlterNet, some trends:
- According to Uniform Crime Reporting data for Denver, there has been a 10.1% decrease in overall crime from this time last year and a 5.2% drop in violent crime.
- The state has garnered over 10 million in taxes from retail sales in the first 4 months. The first 40 million of this tax revenue is earmarked for public schools and infrastructure, as well as for youth educational campaigns about substance use.
- There are renewed efforts to study the medical efficacy of marijuana within the state, making Colorado an epicenter for marijuana research.
- The marijuana industry has developed quickly, generating thousands of new jobs. It is estimated there are currently about 10,000 people directly involved with this industry, with 1,000 to 2,000 gaining employment in the past few months alone.
- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who opposed Amendment 64, recently compared Colorado’s economy since legalization to that of other states by noting, “While the rest of the country’s economy is slowly picking back up, we’re thriving here in Colorado.” For example, the demand for commercial real estate has increased drastically, with houses in the state appreciating up to 8.7 percent in the past year alone.
- The voters of Colorado retain an overall positive view of the regulated marijuana market, with 54% of Colorado voters still supporting marijuana legalization and regulation, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.
- By removing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related offenses, thousands of individuals will avoid the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. The state is estimated to potentially save $12-40 million over the span of a year simply by ending arrests for marijuana possession.
TL;DR: Sky did not fall, benefits both obvious and measurable.
It continues to astonish me that people seem quite accepting of legal availability of alcohol, which is implicated in much violence and many deaths and truly is a “gateway drug,” and yet are almost frantic in their denunciations of marijuana, from which death toll from usage is zero or slightly above—certainly nothing like the toll exacted by alcohol or cigarettes, both of which are legal, regulated, and taxed.
Of course, few would maintain that people in general succeed well at rationality.
Here’s the brief article by Nora Daley from PBS Newshour.
I really have great contempt for Holder and his Department of Justice who continually claim that there will be no interference with medical marijuana if it is done in accordance with state laws while doing their utmost to capture and convict those who are obeying state laws. Timothy Egan writes in the NY Times:
How did the United States, land of the free, become the world’s top jailer? It’s a question asked by visitors from other democracies, and the American citizen who wakes from a stupor to find that our prisons are stuffed with people serving interminable sentences for nonviolent crimes.
For the answer, you need look no further than the real America, the sparsely settled, ruggedly beautiful, financially struggling eastern third of Washington State. There, 70-year-old Larry Harvey, his wife, two family members and a friend are facing mandatory 10-year prison terms for growing medical marijuana — openly and, they thought, legally — on their farm near the little town of Kettle Falls.
To get a sense of the tragic absurdity of this federal prosecution, reaching all the way to the desk of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., consider what will happen next month. Pot stores will open in Washington, selling legal marijuana for the recreational user — per a vote of the people. A few weeks later, the Feds will try to put away the so-called Kettle Falls Five for growing weed on their land to ease their medical maladies. Federal sentencing guidelines, which trump state law, call for mandatory prison terms.
Larry Harvey, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey and Rolland Gregg each face a 10-year mandatory prison sentence. Credit Nicholas K. Geranios/Associated Press
Harvey is a former long-haul truck driver with a bad knee, spasms of gout and high blood pressure. He says he has no criminal record, and spends much of his time in a wheelchair. His wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, is a retired hairdresser with arthritis and osteoporosis. Mr. Harvey says he takes his wife’s home-baked marijuana confections when the pain in his knee starts to flare. The Harveys thought they were in the clear, growing 68 marijuana plants on their acreage in northeast Washington, one of 22 states allowing legal medical marijuana. (Federal authorities say they are several plants over the limit.)
Their pot garden was a co-op among the four family members and one friend; the marijuana was not for sale or distribution, Mr. Harvey says. “I think these patients were legitimate,” Dr. Greg Carter, who reviewed medical records after the arrest, told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane. “They are pretty normal people. We’re not talking about thugs.”
