Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category
We all know that alcohol, the true gateway drug to violent crime and drug abuse, is more dangerous than marijuana, but I was surprised to see how much more dangerous alcohol is. Does D.A.R.E. discuss alcohol, and give more time to discussing alcohol than discussing marijuana, since alcohol is not only more dangerous, but more readily available? I wonder. (Actually, I bet I know.)
Christopher Ingraham writes in the Washington Post:
Skyrocketing incarceration rates for nonviolent drug offenders have come to symbolize the futility of the national “war on drugs.” Even the most ardent drug legalization opponents are beginning to view drug use through the lens of public health, rather than criminal justice.
This shift in focus is evident at the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, which for decades has been the command center of the federal war on drugs. The ONDCP now emphasizes “balance” as a key component of federal drug strategy. “Drug addiction is not a moral failing but rather a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated,” the agency states on its website. “Drug policy is a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue.”
That said, it doesn’t seem that the nation’s law enforcement agencies have embraced the new approach. While the number of arrests for all offenses has declined nationally since 1991, the share of arrests related to simple marijuana possession has more than tripled over the same time period. . .
Continue reading. Good graphs at the link.
Very interesting report by April Short at Alternet. There are some plots of industrial hemp being grown in the US this summer—over the DEA’s strong objections. Industrial hemp is no more intoxicating if smoked than, say, cotton, but no one has ever claimed that US drug laws or rational or that the DEA is reasonable: quite the contrary, in fact, if you look at the science.
But the DEA believes that their remit covers not only marijuana but also plain old hemp used for making rope, paper, cloth, and now (perhaps) supercapacitors. And since the only action of which the DEA is capable is to forbid things, they took it upon themselves to forbid industrial hemp. But Congress put enough pressure so that the DEA did allow some experimental industrial hemp crops, though even then they tried at the last minute to seize the hemp seeds being imported for the test crops—much to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s anger, one of the tests being in Kentucky.
Short’s report begins:
On top of its vast medicinal benefits and a “high” that’s safer and mellower than alcohol, what if cannabis could also power a cheap, sustainable super battery and forever change the energy game? It sounds like a far-fetched dream cooked up by Cheech and Chong after a bong rip or three, but it’s possible, according to a team of researchers at the University of Alberta.
During the American Chemical Society’ s national meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, engineering professor David Mitlin (who now works at Clarkson University in New York) presented the findings. The study he led investigates the potential for industrial hemp (the non-psychoactive cannabis plant closely related to marijuana) to aid in the creation of extremely efficient batteries called supercapacitors, or “supercaps.” By heating hemp fibers, the researchers were able to rearrange the plant’s carbon atoms to create thin, two-dimensional sheets, or nanosheets. Those nanosheets are then used as electrodes (electrical conductors) in the supercaps.
Prior research into supercaps broke ground using graphene , rather than hemp, to create the nanosheets with unmatched results for energy storage. Since then, scientists have been looking for ways to use “graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive,” ACS reported in a press release .
The recent hemp study shows hemp to be more efficient than graphene, and 1,000 times cheaper, since hemp is fast-growing and relatively easy to process.
“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin said in the ACS press release. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.” . . .
It’s amazing what can be discovered once research is allowed—but the DEA stands firm against any research involving marijuana. You’ll note that this result came from Canada, which grows industrial hemp and is the source of much of the US supply. (It’s perfectly legal to import it, just illegal to grow it. — I know, I know. Ask the DEA.)
Attempting to forestall research is more or less stating that ignorance is preferable to knowledge, and indeed many act on that premise—the Federal government, for example, regarding research into the medical benefits of marijuana. I cannot understand the mindset that believes ignorance is better than knowledge, but there it is, as described by Serge Kovaleski in the NY Times:
Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. She had no idea how difficult it would be.
The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.
Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues. But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana. Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug. In guidelines issued that year for research on medical marijuana, the agency quoted from an accompanying report that stated, “If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine, it lies in its isolated components, the cannabinoids and their synthetic derivatives.” [Note that this position is a matter of faith: it is based on no research whatsoever---a strange position for a supposedly scientific organization to take. - LG]
Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.
Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.
A major reason is this: The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.
In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances. (Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, though nearly half the states and the District of Columbia allow its medical use and two, Colorado and Washington, have legalized its recreational use.)
To obtain the drug legally, researchers like Dr. Sisley must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — which, citing a 1961 treaty obligation, administers the only legal source of the drug for federally sanctioned research, at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Sisley’s proposed study also had to undergo an additional layer of review from the Public Health Service that is not required for other controlled substances in such research.
