Archive for the ‘Drug laws’ Category
Joel Warner has an interesting article in Motherboard:
Geoffrey Guy stood out when he began attending conferences of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington, DC, in the mid to late 1990s. The stout British gentleman, dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, was hard to miss among the other attendees dressed in tie-dye shirts and psychedelic parkas, recalled Allen St. Pierre, then NORML’s deputy national director.
But while he might not have fit in, Guy, a doctor in his early 40s who’d already made millions by founding a UK-based pharmaceutical company, was eager to learn all he could at the events about medical marijuana.
“He was like a dry sponge who desperately wanted to be thrown in a bucket of water,” said St. Pierre, who recently resigned from his 11-year stint as NORML’s executive director to pursue private-sector opportunities.
What Guy absorbed at those conferences and other fact-finding excursions became the basis for GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK drug company he founded with fellow doctor Brian Whittle in 1998 that has now become a major player in the legal marijuana industry by developing Sativex, a groundbreaking marijuana-derived drug sold in more than a dozen countries worldwide, and Epidiolex, a cannabis-based seizure medication that’s on a fast track to become the first cannabis-based drug approved in the United States.
While much has been written on GW’s groundbreaking origins, part of the story is missing, according to St. Pierre: The close ties the nascent drug company forged with some of the biggest and most colorful names in the US marijuana movement.
Early GW investors included the late Peter Lewis, the billionaire former chairman of Progressive Insurance who donated millions to the Marijuana Policy Project and other cannabis reform efforts, and Don Wirtshafter, a longtime marijuana activist who wasremoved from NORML’s board of directors in 2000 after allegations surfaced of shady dealings between NORML and High Times magazine.
At the same time, said St. Pierre, GW employed the services of reform-minded scholars, writers and lawyers, including celebrated marijuana seed collector David Watson, pioneering cannabis scientist Ethan Russo and marijuana research and policy guru Paul Armentano, who had left his position at NORML in 1999 and later that year did short-term freelance contract work for GW, drafting content for various sections of their website. (Armentano, now NORML’s deputy director, confirmed these details but declined to comment further on the matter.)
GW also boasted an unusual champion: Irvin Rosenfeld, a stockbroker who is one of only two surviving patients to receive medical marijuana from the federal government thanks to the little-known Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. “I started supporting them and buying their stock,” said Rosenfeld of GW. “I wasn’t calling my regular clients on this. I was going to NORML conferences and other conferences and saying, ‘This company, I think it has potential.’”
Thanks largely to Rosenfeld’s efforts, by 2001 St. Pierre said 12 of NORML’s 19 board members had invested in GW, including several who’d sunk more money into the British company than they’d ever donated to the marijuana organization. The situation triggered some of the first discussions the board ever had on whether members should be allowed to invest in cannabis-related companies.
“There is no way you have GW Pharmaceuticals without a bizarre and interesting cast of characters from the marijuana movement,” said St. Pierre, who never invested in GW. “When [GW] started, they promoted this really grand notion that you could make money and prove marijuana was a safe and viable drug. You would be doing well and doing good, in terms of the legalization of marijuana.”
But more than a decade later, as GW has become a stock market darling and medical marijuana has become a nationwide industry, did the hopes of these marijuana advocates turned pharmaceutical investors come to pass? Are pharmaceutical interests, sensing financial potential, pushing for cannabis reforms? Or is Big Pharma, wary of new competition, working to stop marijuana legalization in its tracks?
There’s reason for pharmaceutical interest to be supportive of marijuana reforms. After all, excitement has been growing about the prospect of cannabis-based drugs.
According to the cannabis advisory firm Viridian Capital Advisors, . . .
Read the whole thing. Medical marijuana’s impact on profits for companies that sell pain relievers seems to be substantial, now that we have figures for 17 states. And medical marijuana is simply regular marijuana taken for medical reasons, so it seems not unlikely that pharmaceutical companies might want to get the benefits of selling marijuana-based medicines while keeping marijuana itself illegal.
Later in the article:
Some people believe it’s not just longstanding pharmaceutical interests that oppose legal marijuana; they say manufacturers of cannabis-based drugs like GW are also trying to restrict whole plant marijuana reforms. That includes Jody Mitchell, who helped pass a law legalizing low-THC medical cannabis oil in Alabama this year. According to Mitchell, at a hearing for the bill, Shannon Murphy, executive director of the Alabama chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national anti-legalization group, told lawmakers she worked for GW. While Murphy apparently later amended her statement to note that she wasn’t paid by the drug company, to Mitchell, the message was clear: “GW wants to corner the market.”
