Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category
Earlier this week, Cameron Douglas – who is serving a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for drug law violations – wrote a stinging op-ed that was published and picked up by hundreds of media sources. Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas, offered a compelling critique of the U.S. justice system and the way it harshly punishes people who are struggling with drug addiction.Douglas wrote that he “seem(s) to be trapped in a vicious cycle of relapse and repeat, as most addicts are.” He went on to say that a long prison sentence without adequate treatment “does absolutely nothing but temporarily deter them from succumbing to their weakness.” It was the first time Douglas spoke to the public from behind bars, where he has been living for three years.
This was an exciting moment for me, since I have been following Douglas’ story since his arrest in 2009, writing 10 pieces about his sad and exasperating case.
Douglas was first convicted of drug crimes in 2010. Then, last year, he relapsed while serving his sentence. Prison officials caught him with very small amounts of opioids for personal use, including a single dose of a medication used to treat heroin dependence that he had obtained without a prescription. They placed him in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for 11 months, and denied him social visits with family and friends. But the federal district court, which imposed Douglas his original 60-month sentence, wasn’t satisfied with these punishments, and nearly doubled his sentence by adding an additional 54 months to Douglas’ term.
Meanwhile, the Drug Policy Alliance has been working with his family and legal team to appeal his sentence – which may be the longest-ever federal prison sentence imposed for the simple possession of drugs for personal use behind bars. Earlier this year, DPA submitted an amicus brief on behalf of a wide array of New York State’s and the nation’s leading medical and substance abuse treatment authorities that challenged his sentence. Nonetheless, Douglas’ sentence was upheld.
Read the rest of Douglas’ piece here.
This piece was originally posted on the Drug Policy Alliance’s blog.
Douglas’s piece begins:
Well, let me start by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to share some of my thoughts and feelings with you. I hope maybe in some way, this gives you a little window into my reality and more importantly, into my heart.
So, here I sit at my little table in the belly of the beast, writing to you. I have spent close to two of my four years of incarceration in solitary confinement. If this seems like a long time, it is magnified in light of the fact that my time spent in the box is largely due to two dirty urines — one of which was false, which is a story for another time. For the other, I was also given an additional 4.5 years on top of my initial five-year sentence, as if 11 straight months in segregation, locked down 23 hours a day, was not enough.
The bigger picture is much more disturbing, however. There are half a million other people in the U.S. who, like me, will go to sleep behind bars tonight because of nothing more than a drug law violation. Our prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders who are losing much of what is relevant in life. This outdated system pays little, if any, concern to the disease of addiction, and instead punishes it more harshly than many violent crimes. And even more exasperating is that many of the people responsible for this tragedy disregard documented medical research and the reality of our country’s unsustainable prison overpopulation.
Why… ? I’m sure I’ll be terrified by the answer. However, I humbly propose we start seeking the truth.
I’m not saying that I didn’t deserve to be punished, or that I’m worthy of special treatment. I made mistakes and I’ll gladly and openly admit my faults. However, I seem to be trapped in a vicious cycle of relapse and repeat, as most addicts are. Unfortunately, whereas the effective remedy for relapse should be treatment, the penal system’s “answer” is to lock the door and throw away the key. Somehow, with the astronomical rate of recidivism, largely due to drug violations, no one seems to comprehend that tossing individuals desperate for skills to cope with addiction behind bars, no matter for how long a period of time, does absolutely nothing but temporarily deter them from succumbing to their weakness. Instead of focusing on how many individuals this county can keep imprisoned, why can we not focus on how many individuals we can keep from coming back? . . .
In the NY Times Dan Frosch describes just one small aspect:
With the recreational use of marijuana now legal in Colorado, officers who patrol the state’s roads face a new set of challenges. Though smoking or possessing small amounts of cannabis is no longer breaking the law, anyone who drives while impaired is still subject to arrest.
Which raises a knotty question: How many tokes can a driver take before the ability to control a vehicle is compromised to the point of being a danger on the road?
Unlike alcohol, which has an undisputed — and usually quite apparent — influence on driving, there is no clear-cut consensus on the amount of marijuana that must be consumed to impair a driver’s ability.
This year, as Colorado lawmakers worked out regulatory matters, including taxes on sales, they also passed legislation that set legal limits on marijuana levels in the bloodstream. Under the new law, which took effect on May 28, a driver is assumed to be impaired if a blood test shows a level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that is five or more nanograms per milliliter. A nanogram is a billionth of a gram. . .
10. [Industrial] Hemp benefits are denied. Hemp can be made into paper, paneling, plastics, clothing and thousands of other useful products. The highly nutritious seeds can be used to make flour, cooking oil and cattle feed.
This environmentally friendly plant grows without herbicides, nourishes the soil, matures quickly and provides high yields. It’s the number-one biomass producer in the world – ten tons per acre in four months. It could be an excellent fuel-producing crop.
Hemp, “nature’s perfect plant,” could bring a bonanza to hurting American farmers while greatly reducing America’s dependence on fossil fuels, which could significantly mitigate climate change.
9. Prohibition diverts billions from the needy. More than 50 government agencies feed at the drug war trough. Food stamps and other social programs are being slashed while billions are spent trying to stop adults from using marijuana.
8. Prohibition is clearly counterproductive. Guaranteeing massive profits to anyone on earth who can produce and deliver marijuana to our streets cannot do anything but assure that even more will be produced and delivered.
7. Criminalizing marijuana lacks moral justification. A real crime implies a victim and a perpetrator. Can you imagine being jailed for robbing yourself? As insane as this sounds, our government has done the equivalent by making adult use of marijuana a crime.
Only a depraved, corrupt government could invent a crime you commit against yourself.