The process is so cumbersome that a growing number of elected state officials, medical experts and members of Congress have started calling for loosening the restrictions. In June, a letter signed by 30 members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”
“It defies logic in this day and age that marijuana is still in Schedule 1 alongside heroin and LSD when there is so much testimony to what relief medical marijuana can bring,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said in an interview. In late 2011, he and the governor of Washington at the time, Christine O. Gregoire, filed a petition asking the federal government to place the drug in a lower category. The petition is still pending with the D.E.A.
Despite the mounting push, there is little evidence that either Congress or the Obama administration will change marijuana’s status soon. In public statements, D.E.A. officials have made their displeasure known about states’ legalizing medical and recreational marijuana. . .
Congress and the Obama administration combine indifference to suffering with a love of ignorance: a bad combination.
Charles Kenny has a good article in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Congress closed for the August recess this weekend without passing legislation to address the child refugee crisis on the Mexican border. Nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children, most from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, have entered the U.S. across that border in the last nine months, fleeing spiraling violence in their home countries—murder, rape, and attacks carried out by rival drug gangs, and attacks by police on suspect gang members.
The refugee crisis is now our problem, which is appropriate: The drug-linked violence that the children are fleeing is in large part our fault. Anti-drug policies in the U.S. and Europe have not succeeded in curbing drug use or in raising drug prices, but they have considerably increased crime and violence worldwide. It is time to shift the effort to focus on helping drug users at home rather than battling drugmakers and traffickers abroad.
A little-considered consequence of criminalization is displacement: When a state or country makes an activity illegal, the new criminals find new haven. Bordellos relocate to Nevada, Puritans flee to America, polluting industries settle in China. This kind of displacement suggests that others can bear the costs of an individual or community’s anti-crime measures. For example, if in the interest of preventing burglaries, home insurers require all their policyholders to use alarms or security cameras, burglars would shift their efforts to those without enhanced security measures: in this example, the uninsured, a group that is more vulnerable to begin with.
This is what has happened with drug production, which has concentrated in countries least able to control crime. Here’s a domestic example: In 2004, Oklahoma created the first state law mandating that drug stores place pseudoephedrine behind the pharmacy counter, limiting individual sales and registering the photo ID of purchasers. These regulations severely disrupted the supply of a vital ingredient in methamphetamine, and for Oklahoma, it was an effective intervention: The number of meth labs confiscated in the state dropped 71 percent in three months. But in neighboring Texas and Kansas, where pseudoephedrine remained more easily available, police officers complained of a dramatic increase in meth production. In 2008 the U.S. restricted pseudoephedrine sales nationally. So production moved abroad, first to Mexico and, when that country introduced similar laws, further south to Central America and Africa.
Trade routes can also be displaced. . .
Expectations v. Experience: Since marijuana legalization, highway fatalities in Colorado are at near-historic lows
It seems to me that the best way to gauge the effect legalization has had on the roadways is to look at what has happened on the roads since legalization took effect. Here’s a month-by-month comparison of highway fatalities in Colorado through the first seven months of this year and last year. For a more thorough comparison, I’ve also included the highest fatality figures for each month since 2002, the lowest for each month since 2002 and the average for each month since 2002.
I just received a newsletter from the Marijuan Policy Project, and I was struck by their first few headlines:
That is quite a quartet of headlines. I think virtually everyone 10 years ago believed that would never happen. And yet…
This article seems to be AlterNet’s answer to the NY Times series on legalizing marijuana. It’s worth reading to see where things stand, and it’s also interesting to see how many blatant lies are told (and two of the worst are Democrats: Andrew Cuomo (who seems utterly corrupt in any case) and Dianne Feinstein (who, thank God, is finally going to retire). For example:
High-ranking Democratic elected officials continue to repeat long-disproven drug falsehoods.
Elected officials like New York’s Andrew Cuomo still buy into long disproved pot myths like pot is a “gateway drug” . Recently, “Mr. Cuomo said that he was wary of allowing marijuana to become too widely or too easily available” (despite the fact that NY has hundreds of thousands of pot arrests). In recent days “he said he feared that it was ‘a gateway drug,’ and observed that the state was already dealing with a resurgence of heroin use.”
The New York Times  underscores how out of touch Cuomo is:
Marijuana “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse,” the Institute of Medicine study said. The real gateway drugs are tobacco and alcohol, which young people turn to first before trying marijuana.
In the NY Times Lawrence Downes has a detailed (yet highly readable) report—successes and some gaps—on what actual experience has revealed:
In January, Colorado defied the federal government and stepped with both feet into the world of legal recreational marijuana, where no state had gone before.