Liz Essley Whyte reports at the Center for Public Integrity:
When Secretary of State Michele Reagan put her stamp of approval on petitions bearing 177,000 signatures in Phoenix Thursday, Arizona became the fifth state to schedule a ballot measure for November on legalizing recreational marijuana — joining California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts.
Each of the measures calls for making it legal for people over age 21 to possess small amounts of pot, taxing the drug and allowing regulated stores to sell it. Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota will vote this fall on legalizing medical marijuana. And Oklahoma may yet join the fray.
The activity is a sign of just how much momentum the movement has picked up in only a few years. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass ballot measures making the sale and use of pot legal. Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia followed in 2014. Twenty-five states and D.C. have medical marijuana laws, and others have decriminalized small amounts of the drug.
As the movement has grown, the politics behind marijuana is also undergoing a subtle shift. Though traditional pro-pot activists have given the bulk of the money supporting the five recreational pot ballot measure campaigns — roughly $7 million of the $11.6 million raised so far — more and more of the backers are coming from the new but growing marijuana industry. Two-thirds of the big donors — those giving at least $5,000 to the campaigns for this fall’s measures — have direct financial stakes in the weed business, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state records.
A new group of players
Indeed, as legalized pot grows in state after state, so has the industrial complex around it. This year, though, marks the first time this new legal pot industry has significantly contributed to making itself bigger. Now the movement’s campaigns are starting to resemble most other big-money ballot measure fights, with business-minded donors looking to protect or enhance their profits.
“It has gone from an activist influence and is in transition to an industry influence,” said Joe Brezny, who is directing Nevada’s legalization campaign and also co-founded the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association. “The industry is required to step up more now.”
In Nevada, for example, at least 39 out of 47 major donors — who gave at least $5,000 each to the campaign supporting legal weed — have financial interests in expanding the legal marijuana market. They contributed $625,000 of the more than $1 million that the pro-pot political committee has raised so far. Among them: more than a dozen existing medical marijuana dispensaries and five beer distributors, which would have the first shot at being the state’s recreational pot dispensaries and distributors, respectively.
Similarly, in Arizona, where a pending court case could . . .
Unintended consequences abound. One example: the legalization of marijuana forcing the cartels to look to other products to make money, and thus a heroin epidemic. Don Winslow has an excellent article in Esquire on this. But Joel Warner points out another bad side-effect of marijuana legalization: making it illegal to grow your own cannabis. (We went through this with beer: for a long time, it was illegal to brew your own beer, but that law was changed. I think it’s always been legal to make your own wine. And of course it’s legal to have your own garden (depending on what you plant, apparently).)
Warner’s article in Motherboard begins:
Marisa Kiser has put up with a lot since her son Ezra was born four years ago. There were the seizures that began three days after birth and escalated until his Ezra’s body was ravaged by 500 attacks a day. There were the various pharmaceuticals her doctors prescribed to help with his pediatric epilepsy but instead might have triggered nearly fatal grand mal seizures and left Ezra brain damaged, unable to hold up his head and legally blind. There was the decision in July 2013 to leave behind the world Marisa, a lifelong Southern Baptist, knew in South Carolina and move to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to try a long-shot solution: cannabis oil that seemed to be sparking miraculous recoveries in kids just like Ezra.
There was the morning in February 2014, after the oils had left Ezra nearly seizure free for months, when the two-year-old woke up screaming and didn’t stop for seven months. Uncontrollable muscle spasms bent his spine backwards at a sickening angle and snapped both his femurs like kindling. There were the sky-high daily doses of phenobarbital, morphine, and other narcotics that didn’t help. There were the doctors who told Marisa that they’d reached a point where if her son stopped breathing, they weren’t going to resuscitate him.
There was the moment last year when, after Marisa had found that 750 milligrams of high-THC oil a day stopped the spasms and pain but the $2,000 in marijuana she needed to buy each month to cover that far exceeded what she was paid as Ezra’s stay-out-home certified nursing assistant, that she decided to grow her own medicine. There are the 30 to 40 hours a week she now spends in her locked basement grow room, tending to the 72 finicky marijuana plants Ezra’s doctor determined he’s allowed to have because of his severe condition and carefully extracting the results into just enough pure cannabis oil to meet her son’s needs. Marisa has put up with all of this because Ezra is coming back to her. He can see again, he is regaining some control of his body, he can tell her “yes” by looking at her face.