6. . . .
In the Washington Post Doug Fine notes 5 common false beliefs about legalizing marijuana.
Doug Fine is the author of Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution, in which he followed one legal medicinal cannabis plant from farm to patient.
by Doug Fine With 16 states having decriminalized or legalized cannabis for non-medical use and eight more heading toward some kind of legalization, federal prohibition’s days seem numbered. You might wonder what America will look like when marijuana is in the corner store and at the farmers market. In three years spent researching that question, I found some ideas about the plant that just don’t hold up.
1. If pot is legal, more people will use it.
As drug policy undergoes big changes, I’ve been watching rates of youth cannabis use with interest. As it is for most fathers, the well-being of my family is the most important thing in my life. Whether you like the plant or not, as with alcohol, only adults should be allowed to partake of intoxicating substances. But youth cannabis use is near its highest level ever in the United States. When I spoke at a California high school recently and asked, “Who thinks cannabis is easier to obtain than alcohol?,” nearly every hand shot up.
In Portugal, by contrast, youth rates fell from 2002 to 2006, after all drugs were legalized there in 2001. Similarly, a 2011 Brown University-led study of middle and high school students in Rhode Island found no increases in adolescent use after the state legalized medical marijuana in 2006.
As for adult use, the numbers are mixed. A 2011 University of California at Berkeley study, for example, showed a slight increase in adult use with de facto legalization in the Netherlands (though the rate was still lower than in the United States). Yet that study and one in 2009 found Dutch rates to be slightly lower than the European average. When the United States’ 40-year-long war on marijuana ends, the country is not going to turn into a Cheech and Chong movie. It is, however, going to see the transfer of as much as 50 percent of cartel profits to the taxable economy.
2. Law enforcement officials oppose legalization.
It is true that many law enforcement lobby groups don’t want to end America’s most expensive war (which has cost $1 trillion and counting), but that’s because they’re the reason it’s so expensive. In 2010, two-thirds of federal spending on the drug war, $10 billion, went toward law enforcement and interdiction.
But law enforcement rank and file know the truth about the drug war’s profligate and ineffective spending, says former Los Angeles deputy police chief Stephen Downing, one of 5,000 public safety professionals who make up the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Most law enforcers find it difficult not to recognize the many harms caused by our current drug laws,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. Those harms include, according to a new ACLU report, marijuana-possession arrests that are skewed heavily toward minorities.
Since marijuana prohibition drives the drug war, these huge costs would end when federal cannabis law changes. Sheriff Tom Allman in Mendocino County, Calif., helped permit, inspect, and protect local cannabis farmers in 2010 and 2011. When I asked him why, he said: “This county has problems: domestic violence, meth, poverty. Marijuana isn’t even in the top 10. I want it off the front pages so I can deal with the real issues.”
3. Getting high would be the top revenue generator for the cannabis plant.
I called both of my U.S. senators’ offices to support inserting a provision into this year’s farm bill to legalize hemp for domestic cultivation. Based on my research on industrial cannabis, commonly called hemp, I’m staggered by the potential of this plant, which is not the variety you smoke.
In Canada, where 90 percent of the crop is bought by U.S. consumers, the government researches the best varieties for its hemp farmers, rather than refusing to issue them permits, as the United States tends to do. In a research facility in Manitoba, I saw a tractor whose body was made entirely of hemp fiber and binding. BMW and Dodgeuse hemp fibers in their door panels, and homes whose insulation and wall paneling are made partially of hemp represent a fast-growing trend in the European construction industry.
Jack Noel, who co-authored a 2012 industrial hemp task force report for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, says that “within 10 years of the end of the war on drugs, we’ll see a $50 billion domestic hemp industry.” That’s bigger than the $40 billion some economists predict smoked cannabis would bring in.
Foods such as cereal and salad dressing are the biggest U.S. markets for hemp today, but industrial cannabis has the brightest future in the energy sector, where a Kentucky utility is planning to grow hemp for biomass energy.
4. Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol would control the legal cannabis industry. . .
Kristen Gwynne writes are AlterNet:
Another raid on the wrong residence; another dead dog. This time , Iraq War veteran Adam Arroyo says he came home on Monday to find his door busted down, and his beloved pup dead from bullet wounds. The Buffalo, NY police did not seem too concerned with cleaning up blood or anything like that, but nonetheless left behind a note of sorts: a search warrant for the apartment next door.
“They busted the door down, with a battering ram or whatever,” he told the Buffalo News . “They came in, and within a few seconds of entering the apartment, they murdered my dog. They shot her multiple times. They had no reason to do that.” Arroyo says his dog, a two-and-a-half-year-old pit bull named Cindy, was killed while chained up in the kitchen, which he discovered ridden with bullet holes.
As WKBW points out , the police made a serious error:
The suspect named in the warrant  was described as a black male and was wanted on suspicion of dealing crack.Arroyo is Hispanic and lives at 304 Breckenridge, upper-rear apartment, which has a completely separate entrance and is clearly marked on his mail box.
“I don’t do drugs. I’m a United States veteran. I work everyday. I’m just trying to live my life,” Arroyo told WKBW. Crazy as this story might sound, raids on the wrong residences happen regularly, and the results can be traumatic, not to mention deadly. Militant SWAT raids are often used in drug busts, and have become increasingly popular over the past couple of decades. They are so prevalent — and such a significant factor of police militarization — that the ACLU recently launched an investigation  into their use.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda told WIVB  that the department is investigating the case, and taking it “very seriously.” He added, “If [the dog] was attacking an officer and he was … stopping the dog from attacking, he’d be justified.” Nevermind that they had the WRONG apartment.
