The Media Should Stop Pretending Marijuana’s Risks Are a Mystery — The Science Is Clear December 27, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Health.
Tags: cannabinoids, cannabis, drugs, marijuana, mark kleiman, medical marijuana, norml, paul armentano, roger hollander
Roger’s note: “Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend, pass it on over to me …”
Speaking recently with the Los Angeles Times, UCLA professor and former Washington state “pot czar” Mark Kleiman implied that we as a society are largely ignorant when it comes to the subject of weed. Speaking with Times columnist Patt Morrison, Kleiman stated, “I keep saying we don’t know nearly as much about cannabis as Pillsbury knows about brownie mix.”
Kleiman’s allegation—that the marijuana plant and its effects on society still remains largely a mystery—is a fairly common refrain. But it is far from accurate.
Despite the US government’s nearly century-long prohibition of the plant, cannabis is nonetheless one of the most investigated therapeutically active substances in history. To date, there are over 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature referencing the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, nearly half of which were published within the last five years according to a keyword search on PubMed Central, the US government repository for peer-reviewed scientific research. Over 1,450 peer-reviewed papers were published in 2013 alone. (By contrast, a keyword search of “hydrocodone,” a commonly prescribed painkiller, yields just over 600 total references in the entire body of available scientific literature.)
What information do these thousands of studies about cannabis provide us? For starters, they reveal that marijuana and its active constituents, known as cannabinoids, are relatively safe and effective therapeutic and/or recreational compounds. Unlike alcohol and most prescription or over-the-counter medications, cannabinoids are virtually nontoxic to health cells or organs, and they are incapable of causing the user to experience a fatal overdose. Unlike opiates or ethanol, cannabinoids are not classified as central nervous depressants and cannot cause respiratory failure. In fact, a 2008 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Associationreported that cannabis-based drugs were associated with virtually no elevated incidences of serious adverse side-effects in over 30 years of investigative use.
Studies further reveal that the marijuana plant contains in excess of 60 active compounds that likely possess distinctive therapeutic properties. One recent review identified some 30 separate therapeutic properties—including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, neuroprotection, and anti-stroke properties—influenced by cannabinoids other than THC. While not all of these effects have been replicated in clinical trials, many have.
A recent review by researchers in Germany reported that between 2005 and 2009 there were 37 controlled studies assessing the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids, involving a total of 2,563 subjects. Most recently, a summary of FDA-approved, University of California trials assessing the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis in several hundred subjects concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”
By contrast, many legally approved medications are brought to market on the basis of far fewer trials involving far fewer total participants.
Finally, we know that Western civilization has been consuming cannabis as both a therapeutic agent and a relaxant for thousands of years with relatively few adverse consequences, either to the individual user or to society. No less than the World Health Organization commissioned a team of experts to compare the health and societal consequences of marijuana use compared to other controlled substances, including alcohol, nicotine and opiates. After quantifying the harms associated with each substance, researchers concluded: “Overall, most of these risks (associated with marijuana) are small to moderate in size. In aggregate they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco. On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.”
Does this mean that consuming marijuana is altogether without risk or that scientific investigations shouldn’t continue into the plant’s pharmacology? Of course not. But it is clear that we now know as much, if not more, about pot than we know about the actions of alcohol, tobacco and many prescription pharmaceuticals. And most certainly we know enough about cannabis, as well as the failures of cannabis prohibition, to stop arresting adults who consume it responsibly.
Tags: decriminalization, drug addicts, drug trafficking, drugs, juse mujica, marijuana, medical marijuana, norml, pablo fernandez, roger hollander, Uruguay, uruguay government
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Roger’s note: decriminalization is a no brainer. A Canadian sociologist did a cost analysis showing (I read this years ago, so these are not exact figures, but you get the idea), for example, that a kilo of street cocaine might sell for $10,000 whereas the actual cost of production is something like fifty dollars. It is the enormous profit that makes drug dealing a matter for the criminal underworld, and that includes not only Mafia types, but police, governments, the CIA, etc.; and that is where the real political problem lies with respect to achieving decriminalization.
Pablo Fernandez, The Associated Press, June 21, 2012
MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY—Peaceful Uruguay is planning a novel approach to fighting rising crime: having its government sell marijuana to take drug profits out of the hands of dealers.
Under the plan backed by President Jose Mujica’s leftist administration, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana and only to adults who register on a government database, letting officials keep track of their purchases over time. Profits would reportedly go toward rehabilitating drug addicts.
“It’s a fight on both fronts: against consumption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself,” Defence Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters late Wednesday.
Fernandez said the bill would soon be sent to Congress, which is dominated by Mujica’s party, but that an exact date had not been set. If approved, Uruguay’s national government would be the first in the world to directly sell marijuana to its citizens. Some local governments do so.
The proposed measure elicited responses ranging from support to criticism to humour.
“People who consume are not going to buy it from the state,” said Natalia Pereira, 28, adding that she smokes marijuana occasionally. “There is going to be mistrust buying it from a place where you have to register and they can typecast you.”