“He is in there,” said Marisa, sitting in her Colorado Springs ranch house and gazing at Ezra, strapped into a pediatric wheelchair next to her and following the sound of her voice with his big, dark eyes.
But when she heard this spring that Colorado Springs City Council had made growing more than 12 cannabis plants in your house a criminal offense–that was too much. Never mind that even DEA Head Chuck Rosenberg just conceded marijuana is not a serious hazard, telling NPR that his agency’s decision today not to reschedule marijuana “isn’t based on danger,” but instead on whether the FDA has determined it’s safe and effective medicine. According to Colorado Springs officials, the risk of Marisa growing the same substances she can now buy legally all over town was enough that she could go to jail and lose not just Ezra, but her other two children, over it.
“I have already given up everything to move here, to do everything legally to treat my son, and now my family is at risk,” she said.
Stories like Marisa’s are becoming increasingly common. While the DEA’s announcement today that it will be expanding marijuana research access is one more example of how, bit by bit, cannabis prohibition is coming to an end, one population that isn’t seeing the benefits of such shifts are those who grow their own. . .
An interview with David Simon (author of The Wire) by Bill Kelle in The Marshall Project:
David Simon is Baltimore’s best-known chronicler of life on the hard streets. He worked for The Baltimore Sun city desk for a dozen years, wrote “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” (1991) and with former homicide detective Ed Burns co-wrote “THE CORNER: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF AN INNER-CITY NEIGHBORHOOD”1 (1997), which Simon adapted into an HBO miniseries. He is the creator, executive producer and head writer of the HBO television series “The Wire” (2002–2008). Simon is a member of The Marshall Project’s advisory board. He spoke with Bill Keller on Tuesday.
BK: What do people outside the city need to understand about what’s going on there — the death of Freddie Gray and the response to it?
DS: I guess there’s an awful lot to understand and I’m not sure I understand all of it. The part that seems systemic and connected is that the drug war — which Baltimore waged as aggressively as any American city — was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community and the police department. Probable cause was destroyed by the drug war. It happened in stages, but even in the time that I was a police reporter, which would have been the early 80s to the early 90s, the need for police officers to address the basic rights of the people they were policing in Baltimore was minimized. It was done almost as a plan by the local government, by police commissioners and mayors, and it not only made everybody in these poor communities vulnerable to the most arbitrary behavior on the part of the police officers, it taught police officers how not to distinguish in ways that they once did.
Probable cause from a Baltimore police officer has always been a tenuous thing. It’s a tenuous thing anywhere, but in Baltimore, in these high crime, heavily policed areas, it was even worse. When I came on, there were jokes about, “You know what probable cause is on Edmondson Avenue? You roll by in your radio car and the guy looks at you for two seconds too long.” Probable cause was whatever you thought you could safely lie about when you got into district court.
Then at some point when cocaine hit and the city lost control of a lot of corners and the violence was ratcheted up, there was a real panic on the part of the government. And they basically decided that even that loose idea of what the Fourth Amendment was supposed to mean on a street level, even that was too much. Now all bets were off. Now you didn’t even need probable cause. The city council actually passed an ordinance that declared a certain amount of real estate to be drug-free zones. They literally declared maybe a quarter to a third of inner city Baltimore off-limits to its residents, and said that if you were loitering in those areas you were subject to arrest and search. Think about that for a moment: It was a permission for the police to become truly random and arbitrary and to clear streets any way they damn well wanted.
How does race figure into this? It’s a city with a black majority and now a black mayor and black police chief, a substantially black police force.