He is right, however, that the raid was pretty standard. Here’s how former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper has described  SWAT busts:
The officers are armed with automatic weapons and are sometimes deployed from armored personnel carriers or rappelling from helicopters. Doors are smashed open with battering rams or are ripped from their hinges by ropes tied to vehicles. And, to further disorient those inside, officers are trained to use explosives—“flash-bang” grenades—upon entry. The slightest provocation, including any “furtive” moments on the part of the residents, often results in shots fired. Since drug dealers sometimes use dogs to protect their stash, family pets are shot, kicked, or, in the recent case of a New York City raid, thrown out the window.It’s probably a good thig Arroyolo wasn’t home. When police become the military, their tactics lead to some of the same civilian casualties as war. Still, some discretion, at least, would be nice. Maybe double check the address next time armed men bust through a door?
The DEA has become a corrupt organization. An example is described in this AlterNet post by Kristen Gwynne:
The Drug Enforcement Agency is so determined to bust folks that a snitch who admitted to multiple instances of perjury has been rehired. According to AZCentral , the man once labeled the “highest paid snitch in history” – Andrew Chambers, Jr. — is back in business as a paid informant, never mind the fact that he was terminated in 2000 for incessant lying.
Chambers gave false testimony under oath in at least 16 criminal cases nationwide before he was ousted in 2000. An informant since 1984, he worked with DEA and other federal agencies in at least 280 cases, with sting operations in 31 US cities.
Of course, Chambers wasn’t lying for fun. He helped throw innocent people behind bars because he made bank doing it. Where there is cash for info, there is incentive to make stuff up :
During his first career as an informant, Chambers, 56, reportedly received up to $4 million in government money, nearly half of that from the DEA. He also was a paid informant of the FBI, customs-enforcement officers, postal inspectors, the Secret Service and other police agencies. He was credited with a role in 445 drug arrests.
In 2000, Chambers went on the ABC show 20/20 and admitted to his own bullshit. “I just lied about it. I didn’t think it was that important what I did,” he said.
Richard Fiano, who was chief of operations at the DEA at the time, told reporter Connie Chung that Chambers’ perpetual perjury simply “fell through the cracks” at the DEA. “Would DEA use him (again)?” Fiano said. “No.”
And what do you know? He’s back in the game.
Chambers showed up about three years ago at a sting in Phoenix, where defendant Luis Alberto Hernandez-Flores is accused of running a major drug-trafficking organization.
His attorney, Cameron Morgan, filed a motion to dismiss charges or suppress testimony after discovering the informant’s shady past.
“The DEA rehired Mr. Chambers, is using him in investigations all over the country, is again paying him exorbitant amounts of money and refuses to provide discovery about what he’s up to,” Morgan wrote in a court petition, “If Chambers were nothing more than a run-of-the-mill criminal, that would be one thing. But both Chambers and his defenders in the DEA brag that he is a con man extraordinaire.”
The whole drug war is a cash-fueled numbers game, and so long as busts are more important than actual results (like, you know, a decrease in drug use), corruption and false arrests will follow.
Obama makes promises much too easily—probably why he breaks them so readily. Paul Armentano writes at Alternet:
Despite issuing a highly publicized memorandum  in 2009 stating, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration,” it remains clear that federal lawmakers and the White House continue to willfully ignore science in regards to the cannabis plant and the federal policies which condemn it to the same prohibitive legal status as heroin. In fact, in 2011 the Obama administration went so far as to reject an administrative petition that called for hearings to reevaluate  pot’s safety and efficacy, pronouncing in the Federal Register, “Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.” (The Administration’s flat-Earth position was upheld  in January by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.)
Nevertheless, scientific evaluations of cannabis and the health of its consumers have never been more prevalent. Studies are now published almost daily rebuking the federal government’s allegations that the marijuana plant is a highly dangerous substance lacking any therapeutic utility. Yet, virtually all of these studies – and, more importantly, their implications for public policy – continue to be ignored by lawmakers. Here are just a few examples of the latest cannabis science that your federal government doesn’t want you to know about.
Frequent cannabis smokers possess no greater lung cancer risk than do either occasional pot smokers or non-smokers
Subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke do not  possess an increased risk of lung cancer compared to those who either consume it occasionally or not at all, according to data presented in April at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research.
Investigators from the University of California, Los Angeles analyzed data from 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 reported,  “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.”
Previous case-control studies have also failed to find an association  between cannabis smoking and head and neck cancers or cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract .
Nevertheless, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration continues to maintain , “Marijuana smokers increase their risk of cancer of the head, neck, lungs and respiratory track.”
Consistent use of cannabis associated is associated with reduced risk factors for Type 2 diabetes
Will the pot plant one day play a role in staving the ongoing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes? Emerging science indicates that it just might.
According to trial data  published this month in the American Journal of Medicine, subjects who regularly consume cannabis possess favorable indices related to diabetic control compared to occasional consumers or non-consumers.
Investigators at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, assessed  self-report data from some 5,000 adult onset diabetics patients regarding whether they smoked or had ever smoked marijuana. Researchers reported that those who were current, regular marijuana smokers possessed 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels and reduced insulin resistance compared to those who had never used pot. By contrast, non-users possessed larger waistlines and lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’) cholesterol – both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Similar benefits were reported in occasional cannabis consumers, though these changes were less pronounced, “suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use,” researchers reported.
The recent findings are supportive of the findings of 2012 study by a team of UCLA researchers, published in the British Medical Journal, which reported  that adults with a history of marijuana use had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables (ethnicity, level of physical activity, etc.) Concluded the study , “[This] analysis of adults aged 20-59 years … showed that participants who used marijuana had a lower prevalence of DM (Diabetes Mellitus) and lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users.”
Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.
Inhaling cannabis dramatically mitigates symptoms of Crohn’sdisease
Smoking cannabis twice daily significantly reduces  symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder that is estimated to impact about half a million Americans. So say the results of the first-ever placebo-controlled trial  assessing the use of cannabis for Crohn’s – published online this month in the scientific journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Researchers at the Meir Medical Center, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Israel assessed the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis versus placebo in 21 subjects with Crohn’s disease who were nonresponsive to conventional treatment regimens. Eleven participants smoked standardized cannabis cigarettes containing 23 percent THC and 0.5 percent cannabidiol  – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid known to possess anti-inflammatory properties — twice daily over a period of eight weeks. The other ten subjects smoked placebo cigarettes containing no active cannabinoids.
Investigators reported, “Our data show that 8-weeks treatment with THC-rich cannabis, but not placebo, was associated with a significant decrease of 100 points in CDAI (Crohn’s Disease and activity index) scores.” Five of the eleven patients in the study group reported achieving disease remission (defined as a reduction in patient’s CDAI score by more than 150 points). Participants who smoked marijuana reported decreased pain, improved appetite, and better sleep compared to control subjects. Researchers reported that “no significant side effects” were associated with cannabis inhalation.
The clinical results substantiate decades of anecdotal reports from Crohn’s patients, some one-half of which acknowledge  having used cannabis to mitigate symptoms of the disease.
Marijuana-like substances halt HIV infection in white blood cells . . .
Continue reading. I simply do not understand how the Obama Administration can support:
“Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”
That statement is simply false. To stand behind it while rejecting a proposal to reevaluate marijuana shows incredibly bad faith and resistance to evidence and reasoned argument.
What happened in 1999? Here’s the answer.
Here’s the graph:
And here’s the story by Harold Pollack in the Washington Post:
When it comes to drugs, it’s all about prices.
The ability to raise prices is– at least is perceived to be–a critical function of drug control policy. Higher prices discourage young people from using. Higher prices encourage adult users to consume less, to quit sooner, or to seek treatment. (Though higher prices can bring short-term problems, too, as drug users turn to crime to finance their increasingly unaffordable habit.)
An enormous law enforcement effort seeks to raise prices at every point in the supply chain from farmers to end-users: Eradicating coca crops in source countries, hindering access to chemicals required for drug production, interdicting smuggling routes internationally and within our borders, street-level police actions against local dealers.
That’s why this may be the most embarrassing graph in the history of drug control policy. (I’m grateful to Peter Reuter, Jonathan Caulkins, and Sarah Chandler for their willingness to share this figure from their work.) Law enforcement strategies have utterly failed to even maintain street prices of the key illicit substances. Street drug prices in the below figure fell by roughly a factor of five between 1980 and 2008. Meanwhile the number of drug offenders locked up in our jails and prisons went from fewer than 42,000 in 1980 to a peak of 562,000 in 2007.
The second embarrassment may reflect policymakers desire to ask fewer questions that bring up the first. We have remarkably little evidence that the billions of dollars spent on supply-side interdiction have much impact. There’s surprisingly little demand in the policy community to collect such evidence, despite considerable investments at every level of American government.
In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences concluded: “Neither the data systems nor the research infrastructure needed to assess the effectiveness of drug control enforcement policies now exists.” That remains true today, 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars later.
That’s not to say enforcement has zero effect.
It’s totally astonishing to read such a reasonable article in a mainstream publication—and the Washington Post of all places!
Jess Hunter-Bowman reports at OtherWords.org:
As Manuel, a Colombian farmer, showed me his peppercorn crops ravaged by the defoliant sprayed in a futile effort to kill his neighbor’s drug crops, he explained why the Drug War could never be won. No matter how much money or chemicals drug warriors threw at eradication efforts, he told me, the crops always reappeared.
After 40 years of failing to stem the drug trade, there’s a global conversation about new approaches. That debate is particularly vibrant south of the Rio Grande.
“Human rights abuses in the war on drugs are widespread and systematic,” wrote former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a recent New York Times op-ed. “A systemic problem demands systemic change…it is time for the human rights movement to take a leading role in calling for an end to the war on drugs.”
Even Guatemala’s hard-line president has called for regulating instead of outlawing drugs as an option to deal with the scourge of the drug trade. “The struggle against drugs, in the way it has been conducted, has failed,” saidOtto Pérez Molina, who served as the head of military intelligence during that country’s brutal civil war. “There is going to be a change away from the paradigm of prohibitionism and the war against drugs.”And that’s exactly what is happening across the hemisphere.
Uruguay is in the final stages of passing legislation that make way for a fully regulated and legal marijuana market. And even our government’s closest Drug War partners, Colombia and Mexico, have signaled their openness to new approaches.
The Organization of American States . . .
Continue reading. Apparently 40 years of appalling and expensive failure has started to capture people’s attention.
You need read only the first paragraph of this McClatchy story by Rob Hotakainen to know that Gil Kerlikowske is blowing smoke:
Marijuana is the drug most often linked to crime in the United States, the U.S. drug czar said Thursday, dismissing calls for legalization as a “bumper-sticker approach” that should be avoided.
Talk about a “bumper-sticker approach”: the drug most often linked to crime—and particularly violent crime—is alcohol. Is Kerlikowske an idiot? No. He’s a propagandist with a glaringly obvious conflict of interest trying to justify the billions and billions of dollars we’ve wasted trying to remove marijuana from use.
The only idiot here seems to be Rob Htakainen who did not ask the obvious questions and more or less reformatted a press release as a news story. I expect better from McClatchy.