But the authorities, using all the military tools at their disposal in the exhausted drug war, treated them as big-time narco threats. First, a helicopter spotted the garden from the air. Brilliant, except Harvey himself had painted a huge medical marijuana sign on a plywood board so that his garden, in fact, could be identified as a medical pot plot from the air.
This was followed by two raids. One from eight agents in Kevlar vests. The other from Drug Enforcement Agency officers. They searched the house, confiscating guns, and a little cash in a drawer. The guns are no surprise: Finding someone who does not own a firearm in the Selkirk Mountain country is like finding a Seattleite who doesn’t recycle. Still, the guns were enough to add additional federal charges to an indictment that the family was growing more than the legal limit of plants.
Now, let’s step back. The Harveys live in the congressional district of Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is part of the House Republican leadership. She loves freedom. You know she loves freedom because she always says so, most recently in a press release touting her efforts to take away people’s health care coverage. “Americans must be protected from out of control government,” she stated.
Well, maybe. Unless that government is trying to take away the freedom of a retired couple growing pot to ease their bodily pains. That freedom is not so good. Astonishingly, in our current toxic political atmosphere, Republicans and Democrats joined together last month to vote, by 219 to 189, to block spending for federal prosecution of medical marijuana in states that allow it.
Yaayyy, for freedom. There was one dissent from Washington State’s delegation. Yes, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, standing firm for an out of control government instead of defending one of her freedom-loving constituents.
Let’s go further up the government ranks. . .
Perhaps “contempt” is an understatement for how I feel about the DoJ’s actions. And of course Obama made one of his collapsible promises that people like those in the article would not be prosecuted. Obama’s promises are absolutely worthless.
A deliberate effort to maintain ignorance about marijuana has been highly successful, but is finally starting to break down. April Short writes at AlterNet:
Ever wonder why, despite millions of personal anecdotes about pot’s healing effects, there is a stark lack of government-approved, clinical studies to back up that human experience? The research gap is no accident. Cannabis is the only illicit substance with an extra set of governmental requirements specifically intended to prevent independent study.
While medical marijuana patients in nearly half of the states swear by the herb’s medicinal properties, prohibitionists can conveniently point their fingers at that lack of scientific evidence whenever cornered by a pro-legalization argument. Stacks of research  have affirmed the extraordinary potentials of the cannabis plant, but none received the official approval of the U.S. government.
Hiding behind these outdated prerequisites, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has effectively blocked government approval of all independent scientific studies on pot for four decades. Created in the ’70s as part of Richard Nixon’s Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Prevention Act of 1970, the DEA, a policing agency tasked with enforcing national drug laws, has the authority to decide how each drug is restricted under the law and whether/where it is produced. This has allowed the DEA to restrict the production of cannabis allowed for federal research to the point of near non-existence.
In a new report titled “The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science ,” the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance teamed up with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to point out the many ways in which the law enforcement agency stifles science.
“This concerns me greatly as someone who has studied marijuana and given thousands of doses of the drug,” said psychiatry professor Carl Hart during a June 11 teleconference about the DEA report.
Hart pointed out the existence of government-funded studies showing “some potential for marijuana” to help people with serious illnesses, for example HIV and AIDS. “The notion that the DEA is has not acknowledged this and thought about reconsidering the scheduling of marijuana just seems to be against the scientific evidence,” he said. “It seems to be against what we’re trying to do in terms of having a society that relies on empirical evidence to base our decisions.”
The report also identifies a “regulatory Catch-22″ in which the DEA is exceedingly quick to prohibit certain drugs (MDMA, synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants) but takes its time responding to evidence that it should reconsider the strict classification of certain drugs. For example, the report notes that the three times the agency has been presented with a petition to reschedule marijuana, it has taken between five and 16 years to respond.
The DPA-MAPS report  makes two recommendations:
First: Remove the DEA’s power to classify drugs and transfer it to “another agency, perhaps even a non-governmental entity such as the National Academy of Sciences.”