For seven months Coloradans have been lawfully smoking joints and inhaling cannabis vapors, chewing marijuana-laced candies and chocolates, drinking, cooking and lotioning with products infused with cannabis oil. They are growing their own weed, making their own hash oil and stocking up at dispensaries marked with green crosses and words like “health,” “wellness” and “natural remedies.” Tourists are joining in — gawking, sampling and tripping in hotel rooms. Business is growing, taxes are flowing, cannabis entrepreneurs are building, investing and cashing in.
Cannabis sales from January through May brought the state about $23.6 million in revenue from taxes, licenses and fees. That is not a huge amount in a $24 billion budget, but it’s a lot more than zero, and it’s money that was not pocketed by the black market.
The criminal justice system is righting itself. Marijuana prosecutions are way down across the state — The Denver Post found a 77 percent drop in January from the year before. Given the immense waste, in dollars and young lives, of unjust marijuana enforcement that far too often targets black men, this may be the most hopeful trend of all.
The striking thing to a visitor is how quickly the marijuana industry has receded into normality — cannabis storefronts are plentiful in Denver, but not obtrusive, certainly not in the way liquor stores often are. Marijuana-growing operations are in unmarked warehouses on the city’s industrial edges.
The ominously predicted harms from legalization — like blight, violence, soaring addiction rates and other ills — remain imaginary worries. Burglaries and robberies in Denver, in fact, are down from a year ago. The surge of investment and of jobs in construction, tourism and other industries, on the other hand, is real.
Continue reading. Some fixes are needed, and some solutions still to be found. There’s quite a bit more to the article, but in realistic terms, the news is very good indeed—that is, things are turning out well for everyone: more tax revenues, more money diverted from black market, less money spent on law-enforcement efforts (and lawsuits), crime down, and so on—the things everyone wanted to happen.
David Firestone writes in the NY Times:
When the White House issued a statement last night saying that marijuana should remain illegal — responding to our pro-legalization editorial series — officials there weren’t just expressing an opinion. They were following the law. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is required by statute to oppose all efforts to legalize any banned drug.
It’s one of the most anti-scientific, know-nothing provisions in any federal law, but it remains an active imposition on every White House. The “drug czar,” as the director of the drug control policy office is informally known, must “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” that’s listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and has no “approved” medical use.
Marijuana fits that description, as do heroin and LSD. But unlike those far more dangerous drugs, marijuana has medical benefits that are widely known and are now officially recognized in 35 states. The drug czar, though, isn’t allowed to recognize them, and whenever any member of Congress tries to change that, the White House office is required to stand up and block the effort. It cannot allow any federal study that might demonstrate the rapidly changing medical consensus on marijuana’s benefits and its relative lack of harm compared to alcohol and tobacco.
“It’s a complete Catch-22,” said Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, who has introduced legislation to change the requirement. “They should be giving Congress and the American people the benefit of the latest research, and yet by statute, they’re prohibited from doing so. They have no choice but to say they’re against it. Joseph Heller should be working there.”
This situation is not altogether surprising, though, since Congress has been locked into a maximalist position on drug control for decades. Extreme law-and-order platforms have been Republican staples since at least Richard Nixon’s day, and Democrats have usually been too cowed to object. Thus we have hysterical language like this paragraph from the 1988 law creating the White House drug office, signed into law by Ronald Reagan:
“The Congress finds that legalization of illegal drugs, on the Federal or State level, is an unconscionable surrender in a war in which, for the future of our country and the lives of our children, there can be no substitute for total victory.”
Earlier this year, . . .
A very interesting report (PDF) by John Hudak of the Brookings Institution on Colorado’s implementation of legalization of marijuana. Certainly there are things to be fixed: the packaging and sale of edibles deserves a close look. But overall, it’s going quite smoothly, as the report shows. It’s quite a good report: 34 pages and worth reading if your own state is considering legalization, as several now are doing. From the report:
At its heart, this report is about good government and takes no position on whether the legalization of retail marijuana was the correct decision. Instead, it takes for granted that Amendment 64 and its progeny are the law and should be implemented successfully, per voters’ wishes. The report examines what the state has done well and what it has not. It delves into why, and how, regulatory and administrative changes were made. Finally, it offers an evaluation of how effective the implementation has been. Key findings include:
- It’s too early to judge the success of Colorado’s policy, but it is not too early to say that the rollout—initial implementation—of legal retail marijuana has been largely successful.
- The state has met challenging statutory and constitutional deadlines for the construction and launch of a legal, regulatory, and tax apparatus for its new policy. In doing so, it has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state.
- Colorado’s strong rollout is attributable to a number of elements. Those include: leadership by state officials; a cooperative, inclusive approach centering on task forces and working groups; substantial efforts to improve administrative communication; adaptive regulation that embraces regulatory lookback and process-oriented learning; reorganizing, rebuilding, and restaffing critical state regulatory institutions; and changes in culture in state and local government, among interest groups, and among the public.