The story lists the next two drugs “linked to crime” as cocaine and meth. And then it turns out that Kerlikowske didn’t mention alcohol because he was careful to discuss only illegal drugs. Well, that problem is easy to solve: make marijuana legal, as alcohol is, and marijuana, too, will vanish from “drugs most linked to crime.” Assuming it’s Kerlikowske driving the research.
This kind of idiocy—including the reporter, who is the most to blame in this—is one reason it’s hard to read the news.
Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon.
UPDATE: Someone in the comment thread draws my attention to these statistics regarding the links between alcohol and crime—apparently statistics of which Mr. Kerlikowske is ignorant.
It’s a complex system, modern life, and legalizing marijuana doesn’t really get into the details, as pointed out by Abby Rapaport at The American Prospect:
When Colorado and Washington State passed ballot measures legalizing marijuana last November, they weren’t just the first states in the country to do so—they were the first governments in the world to do so. While other nations and states, most notably the Netherlands and California, have decriminalized marijuana possession, the drug is still technically illegal. That means that while it’s tolerated by law enforcement, the government need not concern itself with a full-scale system for regulation and taxation. But there are advantages to legalizing the drug; Washington and Colorado can have a hand in making the product safer while they benefit from tax revenues. Both states are in the early stages of creating systems for taxation and regulation; the Washington State Liquor Control Board released aset of standards earlier this month, while Colorado’s state legislature has passed a series of recommendations from a task force. The differences between the two states’ approaches will offer the first two case studies on how marijuana legalization can work—and what can go awry.
Both states want to prevent companies from encouraging more drug use—no repeat of Big Tobacco—and keep the drug away from minors. There’s also a looming worry about the federal government. Both states are in violation of federal law, which, according to the Supreme Court, trumps state law, but so far, there’s no word on whether the Justice Department or U.S. attorneys will decide to interfere. But Colorado and Washington will try to keep the drug within their borders, so there’s no interstate trafficking that could get the feds involved. But just how to address such problems isn’t always clear—for instance, how can the government both legalize use and tamp down on drug abuse or prevent the product form getting into the hands of teens?
The differences between Colorado and Washington come largely in the nitty-gritty of regulation and taxation. While Colorado will require venders to grow 70 percent of what they sell, for instance, Washington will forbid anyone selling the drug from growing it. The Washington system was designed to mimic . . .
During WWII, the government pleaded with farmers to grow industrial hemp, but then we won and industrial hemp again became (apparently) a dangerous product that was illegal to grow—though perfectly legal to buy as imports. The DEA has stubbornly resisted efforts to grow hemp—which is not a drug, so it’s unclear to me how the DEA should be involved at all. (It’s as if the DEA opposed the growing of cotton or corn.)
Phillip Smith reports at Drug War Chronicles:
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Monday introduced an amendment to the omnibus farm bill to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, the Huffington Post reported. The move picked up momentum the next day, when Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) said he would support, the Huffington Post reported separately.
Vote Hemp, a hemp industry group, has been urging supporters to lobby senators to add and support the amendment. There is an opening on the farm bill this year because it failed to pass last year.”For me, what’s important is that people see, particularly in our state, there’s someone buying it at Costco in Oregon,” Wyden told the Post. “I adopted what I think is a modest position, which is if you can buy it at a store in Oregon, our farmers ought to be able to make some money growing it.”
Wyden wasn’t alone. The bipartisan amendment is cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
On Tuesday, Sen. Leahy told members of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont he would support the amendment, and a Leahy aide confirmed his support to the Post.
“We are optimistic that the hemp amendment to the farm bill will pass and be attached,” Tom Murphy, the national outreach coordinator for Vote Hemp, told the Post. “We just received word from Rural Vermont that Sen. Patrick Leahy will support the amendment.”
This week’s moves come after McConnell tried and failed last week to get the amendment added to the farm bill. Now, momentum appears to be mounting.
Currently the US mostly defines DUI as having a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. What would be the effect of reducing that to 0.05%, the standard used in most of Europe? Fortunately we have data, so an informed decision is possible. Dylan Matthews reports in the Washington Post:
Time to close your tab: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants to reduce the amount of booze you have to drink to count as a “drunk driver.”
Currently, the threshold is set at a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent, as a result of a transportation bill signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, which stated that states had to adopt the 0.08 threshold by 2004 or else have their highway funding revoked.
But in a new report, the NTSB argues that this threshold is too high, and that it should be reduced further to 0.05. For reference, the average woman weighing 165 pounds would have to consume three beers to top 0.05, four to top 0.08, and five to top 0.10 (change that to four, five and six for the average man weighing 195 pounds).
It’s unlikely that this change will happen any time soon. The NTSB first recommended lowering the threshold from 0.10 to 0.08 in 1982. Utah, which has a large Mormon teetotaling population, adopted the new standard the next year, but by the time the federal government adopted the standard in 2000, only 18 states and the District of Columbia had followed suit. Passing the federal standard took some political heavy lifting on Clinton’s part, and that was after decades of lobbying from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups for the new standard. So don’t expect the 0.05 standard to get by too easily.
But leaving political plausibility to the side, is the 0.05 standard a good idea? There’s some evidence to suggest that reducing the threshold for drunk driving can save lives:
The 0.08 switch worked
One way to evaluate that would be to see whether the national switch to the 0.08 standard made a difference in terms of traffic deaths and injuries. There was considerable research before the bill was passed predicting that it would. Perhaps the most notable study, a 1996 paper in the American Journal of Public Health by Boston University’s Ralph Hingson, Timothy Heeren and Michael Winter, compared states that had voluntarily adopted the 0.08 limit to nearby states that had not.They found that states that had adopted the limit experienced a 16 percent decline in the share of fatal car crashes that involved a fatally injured driver whose BAC was 0.08 or above, relative to states that hadn’t adopted the limit. They concluded that the lower standard would, if adopted nationally, probably prevent 500 to 600 fatal crashes a year. A 2000 study by the same authors found similar effects for states that had recently adopted the new standard, estimating that national adoption would save 400 to 500 lives a year (a lower number because more states were already on board).