The DEA has the power to decide which category of regulation each drug falls under. Despite the fact that it is legal in two states and has never killed anyone via overdose, cannabis is listed under the most strict drug classification, “Schedule I,” with heroin and meth.
Jag Davies of the DPA said the report is the first time the organization flat-out called for this change.
“We haven’t really articulated before, I don’t think, that the drug classification process should be removed completely from the DEA,” he said. “We don’t get into specifics there, it’s a new idea so we’re just putting it out there. I think, obviously, that will take some time to happen.”
The second recommendation: Force the DEA to end “the government’s unjustifiable monopoly” on the only supply of marijuana legally approved for use in research. As the report notes, “No other Schedule 1 drug is available from only a single governmental source for research purposes.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has the only federally approved pot supply, so anyone interested in Food and Drug Administration-regulated research has to get their pot from NIDA. To do so requires breaking through a so-far impenetrable web of red tape. MAPS, a nonprofit pharmaceutical company dedicated to studying the potential medical uses of psychedelics and cannabis, has tried for decades . The protocols for its University of Arizona study on cannabis’ ability to treat PTSD in veterans have been approved by the FDA and Public Health Service—hurdles reserved for cannabis and no other substance. But the DEA has the final say on whether MAPS can obtain NIDA weed, and so far it has refused to allow it. The DEA has the authority to license alternate marijuana suppliers and create additional sources of research-grade pot, but it has not.
“The second recommendation is a much more practical thing that the president could do immediately,” said Davies.
Davies said as an organization dedicated to reforming the expensive, Nixon-era war on drugs laws, which keep prisons filled with nonviolent offenders and unfairly target minorities, the DEA has been on the the DPA’s radar for some time. He said the report explains how, rather than basing its decisions on scientific evidence as it is supposed to do, the DEA has worked to protect its own funding.
“Frankly it’s easier a lot of times to make low-level drug arrests than it is to actually go out and solve other, perhaps more serious, crimes,” he said. “We need to make an earnest commitment to putting science first in drug policies. There’s been a lot of new rhetoric from the Obama administration about science-based policy and—particularly in drug policy—implementing a health-based approach. The reality is… the fundamental approach is still based on criminalization and not on what would be best for public health, and the DEA’s continuing obstruction of marijuana research is really the clearest example of this.”
Silencing Doctors, Turning Heads in Congress
As Rick Doblin, director and founder of MAPS, and Ethan Nadelmann, director of the DPA, put it in a recent column : “It’s increasingly clear that entrusting decisions involving medical science to the DEA is akin to leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse. And what’s most striking is how little scrutiny the DEA has faced from Congress or other federal overseers.” . . .
It’s amazing the degree to which the fight against marijuana has been based on ignorance, and how strongly the opponents have fought to maintain that ignorance. One has to question why they took that tack? Do they really believe that knowledge itself is bad? or do they believe that if we actually study the issue it will turn out that they are wrong, wrong, wrong? (Answer: the latter.)
Read Radley Balko’s article in the Washington Post. From the article:
In January, Keith Kilbey crashed his car into a couple of parked Colorado police cars. The cars were blocking the entrance to an exit ramp, and their lights were flashing at the time Kilbey hit them. Shortly after the accident, a Colorado State Patrol (CSP) spokesman said Kilbey was high on pot the night of the crash and that he had been charged with driving under the influence of drugs. “This time we were fortunate,” warned CSP Corporal H. Cobler, “but many officers across the nation are not so lucky.” . . .
In fact, Kilbey had a blood-alcohol concentration of .268, more than three times the legal limit. The current legal limit is .08. People with Kilbey’s BAC typically experience severely impaired motor function, loss of consciousness and memory blackout. Kilbey also had pot in his system, about twice the state’s legal limit. But tests for pot impairment are a lot less precise, and pot itself has a much less pronounced effect on motorists than alcohol. (Scroll down to see the graph and link to the corresponding study under the section headed “Drugged driving is a concern, but it’s overblown” in this piece from Vox.) Kilbey’s alcohol consumption was by far the more likely cause of his impairment on the night of his wreck.