What did Tom Wolfe write about cops? They all become Irish? That’s a line in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” When Ed and I reported “The Corner,” it became clear that the most brutal cops in our sector of the Western District were black. The guys who would really kick your ass without thinking twice were black officers. If I had to guess and put a name on it, I’d say that at some point, the drug war was as much a function of class and social control as it was of racism. I think the two agendas are inextricably linked, and where one picks up and the other ends is hard to say. But when you have African-American officers beating the dog-piss out of people they’re supposed to be policing, and there isn’t a white guy in the equation on a street level, it’s pretty remarkable. But in some ways they were empowered. Back then, even before the advent of cell phones and digital cameras — which have been transforming in terms of documenting police violence — back then, you were much more vulnerable if you were white and you wanted to wail on somebody. You take out your nightstick and you’re white and you start hitting somebody, it has a completely different dynamic than if you were a black officer. It was simply safer to be brutal if you were black, and I didn’t know quite what to do with that fact other than report it. It was as disturbing a dynamic as I could imagine. Something had been removed from the equation that gave white officers — however brutal they wanted to be, or however brutal they thought the moment required — it gave them pause before pulling out a nightstick and going at it. Some African American officers seemed to feel no such pause.
What the drug war did, though, was make this all a function of social control. This was simply about keeping the poor down, and that war footing has been an excuse for everybody to operate outside the realm of procedure and law. And the city willingly and legally gave itself over to that, beginning with the drug-free zones and with the misuse of what are known on the street in the previous generation as ‘humbles.’ A humble is a cheap, inconsequential arrest that nonetheless gives the guy a night or two in jail before he sees a court commissioner. You can arrest people on “failure to obey,” it’s a humble. Loitering is a humble. These things were used by police officers going back to the ‘60s in Baltimore. It’s the ultimate recourse for a cop who doesn’t like somebody who’s looking at him the wrong way. And yet, back in the day, there was, I think, more of a code to it. If you were on a corner, you knew certain things would catch you a humble. The code was really ornate, and I’m not suggesting in any way that the code was always justifiable in any sense, but there was a code.
In some districts, if you called a Baltimore cop a motherfucker in the 80s and even earlier, that was not generally a reason to go to jail. If the cop came up to clear your corner and you’re moving off the corner, and out of the side of your mouth you call him a motherfucker, you’re not necessarily going to jail if that cop knows his business and played according to code. Everyone gets called a motherfucker, that’s within the realm of general complaint. But the word “asshole” — that’s how ornate the code was — asshole had a personal connotation. You call a cop an asshole, you’re going hard into the wagon in Baltimore. At least it used to be that way. Who knows if those gradations or nuances have survived the cumulative brutalities of the drug war. I actually don’t know if anything resembling a code even exists now.
For example, you look at the people that Baltimore was beating down in that list in THAT STORY THE SUN PUBLISHED LAST YEAR2 about municipal payouts for police brutality, and it shows no discernable or coherent pattern. There’s no code at all, it’s just, what side of the bed did I get up on this morning and who looked at me first? And that is a function of people failing to learn how to police. When you are beating on 15-year-old kids and elderly retirees – and you aren’t even managing to put even plausible misdemeanor charges on some arrestees, you’ve lost all professional ethos.
The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was MARTIN O’MALLEY3. He destroyed police work in some real respects. Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart. Everyone thinks I’ve got a hard-on for Marty because we battled over “The Wire,” whether it was bad for the city, whether we’d be filming it in Baltimore. But it’s been years, and I mean, that’s over. I shook hands with him on the train last year and we buried it. And, hey, if he’s the Democratic nominee, I’m going to end up voting for him. It’s not personal and I admire some of his other stances on the death penalty and gay rights. But to be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.
Originally, early in his tenure, O’Malley brought Ed Norris in as commissioner and Ed knew his business. He’d been a criminal investigator and commander in New York and he knew police work. And so, for a time, real crime suppression and good retroactive investigation was emphasized, and for the Baltimore department, it was kind of like a fat man going on a diet. Just leave the French fries on the plate and you lose the first ten pounds. The initial crime reductions in Baltimore under O’Malley were legit and O’Malley deserved some credit.
But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper.
How? There were two initiatives. First, the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail – forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner. And tens of thousands of people signed that form.
My own crew members [on “The Wire”] used to get picked up trying to come from the set at night. We’d wrap at like one in the morning, and we’d be in the middle of East Baltimore and they’d start to drive home, they’d get pulled over. My first assistant director — Anthony Hemingway — ended up at city jail. No charge. Driving while black, and then trying to explain that he had every right to be where he was, and he ended up onEAGER STREET4. Charges were non-existent, or were dismissed en masse. Martin O’Malley’s logic was pretty basic: If we clear the streets, they’ll stop shooting at each other. We’ll lower the murder rate because there will be no one on the corners.