A 2001 study by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration researchers investigating the 1997 implementation of the 0.08 standard in Illinois found similar results. They built a model to predict the share of fatalities where drivers had positive BACs, and compared its predictions to what actually happened in 1997, 1998 and 1999. They found that the new limit caused a sudden break with previous patterns: . . .
Continue reading. Of course, the last thing that Congress is concerned about is saving lives: that ranks extremely low in Congressional priorities. Plus most of Congress cannot follow a scientific argument.
Fascinating. Lindsay Abrams in The Atlantic:
PROBLEM: “Marijuana use is associated with an acute increase in caloric intake,” goes the clinical jargon for popular lore. Still despite eating more while high (by some measures, over 600 extra calories per day), marijuana users’ extra intake doesn’t seem to be reflected in increased BMI. Indeed, studies have identified a reduced prevalence of obesity in the pot smoking community.METHODOLOGY: Researchers at the University of Nebraska, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of over 4,600 adults. About 12 percent of the participants self-identified as current marijuana users, and another 42 percent reported having used the drug in the past. The participants were tested for various measures of blood sugar control: their fasting insulin and glucose levels; insulin resistance; cholesterol levels; and waist circumference.
RESULTS: Current marijuana users had significantly smaller waist circumference than participants who had never used marijuana, even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, tobacco and alcohol use, and physical activity levels. They also had higher levels of HDL (“good cholesterol“). The most significant differences between those who smoked marijuana and those who never or no longer did was that current smokers’ insulin levels were reduced by 16 percent and their insulin resistance (a condition in which the body has trouble absorbing glucose from the bloodstream) was reduced by 17 percent.
People who had previously used marijuana, but not in the past thirty days, tended to have similar outcomes, but to a much lesser degree. In addition, none of these measures were impacted by how much marijuana people reported smoking.
IMPLICATIONS: Although they’re not sure exactly how it happens, write the authors, these findings suggest that marijuana somehow works to improve insulin control, regulating body weight and perhaps explaining why marijuana users have a lower incidence of diabetes. Adding to the big questions — “can weed can treat obesity?” and “marijuana makes you skinny?!” — is the possibility that marijuana might be useful in helping people to manage their blood sugar.
The full study, “The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance among US Adults,” is published in The American Journal of Medicine.
Nick Gillespie in The Daily Beast:
While a high school student at Honolulu’s elite Punahou School, Barack Obama was a high-flying member of a pot-smoking, party-hearty crew that called itself “the Choom Gang.” As biographer David Maraniss revealed in last year’s Barack Obama: The Story the future president “had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted ‘Intercepted!,’ and took an extra hit.”
In his current trip to meet with Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, Obama will once again be talking about illegal drugs and interceptions—and he will almost certainly continue his long habit of bogarting other people’s joints. As CNN summarizes it, one of the “key issues” of the trip is to strengthen efforts to stop the flow of pot, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other drugs from Mexico into the United States.
Despite thinly sourced stories by Obama boosters that the president in his second term “will pivot to the drug war” that he privately considers a “failure,” there’s every reason to believe any new initiatives coming out of this Mexico trip will disappoint the liberals, libertarians, and smattering of conservatives who took Barack Obama seriously when he questioned longstanding drug policies.
Once upon a time, Obama seemed to entertain significant reforms to laws and practices that have had no appreciable effect on the availability or use of illegal drugs but have cost trillions of dollars, swelled state and federal prison populations, and increased black-market violence in the United States and Mexico.
When running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama said, “We need to rethink how we are operating in the drug wars and I think currently we are not doing a good job.” In 2006, while on a book tour for The Audacity of Hope and testing the waters of a presidential run, he was comfortable enough discussing his personal experiences to joke, “I inhaled frequently…that was the whole point.” In 2008, he said that he wouldn’t use federal resources to target medical marijuana providers and users in states that had made the stuff legal—a promise reiterated by Attorney General Eric Holder shortly after taking office in 2009.
Yet for all that, Obama has governed not merely as a standard-issue White House drug warrior but as a particularly hard-headed and hard-hearted one. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and polls routinely show 70 percent to 80 percent of Americans support the stuff, but the Obama administration has actually outpaced the Bush administration when it comes to dispensary raids. As my Reason colleague Mike Riggs has reported, the Obama administration has also continued or expanded programs that funnel billions of dollars to oppressive drug-war operations in Asia and Mexico (where the results have included “multiple reports of forced disappearances by the army, navy, and police.”)
In several public settings, including a 2009 online town hall, Obama literally laughed off questions of marijuana legalization before emphatically stating that taxing and regulating weed was out of the question: “The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow the economy.” The president’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, continues to insist that “legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary.” . . .
Continue reading. What does Obama stand for? What constituency is he working to serve?
Does a chicken have lips? Christie Thompson in ProPublica:
When the Obama administration released its2013 Drug Control Strategy recently, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske called it a “21st century” approach to drug policy. “It should be a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue,” he said.
The latest plan builds on Obama’s initial strategy outlined in 2010. Obama said then the U.S. needed “a new direction in drug policy,” and that “a well-crafted strategy is only as successful as its implementation.” Many reform advocates were hopeful the appointment of former Seattle Police Chief Kerlikowske as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy signaled a shift in the long-lasting “war on drugs.”