It’s hard to put too much blame on the media who bit on the Colorado State Patrol’s efforts to make Kilbey the face of pot-impaired driving. They weren’t at the scene, after all. And the CSP kept Kilbey’s toxicology reports quiet. But perhaps a little reflection is now in order. It’s hard to imagine that with a .268 BAC, Keith Kilbey didn’t reek of alcohol. Unless he’s a seasoned alcoholic, he was also likely falling-down drunk. Did they not give him a breath test at the scene? Isn’t it at least a little bit curious that shortly after Amendment 64 took effect, CSP would play up the possibility that he was high but make no mention that he was drunk?
Despite an abundance of data to the contrary, reputable media outlets like the Associated Press and the New York Times are still running stories claiming that pot legalization has unleashed a wave of crime, drugged driving and stoned psychopaths. The stories are primarily based on anecdotes from law enforcement officials and avowed pot opponents. Perhaps it’s time to start looking at those anecdotes with a bit more skepticism.
In the comments, IndieOne noted:
Here’s a little reality to counter the CSP’s misinformation campaign: An actual driving test of marijuana users. There were three test subjects ranging from an occasional user to a daily user. All three safely completed the course with over four times the legal limit in their system. The daily user didn’t have problems until she was over 11 times the legal limit.
Many people are fearful of any change and look frantically for excuses to stick with the status quo. I call this the settler mindset. Others are more interested in novelty and look for any excuse to try something new: the explorer mindset.
The stories that didn’t mention the fact that the driver was falling-down drunk and focused instead solely on the use of cannabis are written by settlers for settlers. Driving totally drunk, while not okay, is an accepted part of the status quo, and settlers can accept that, so it’s not the issue. But anything new frightens them. So they focus on the novelty in an effort to kill it.
UPDATE: The total focus of police and press on the driver’s use of cannabis to the extent that they did not even mention the level of alcohol in his system reminds me of the story of the tutor who pointed out to his students what a keen observer Homer was. “In the Odyssey, for example, the giant Cyclops, having only one eye, lacked depth perception, and Homer writes that the boulders the Cyclops threw at the fleeing ship fell short or overshot the boat.”
“But, sir,” said one of the students, “hadn’t Odysseus put out the Cyclops’s eye?”
“Yes, yes,” the tutor said. “That’s another reason.”
So in this story, “But wasn’t the guy falling-down drunk, with his blood alcohol level more than 3 times the legal limit?”
“Yes, yes. That’s another reason.”
Truthfully, the use of cannabis in this incident seems irrelevant.
Phillip Smith reports at the Drug War Chronicle:
Last Friday, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske announced new policies designed to reduce the use of deadly force by Border Patrol agents. Hours later, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed marijuana smuggler Luis Arambula, 31, as he fled on foot through an Arizona golf course. Arambula becomes the 20th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.
The killing is bound to put CBP’s new use of deadly force policies to the test. According to the CBP’s new handbook, the use of deadly force is authorized only when there is imminent danger of death or serious injury to the agent or someone else. Deadly force is not to be used “solely to prevent the escape of a fleeing subject,” but can only be justified when the person “has inflicted or threatened to inflict serious physical injury or death” and the person’s escape poses an imminent threat of serious injury or death to the agent or others.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case with Luis Arambula. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Marquez shot him nine times as he ran through a golf course after his vehicle got stuck as he fled from agents. Agents had tried to pull him over on Interstate 19, but he didn’t stop, instead getting off the highway, onto an access road and then a surface street into the golf course.
Two agents chased him on foot for a quarter mile, then Marquez opened fire. Agents claimed that Arambula made “punching out” motions with his arms, as if he were aiming a gun at them in a two-handed stance, but Pima County sheriff’s deputies investigating the incident said Arambula was unarmed.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the killing. We shall see how CBP handles this first challenge to its new deadly force policy.