The city eventually got sued by the ACLU and had to settle, but O’Malley defends the wholesale denigration of black civil rights to this day. Never mind what it did to your jury pool: now every single person of color in Baltimore knows the police will lie — and that’s your jury pool for when you really need them for when you have, say, a felony murder case. But what it taught the police department was that they could go a step beyond the manufactured probable cause, and the drug-free zones and the humbles – the targeting of suspects through less-than-constitutional procedure. Now, the mass arrests made clear, we can lock up anybody, we don’t have to figure out who’s committing crimes, we don’t have to investigate anything, we just gather all the bodies — everybody goes to jail. And yet people were scared enough of crime in those years that O’Malley had his supporters for this policy, council members and community leaders who thought, They’re all just thugs.
But they weren’t. They were anybody who was slow to clear the sidewalk or who stayed seated on their front stoop for too long when an officer tried to roust them. Schoolteachers, Johns Hopkins employees, film crew people, kids, retirees, everybody went to the city jail. If you think I’m exaggerating look it up. It was an amazing performance by the city’s mayor and his administration.
The situation you described has been around for a while. Do you have a sense of why the Freddie Gray death has been such a catalyst for the response we’ve seen in the last 48 hours? . . .
Gideon Haigh reports in the Guardian:
On Good Friday this year, Dr Bronwyn King and her husband were staying with her parents in the quiet coastal town of Torquay in Victoria, Australia. They started watching a movie – although King, as she often is, was only half-there, busily pecking at her laptop.
“AXA – news …” said the subject line of the email from a French insurance executive. “In confidentiality,” it read: “we have decided to divest tobacco … If you can, let’s discuss further. Thanks for your help.” King felt momentarily giddy. It was six years since she had sent the first of tens of thousands of hopeful, courteous but determined emails with such ends in mind. She had already persuaded 35 Australian superannuation funds, as Australians call their private pension funds, controlling nearly half the total funds under management to shun tobacco. AXA, the world’s second biggest insurer, was her greatest success yet. But she passed up a celebratory glass of wine: there was work to do, on the details and timing of the announcement. When her family turned in, they left King, as they often do, at her laptop.
Two months later at Geneva’s plush Beau Rivage Hotel, King looked out over a sea of faces, mostly delegates gathered for the World Health Assembly, and introduced her “new best friend”, AXA boss Thomas Buberl. AXA, he said, would forthwith sell €200m of tobacco stocks: there was applause. It would also, he added, run down €1.6bn of tobacco corporate bonds. There was a hush. Had he just said billion?
In an old war, a new front had opened. Tobacco kills six million people a year: the McKinsey Global Institute deems it humankind’s greatest self-generated social burden, ahead even of war and terrorism. Yet as an issue, observes King’s colleague Clare Payne, it has receded in public consciousness: “There’s this tendency for people to think: ‘Oh we’re done with tobacco, aren’t we? Everyone knows. It’s just a choice thing for people now.’ When we’re actually in an epidemic – history’s first epidemic of a non-communicable disease.”
To restore it to the headlines, then, is no mean feat. “She’s a star,” says Cary Adams, CEO of the Union for International Cancer Control, who just over a year ago put King in charge of the Global Task Force for Tobacco Divestment. It’s not a mantle that rests easily with King. All the 41-year-old oncologist at Melbourne’s Epworth Healthcare feels she’s done is take to heart her hippocratic oath, especially the injunction to “do no harm”.
Into her mid-20s, King’s career had seemed mapped out. At Fintona Girls’ School in the Melbourne suburb of Balwyn, she had been a star junior swimmer, thriving on the daily pre-dawn starts and unrelenting competition, climaxing in medals at national championships and a victory in the Pier-to-Pub, a famous open water race in Australia. On completing medical studies in 1999, she became an Australian swimming team doctor, and weighed up specialising in sports medicine and paediatrics.
In February 2001, however, King began three months as a radiation oncology resident in the lung cancer unit of Peter MacCallum Cancer hospital. She was, she confesses, a reluctant conscript. Radiation oncology, which uses giant linear accelerators to beat back advancing cancers, is a technically and emotionally challenging field of medicine, undertaken underground for the containment of its x-ray emissions, dedicated chiefly to the very sick. And sickest of all are smokers.