But a government report released a day after the latest proposal questioned the office’s impact so far.
“As of March 2013, GAO’s analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results are available, one shows progress and four show no progress,” the report by the Government Accountability Office found. For instance, the GAO noted that there’s actually been an increase in HIV transmissions among drug users and drug-related deaths, as well as no difference in the prevalence of drug use among teens.
Many public health experts say the administration deserves credit for increasing access to drug treatment. But others say despite an increase in funding for rehab, the administration has continued to push programs and policies built to punish drug users.
As the administration lays out its latest plan on a new approach to drugs, here’s look at what’s in it, and what they’ve done so far.
“Break the cycle of drug use, crime, delinquency and incarceration”
“While smart law enforcement efforts will always play a vital role in protecting communities from drug-related crime and violence,” the latest strategy says, “we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.”
But overall, the government spends roughly the same proportion of the drug policy budget on law enforcement now as was spent during Bush’s final years in office. In Obama’s 2014 budget proposal, 38 percent is allocated for domestic drug law enforcement, while another 20 percent would be spent to crack down on drugs along U.S. borders and abroad.
The Obama administration has also renewed funding for controversial programs like theJustice Assistance Grant program, formerly known as Byrne Grants, which had been cut under President Bush. The funding created local drug task forces, which critics say were quota-driven and increased corruption and misconduct. Budget-minded conservatives like the Heritage Foundation also argued the grants hadn’t led to a decrease in crime.States like California and New York have used some funding from the program for treatment instead of enforcement.
The administration has made progress when it comes to . . .
The ending seems important:
. . . Obama has overseen far more medical marijuana raids than under the Bush administration. For states that have legalized pot, Attorney General Eric Holder said he intends to “enforce federal law”, though Obama said he had “bigger fish to fry.” The Department of Justice said it is still reviewing the latest laws.
Obama, and for that matter Eric Holder as well, promised that the Federal government would not prosecute medical marijuana provided the use was in accordance with state laws. It turns out to be a lie, pure and simple, and I’m sory of angry he gets away with such blatant misbehavior, particularly when he holds others to a high standard. (I understand that this is only one of an entire series of broken promises: not to vote in favor of telecom immunity, to have an open and transparent administration, to close Guantánamo—and while he never promised not to persecute whistleblowers to the ends of the earth, I think that would fall under “transparent administration.”)
At any rate Nicole Flatow in ThinkProgess discusses the latest overtly broken promise:
In several West Coast cities, federal officials are initiating a new round of crackdowns against dispensaries that are seemingly complying with state medical marijuana law. In Seattle, 11 dispensaries received shutdown warnings. In San Francisco, almost half of the city’s small number of state-licensed dispensaries received similar warnings. And in neighboring cities like San Jose, several others were warned.
The cease-and-desist letters from the Drug Enforcement Administration warn harsh federal punishment, including as much as 40 years in jail even for landlords that rent to marijuana dispensaries. They also warn that they if properties do not cease marijuana activity within 30 days, the agency will pursue what’s known as civil forfeiture, in which the federal government threatens to seize the facility and other assets if the marijuana business continues. For those who are renting space, this means the landlord is effectively asked to evict its marijuana tenant — a process that has proved difficult, as state and federal courts handling eviction proceedings resist this federal intervention.
This is not the first round of crackdowns in any of these cities, which have forced shutdowns ofdispensaries considered “models” in their community, or festered in prolonged legal battles. But these crackdowns are particularly symbolic, because they come en masse, in the wake of ballot initiatives in November to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in two states, and because they are being executed post-sequester, even as prominent law enforcement officials like Attorney General Eric Holder have warned that the blunt cuts threaten public safety. Polls since the November ballot initiatives found that a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and that an even greater percentage think the states should decide whether marijuana is legal.
DEA spokeswoman Jodie Underwood said the letters went out to those who were within 1,000 feet of a school or other prohibited area. She said because the feds can’t go after all dispensaries, they target those that are closer to sensitive areas as a means of enforcing federal drug law. “DEA enforces federal drug laws, and these letters have nothing to do with any pending legislation or state law,“ Underwood told the Seattle Times. “As we continue to identify locations, additional letters will be sent out.”
And while the crackdowns have focused on those alleged to be less than 1,000 feet from prohibited areas, dispensary owners say it’s almost impossible to keep within that distance in dense city settings. Even those who have been meticulous about measuring the distance and cited their facilities right outside of the 1,000-feet limit say they were targeted this week.
Particularly noteworthy is that in spite of San Francisco’s size and culture, the city now hosts only about 15 permitted medical marijuana dispensaries that have been deemed in compliance with state and local law (some others closed during earlier rounds of crackdowns). Compare that to Seattle and San Jose, which both have more than 100. Los Angeles has several hundred. Out of San Francisco’s 15 dispensaries, seven received letters this week — a move that could have the effect of eviscerating the local industry of regulated dispensaries. While an official White House policy on Washington and Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws is still pending, the DEA’s current approach suggests that even state law-abiding recreational dispensaries may be subject to the same type of crackdown, in the absence of federal legislation to exempt those states.
I have to say, this is fucked up.
Timothy Leary famously used psychedelics with prisoners to try to encourage a positive change in worldview, the measure being the rate of recidivism of treated vs. untreated prisoners. (More here on that experiment.) Now a proposal is being made to the Pentagon to use MDMA (Ecstasy) to help treat PTSD. Greg Miller reports in Wired Science:
For Rick Doblin, being invited to the Pentagon was an emotional experience. Growing up in the 60s, Doblinembraced the counterculture and protested the Vietnam war and the military-industrial complex behind it.