- Regulations address key concerns such as diversion, shirking, communication breakdowns, illegal activity, and the financial challenges facing the marijuana industry. However, some regulations were also intended to help regulators, as they endured rapid, on-the-job training in dealing with legal marijuana.
- Despite real success, challenges involving edibles, homegrown marijuana, tax incentives, and marijuana tourism remain, and the state must address them in a more effective way.
Recent failures at the federal level show Americans daily what happens when a government refuses to govern and is unwilling or unable to makes changes in the face of policy realities. Colorado has made a conscious effort to preserve enough flexibility for its policy to remain effective over time. A strong rollout is important, but what happens after that is just as important. With its emphasis on flexibility, Colorado is taking out an insurance policy agains unintended consequences.
From an interesting article by Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post:
Philip Boffey writes in the NY Times:
No sooner had the Times published its opening editorials advocating legalization of marijuana than the White House fired back with an unconvincing response on its website. It argued that marijuana should remain illegal because of public health problems “associated” (always a slippery word) with increased marijuana use.
Careful readers will immediately see the White House statement for what it is: A pro forma response to a perceived public relations crisis, not a full-fledged review of all the scientific evidence, pro and con. The White House is actually required by law to oppose all efforts to legalize a banned drug.
Besides, it is hypocritical for the White House, whose chefs brew beer for the president, to oppose legalizing marijuana, which poses far less risk to consumers and society than does alcohol. Two recipes for the White House brew are posted on its website under the headline “Ale to the Chief.”
The White House lumped its public health argument under four main headings. Before addressing them individually, we should note that there was an enormous upsurge in marijuana use in the 1970s. So far as we know, no one has claimed that it produced calamitous health or societal harm in subsequent decades. The main metric that soared was arrests for possession of marijuana.
Here are our responses to the four main public health contentions made by the White House.
The first — that marijuana use affects the developing brain — is a concern for all parents of teenagers. That’s why we recommended regulations to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. The White House cites a study by Australian researchers, published in 2012 in the journal Brain, which found that heavy cannabis use starting while young impairs connections between nerve fibers in the adult brain. It also cites a study which purports to show that heavy use by teenagers can lead to a big decline in intelligence in adult years. That study has been criticized as flawed by a Norwegian researcher who believes that socio-economic factors explain most of the apparent loss of IQ and that the true effect of marijuana could be zero. And remember: no responsible advocate of legalization is urging that marijuana be made available to teenagers.
The second contention — that marijuana use by school age children leads to lower grades — is based on studies where marijuana use is “associated with” lower grades but there is scant evidence that it caused the low grades. In fact the survey cited by the White House cautions that “These associations do not prove causation. Further research is needed to determine whether low grades lead to alcohol and other drug use, alcohol and other drug use leads to low grades, or some other factors lead to both of these problems.”
Parents who deem marijuana responsible for apathy and lack of motivation in their teenagers should be aware that other factors may be in play. The Institute of Medicine, in its 1999 report, noted that when heavy marijuana users drop out of school, work or social activities the drug is often blamed, but it found no convincing data demonstrating a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and those behavioral characteristics.
The third contention — that marijuana is addictive — . . .
Continuing the NY Times series of editorials and columns on the legalization of marijuana, Philip Boffey writes:
For Michele Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, there is no difference between the health effects of marijuana and those of any other illegal drug. “All illegal drugs are bad for people,” she told Congress in 2012, refusing to say whether crack, methamphetamines or prescription painkillers are more addictive or physically harmful than marijuana. [Ms. Leonhart is amazingly ignorant, to the degree that it's unclear whether her capacity for learning is limited. - LG]
Her testimony neatly illustrates the vast gap between antiquated federal law enforcement policies and the clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana cannot lead to a fatal overdose. There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.
That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; in fact, the potency of current strains may shock those who haven’t tried it for decades, particularly when ingested as food. It can produce a serious dependency, and constant use would interfere with job and school performance. It needs to be kept out of the hands of minors. But, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.
Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances. Science and government have learned a great deal, for example, about how to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. Mandatory underage drinking laws and effective marketing campaigns have reduced underage alcohol use to 24.8 percent in 2011, compared with 33.4 percent in 1991. Cigarette use among high school students is at its lowest point ever, largely thanks to tobacco taxes and growing municipal smoking limits. There is already some early evidence that regulation would also help combat teen marijuana use, which fell after Colorado began broadly regulating medical marijuana in 2010. . .
Continue reading. From the article:
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.