Media reports have said that people who use more than a limited number of marijuana cigarettes would have to undergo drug rehabilitation.
“I can now imagine you going down to the kiosk to buy bread, milk and a little box of marijuana!” one person in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, wrote on their Twitter account.
Behind the move is a series of recent gang shootouts and rising cocaine seizures that have raised security concerns in one of Latin America’s safest countries and taken a toll on Mujiica’s already dipping popularity. The Interior Ministry says that from January to May, the number of homicides jumped to 133 from 76 in the same period last year.
The crime figures are small compared to its neighbours Argentina and Brazil but huge for this tiny South American country where many take pride in being able to leave their doors open and gather in the streets late at night to sip traditional mate tea.
To combat rising criminality, the government also announced a series of measures that include compensation for victims of violent crime and longer jail terms for traffickers of crack-like drugs.
The idea behind the marijuana proposal is to weaken crime by removing profits from drug dealers and diverting users from harder drugs, according to government officials.
“The main argument for this is to keep addicts from dealing and reaching substances” like base paste, a crack cocaine-like drug smoked in South America , said Juan Carlos Redin a psychologist who works with drug addicts in Montevideo.
Redin said that Uruguayans should be allowed to grow their own marijuana because the government would run into trouble if it tries to sell it. The big question he said will be, “Who will provide the government (with marijuana)?”
During the press conference, the defence minister said Uruguayan farmers would plant the marijuana but said more details would come soon.
“The laws of the market will rule here: whoever sells the best and the cheapest will end with drug trafficking,” Fernandez said. “We’ll have to regulate farm production so there’s no contraband and regulate distribution … we must make sure we don’t affect neighbouring countries or be accused of being an international drug production centre.”
There are no laws against marijuana use in Uruguay. Possession of marijuana for personal use has never been criminalized here and a 1974 law gives judges discretion to determine if the amount of marijuana found on a suspect is for legal personal use or for illegal dealing.
Liberal think tanks and drug liberalization activists hailed the planned measure.
“If they actually sell it themselves, and you have to go to the Uruguay government store to buy marijuana, then that would be a precedent for sure, but not so different than from the dispensaries in half the United States,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of U.S.-based NORML, an organization that advocates decriminalization of marijuana use.
St. Pierre said the move would make Uruguay the only national government in the world selling marijuana. Numerous dispensaries on the local level in the U.S. are allowed to sell marijuana for medical use.
Some drug rehabilitation experts disagreed with the planned bill altogether. Guillermo Castro, head of psychiatry at the Hospital Britanico in Montevideo, said marijuana is a gateway to stronger drugs.
“In the long-run, marijuana is still poison,” Castro said, adding that marijuana contains 17 times more carcinogens than tobacco has, and that its use is linked to higher rates of depression and suicide.
“If it’s going to be openly legalized, something that is now in the hands of politics, it’s important that they explain to people what it is and what it produces,” he said.
Overburdened by clogged prisons, some Latin American countries have relaxed penalties for drug possession and personal use and distanced themselves from the tough stance pushed by the United States four decades ago when the Richard Nixon administration declared the war on drugs.
“There’s a real human drama where people get swept up in draconian drug laws intended to put major drug traffickers behind bars, but because the way they are implemented in Latin America, they end up putting many marijuana consumers behind bars,” said Coletta Youngers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America think-tank.
“There’s a growing recognition in the region that marijuana needs to be treated differently than other drugs, because it’s a clear case that the drug laws have a greater negative impact than the use of the drug itself,” Youngers said. “If Uruguay moved in this direction they would be challenging the international drug control system.”
The Future? April 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs.
Tags: decriminalization, drugs, legalization, marijuana, roger hollander
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Obama Justice and medical marijuana April 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Drugs.
Tags: Criminal Justice, doj, drugs, glenn greeenwald, justice department, medical marijuana, president obama, roger hollander, rule of law, war on drugs
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Cannabis plants grow at Northwest Patient Resource Center in Seattle, Wash. (Credit: Reuters/Cliff DesPeaux)
The President’s justification for his crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries has to be heard to be believed
President Obama gave an interview to Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner this week and was asked about his administration’s aggressive crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, including ones located in states where medical marijuana is legal and which are licensed by the state; this policy is directly contrary to Obama’s campaign pledge to not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Here’s part of the President’s answer:
I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books” . . . .
The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do.
Aside from the fact that Obama’s claim about the law is outright false — as Jon Walker conclusively documents, the law vests the Executive Branch with precisely the discretion he falsely claims he does not have to decide how drugs are classified — it’s just extraordinary that Obama is affirming the “principle” that he can’t have the DOJ “turn the othe way” in the face of lawbreaking. As an emailer just put it to me: “Interesting how this principle holds for prosecuting [medical] marijuana producers in the war on drugs, but not for prosecuting US officials in the war on terror. Or telecommunications companies for illegal spying. Or Wall Street banks for mortgage fraud.”