Yesterday he was at the Pentagon trying to persuade military medical officials to permit a clinical trial that would test MDMA, the active ingredient in the party drug Ecstasy, in conjunction with psychotherapy, in active duty soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There’s been this history of conflict between psychedelics and the military, and we’re trying to say that’s not the only vision,” Doblin said. “There’s a way for us to come together.”
Doblin is the founder and director of the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies(MAPS), which is trying to get drugs like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA approved for medical use. MAPS has already sponsored small clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, first in survivors of sexual abuse and assault, and now in military veterans, police, and firefighters.
Doblin spoke with Wired about his military mission and what it says about shifting attitudes towards psychedelic drugs.
Wired: What were you doing at the Pentagon?
Rick Doblin: I am hoping to convince them to back a study with active duty soldiers with PTSD. But I’m not asking them to fund it. MAPS will fund a demonstration project. If it works, I’d hope they will fund future studies. This was our second meeting to talk about some sort of collaboration, and the meeting went really well.
Wired: Was it strange for you to be there?
Doblin: Just walking into the Pentagon and being invited to the Pentagon is a healing process for me personally, and I hope more broadly for society. In the 60s, society went in two directions: There was psychedelics and marijuana and anti-war protestors, and there was alcohol and beer and pro-Vietnam supporters. But now the war on drugs is losing steam, and the culture is coming together again after 45 years.
But I don’t want to underestimate the resistance. When Michael Mithoefer [a South Carolina psychiatrist who has led two PTSD trials sponsored by MAPS] came to the Pentagon with me the first time, he shaved his ponytail off. The last time he did that was when he did his residency interviews after medical school. So we’re trying to do our part not to create countercultural flak, and I think that’s really key.
Wired: The fact that they’re even considering this seems like an indication of how things have changed.
Doblin: For so long the only story that’s been told has been exclusively one of risk. It’s been told for marijuana, MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin, and the risk has been exaggerated. Now that we’ve been able to start getting some evidence on the benefits, it changes people’s calculus. And the benefits are coming in areas that people are more worried about than they are about drugs, like end of life anxiety [in terminal cancer patients] and PTSD in veterans. We’re purposely choosing conditions that will resonate with people.
Wired: What benefits have you seen so far in the study with veterans? . . .
And here’s another article by Greg Miller on psychedelic medicine.
Phillip Smith reports the level of activity at the state level for reform of marijuana laws:
In the wake of the marijuana legalization victories in Colorado and Washington last November, and buoyed by a series of national public opinion polls showing support for pot legalization going over the tipping point, marijuana reform legislation is being introduced at state houses across the land at levels never seen before.
While the mere fact that a bill has been introduced is no guarantee it’s going to pass, that such bills are being introduced in record numbers speaks to how far the marijuana reform movement has come. According to a legislative activity web page maintained by the Marijuana Policy Project, decriminalization bills have been introduced in 10 states and the dependency of the Northern Mariana Islands this year, while outright legalization bills have been introduced in 11 states and the dependency of Puerto Rico.(This article does not review current medical marijuana legislation, which will be the subject of an additional report. In the meanwhile, our Medical Marijuana Update each week provides extensive info on legislation and other developments in the issue.)
Some of the legalization and decrim bills are dead already (see below), but others remain alive. While passage of a legalization bill this year remains a long shot, decriminalization bills in some states may fare better.
NORML founder, erstwhile executive director and current legal counsel Keith Stroup has been fighting for marijuana law reform for more than 40 years. It’s never looked better, he said.
“I wasn’t sure I’d live long enough to see this happening, even though the demographics are on our side,” he said. “A lot of these legislatures, though, are still playing around with medical marijuana, when the truth is voters are ready to go much further, probably for decriminalization and maybe for legalization. But after we won Colorado and Washington, you can see the increased confidence a number of legislators have demonstrated, and there’s only going to be more of that.”
Karen O’Keefe is director of state policies for MPP. She hasn’t been at it as long as Stroup, but she has a solid decade of reform efforts under her belt, and she, too, said things were definitely looking up.
“When I first started at MPP, I don’t think a single state had a tax and regulate bill, and now we have 11 states, and probably Ohio coming on board, too, with tax and regulate. People are realizing it’s a serious issue with majority support, and legislatures are starting to catch up,” said O’Keefe.
“We first saw majority support in the Gallup poll a couple of years ago, but there wasn’t nearly as much activity as this year,” she said. “Having two states approve marijuana legalization with solid majorities made it seem real. Colorado and Washington were initiative states, and the first medical marijuana states were initiative states, too. Once the people have led the way, legislators begin to realize it’s a popular issue that makes sense and they start to act on it.”
Here’s what’s going on in the state legislatures (excerpted with edits from the aforementioned MPP web page), with further discussion following:
Marijuana Legalization Bills
Alabama – House Bill 550, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, would allow adults 21 and older to possess or grow limited amounts of marijuana. It would also allow a regulated and taxed marijuana industry, in addition to setting up a medical marijuana program. The bill was referred to the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
Hawaii – Speaker Joe Souki introduced House Bill 150 and House Bill 699, which would have allowed the taxed and regulated sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older. Both bills would also have allowed adults to cultivate marijuana in a locked, secure facility. On February 12, the House Judiciary Committee deferred action on HB 699, killing the bill for the year. Because of legislative deadlines, the other tax-and-regulate bill also will not be able to advance in 2013, which is the first year of Hawaii’s biennial legislative session.
Maine – Rep. Diane Russell’s LD 1229 would allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana. It would also set up a system to license and regulate growers, infused product makers, retail stores, and labs. LD 1229 would impose a $50 per ounce tax on marijuana at the wholesale level. It was referred to the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety on March 26.
Maryland – . . .