For King it was an education. The five-year survival rate after diagnosis for lung cancer is 15%: her job was largely to alleviate its acute associated sufferings. Most people have an image of lung cancer sufferers propped in bed subsiding gently, maybe with a bit of a cough, possibly on oxygen. The reality is very different. In a fifth of cases, for example, lung cancer metastasises to the brain, inducing paralysis and loss of cognitive function: the patient, literally, loses their mind. Death can come violently too. One morning King arrived to find the corner of a ward absent not only its bedclothes but its curtains and furnishings. The night before a patient had essentially drowned in her own blood from a burst vessel, drenching staff in her death throes. In the room were three other terrified patients who had heard the whole thing.
Almost every interaction bore witness in some way to tobacco’s toll. Taking a history from a new female patient one day, King asked her age. “I’m 43,” the woman replied. “I’m getting quite old.” It transpired that her whole immediate family had died in their 40s from smoking-related cancers. “I had this overwhelming sense of the impact of tobacco,” King recalls. “The public did not know what was going on. They didn’t know because I was a doctor and I hadn’t known. Until I worked there. I started to wish I had a television camera with me, so people could see what I was seeing.”
But so much was out of sight for a reason – to which King was first introduced by an older patient who beckoned her from his bed, looked around furtively, and whispered: “This is because of the smoking, isn’t it?” When she said it probably was, he nodded and looked away. Here were lung cancer’s little-acknowledged secondary symptoms: disgrace and shame. Where families could be relied on to rally around sufferers from breast and prostate cancer, tension surrounded those with tobacco-related illness, who were perceived as having brought cancer on themselves. This has been an unforeseen impact of the public health campaign to scare smokers straight: in a recent survey, 30% of Australians agreed with the sentiment that lung cancer patients were less deserving of sympathy than other cancer patients. “Lung cancer has become the syphilis of the 21st century,” says the head of Peter MacCallum’s lung cancer unit, Professor David Ball. “Patients are regarded as victims of their own lack of self-control. Whereas they’re actually victims of a concerted and successful campaign by the tobacco industry to turn them into addicts.”
It was Ball, a fixture at Peter Mac since 1973, who became King’s lodestar. He instilled an . . .
Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it’s interesting.
Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Philippines last week, where he met with controversial new president Rodrigo Duterte. As you may have read, Duterte is a bit crazy. In addition to other bizarre acts, he has essentially endorsed vigilantism in his country, offering a bounty for the execution of drug dealers. An Australian news service reported this weekthat 500 people have so far been extrajudicially killed by police and vigilantes. The Guardian puts the figure at over 700.
Kerry claimed to have made a vague reference to the killings: “I made it very clear that civil and human rights must be protected, even as we work together to keep our society safe.”
But Southeast Asian and Filipino news agencies are reporting that Duterte left the meeting with an assurance from Kerry that the United States will send the Philippines $32 million to help fight “drugs, terrorism, [and] crime.”
This passage from the Philippine Star quotes a Duterte spokesman about the new president’s conversation with Kerry:
Abella confirmed that Duterte had also briefed Kerry about his crackdown on drugs and crimes.
Asked if Kerry, who emphasized the need to uphold human rights in his previous engagements, was alarmed by the spate of killings in the country, Abella said: “There was no alarm that was mentioned there.”
“Although, President Duterte did mention about the way he has been handling the war against crime and especially the narcotic plague,” he added.
Pressed on what the US state secretary said about Duterte’s anti-crime and drug campaign, Abella replied: “He was listening very intently.”
Of course, that is Duterte’s account. But it seems to account with the State Department’s official line. The agency’s website makes no mention of the murders in its news releases about Kerry’s visit, nor apparently has any other U.S. government agency. Instead, the department states that “Kerry pledged U.S. willingness to provide continued assistance to the Philippine government as it works to address drug trafficking and violent extremism, and to deepen and strengthen bilateral relations across the board.”
This wouldn’t be the first time the United States has tacitly endorsed extrajudicial executions in the name of the drug war. In early 2003, the government of Thailand summarily executed thousands of suspected drug offenders over a period of just a few months. A 2007 investigation found that nearly 3,000 people were ultimately killed, only about half of which had any connection to illicit drugs. All the while, the United States was providing funding, training and assistance to Thai law enforcement. The Thai government had instituted the death penalty for drug crimes in 2001. Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Tribune reported that the United Stateshad troops in Northern Thailand to train special Thai military units in anti-drug tactics. In 2003, the year just under 3,000 people were executed, the United States gave Thailand $3.7 million in anti-drug foreign aid. In 2008, the new Thai government ramped up the drug war once again, promising a new round of executions. And the United Statescontinued to give the country millions in anti-narcotics aid.
Just last month, Indonesia executed four people for suspected drug crimes. That comes after eight executions in April 2015, and six more the previous January. The new government there has promised scores more, mostly of foreign nationals. The Indonesian executions aren’t nearly as alarming in numbers as those in the Philippines, and they’re at least occurring after some semblance of a trial. But there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about the fairness of those trials. Not to mention the general notion of executing people for merely possessing or selling drugs.
But as the advocacy group Clemency Report points out, the United States hasn’t just turned a blind eye to these executions; it has praised and rewarded the country for its anti-drug efforts. Since 2011, when it opened a new office in the country, the DEA has been actively working with Indonesia’s anti-drug police agency, providing “wide-ranging support that includes training, technical assistance, equipment, and infrastructure.” In 2013, the same year Indonesia resumed executing drug offenders, the U.S. State Department praised the country for growing more “effective” in combating drugs, and noted that “U.S. assistance has been particularly helpful.” . . .
Philip Smith reports in the Drug War Chronicles on how marijuana legalization is shaping up in California:
Twenty years ago, California led the way on weed, becoming the first state in the nation to approve medical marijuana. Now, while it’s already lost the chance to be the first to legalize recreational use, the Golden State is poised to push legal pot past the tipping point.
Although voters in Colorado and Washington first broke through the grass ceiling in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following suit in 2014, if and when Californians vote to legalize it this coming November, they will more than triple the size of the country’s legal marijuana market in one fell swoop.
It’s not a done deal until election day, of course, but the prospects are very good. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative is officially on the ballot as Proposition 64, it has cash in the bank for the campaign (more than $8 millioncollected so far), it has broad political support, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and at least four California US representatives, and it has popular support, with the latest pollshowing a healthy 60% of likely voters favor freeing the weed.
It’s also that the surfer’s paradise is riding a weed wave of its own creation. Thanks in large part to the “normalization” of the pot business that emerged out of California’s wild and wooly medical marijuana scene, the national mood about marijuana has shifted in recent years. Because of California, people could actually see marijuana come out of the shadows, with pot shops (dispensaries) selling it openly to anyone with an easily obtained doctor’s recommendation and growers turning parts of the state in pot cultivation hotbeds. And the sky didn’t fall.
At the same time, the shift in public opinion has been dramatic. According to annual Gallup polls, only a quarter of Americans supported marijuana legalization when California voted for medical marijuana in 1996, with that number gradually, but steadily, increasing to 44% in 2009, before spiking upward ever since then to sit at 58% now.
California isn’t the only state riding the wave this year — legalization will also be on the ballot in Maine and Nevada and almost certainly in Arizona and Massachusetts — but it is by far the biggest and it will help the state regain its reputation as cutting edge on social trends, while also sending a strong signal to the rest of the country, including the federal government in Washington.
But what kind of signal will it send? What will legalization look like in the Golden State? To begin, let’s look at what Prop 64 does:
- Legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants (per household) by adults 21 and over.
- Reduces most criminal penalties for remaining marijuana offenses, such as possession or cultivation over legal limits or unlicensed distribution, from felonies to misdemeanors.
- Regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana through a state-regulated licensing system.
- Bars commercial “mega-grows” (more than ½ acre indoors or 1 acre outdoors) until at least 2023, but makes provisions for licensed “microbusinesses” (grows smaller than 10,000 square feet).
- Allows for the licensing of on-site consumption premises, or “cannabis cafes.”
- Allows cities and counties to regulate or even prohibit commercial marijuana activities, but not prohibit personal possession and cultivation.
- Taxes marijuana at 15% at the retail level, with an additional $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax imposed at the wholesale level.
In other words, pot is largely legalized and a taxed and regulated market is established.Some changes would occur right away, advocates said.”The criminal justice impact will be huge and immediate, and it will start on November 9,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is backing Prop 64 not only rhetorically, but also with its checkbook through its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action.
California arrests about 20,000 people a year for marijuana felonies and misdemeanors, currently has about 10,000 people incarcerated for pot offenses, and has as many as half a million people with pot convictions on their records. Things are going to change in a big way for all these people.
“Those marijuana arrests will stop,” said Lyman. “And everyone currently sitting in jail or prison will be eligible to apply for release. They will have to . . .”