That’s about as vivid an expression of the President’s agenda, and his sense of justice, and the state of the Rule of Law in America, as one can imagine. The same person who directed the DOJ to shield torturers and illegal government eavesdroppers from criminal investigation, and who voted to retroactively immunize the nation’s largest telecom giants when they got caught enabling criminal spying on Americans, and whose DOJ has failed to indict a single Wall Street executive in connection with the 2008 financial crisis or mortgage fraud scandal, suddenly discovers the imperatives of The Rule of Law when it comes to those, in accordance with state law, providing medical marijuana to sick people with a prescription.
Tags: alcohol industry, beer industry, big pharma, decriminalization, drugs, for profit prisons, lee fang, legalization, marijuana, marijuana prohibition, pharmaceutical corporations, police unions, prison guards, private prisons, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Last year, over 850,000 people in America were arrested for marijuana-related crimes. Despite public opinion, the medical community, and human rights experts all moving in favor of relaxing marijuana prohibition laws, little has changed in terms of policy.
There have been many great books and articles detailing the history of the drug war. Part of America’s fixation with keeping the leafy green plant illegal is rooted in cultural and political clashes from the past.
However, we at Republic Report think it’s worth showing that there are entrenched interest groups that are spending large sums of money to keep our broken drug laws on the books:
1.) Police Unions: Police departments across the country have become dependent on federal drug war grants to finance their budget. In March, we published a story revealing that a police union lobbyist in California coordinated the effort to defeat Prop 19, a ballot measure in 2010 to legalize marijuana, while helping his police department clients collect tens of millions in federal marijuana-eradication grants. And it’s not just in California. Federal lobbying disclosures show that other police union lobbyists have pushed for stiffer penalties for marijuana-related crimes nationwide.
2.) Private Prisons Corporations: Private prison corporations make millions by incarcerating people who have been imprisoned for drug crimes, including marijuana. As Republic Report’s Matt Stoller noted last year, Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, revealed in a regulatory filing that continuing the drug war is part in parcel to their business strategy. Prison companies have spent millions bankrolling pro-drug war politicians and have used secretive front groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, to pass harsh sentencing requirements for drug crimes.
3.) Alcohol and Beer Companies: Fearing competition for the dollars Americans spend on leisure, alcohol and tobacco interests have lobbied to keep marijuana out of reach. For instance, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors contributed campaign contributions to a committee set up to prevent marijuana from being legalized and taxed.
4.) Pharmaceutical Corporations: Like the sin industries listed above, pharmaceutical interests would like to keep marijuana illegal so American don’t have the option of cheap medical alternatives to their products. Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now lobbies the government to relax marijuana prohibition laws, told Republic Report that next to police unions, the “second biggest opponent on Capitol Hill is big PhRMA” because marijuana can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”
5.) Prison Guard Unions: Prison guard unions have a vested interest in keeping people behind bars just like for-profit prison companies. In 2008, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent a whopping $1 million to defeat a measure that would have “reduced sentences and parole times for nonviolent drug offenders while emphasizing drug treatment over prison.”
RELATED: Why Can’t You Smoke Pot? Because Lobbyists Are Getting Rich Off of the War on Drugs
‘War on Drugs’ Has Failed, say Latin American Leaders April 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America.
Tags: cartagena summit, decriminalization, drug policy, drugs, henrique cardoso, Latin America, marijuana, otto perez molina, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Published on Sunday, April 8, 2012 by Common Dreams
On April 14 and 15, heads of state and government from across the Americas, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts, will gather for a two-day ‘Summit of the Americas’ in Cartagena, Colombia, and the ‘War on Drugs’ will top the agenda.
On July 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared what has come to be called the “War on Drugs” Latin America’s leaders are unified in calling the ‘War on Drugs’ a failure and in seeking alternatives to prohibition.
However, nobody expects the Barack Obama administration to do the right thing and provide leadership on the issue in an election year.
In 2004 Obama said: “The war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws… we need to rethink how we operate the drug wars.” Since then, he has shown little appetite to engage in the debate.
The Guardian reports:
Watershed Summit will Admit that Prohibition has Failed, and Call for More Nuanced and Liberalized Tactics
A historic meeting of Latin America’s leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.
One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. “This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes,” he said.The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favor of a more nuanced and liberalized approach.
Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country’s military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: “The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated.” [...]
One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. “This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes,” he said.
Latin America’s increasing hostility towards prohibition makes Obama’s attendance at the summit potentially difficult. The Obama administration, keen not to hand ammunition to its opponents during an election year, will not want to be seen as softening its support for prohibition. However, it is seen as significant that the US vice-president, Joe Biden, has acknowledged that the debate about legalizing drugs is now legitimate.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the global commission on drug policy, has said it is time for “an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies”, a view shared by George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, and former president Jimmy Carter.
Tags: coca far, Colombia, colombia cocaine, colombia drugs, colombia government, colombia labor, colombia unions, drugs, Free Trade, jess hunter-bowman, Latin America, NAFTA, omg.human rights, roger hollander, us-colombia, war on drugs
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There’s only one Colombian industry that can potentially employ workers who would lose their job in the wake of a free trade deal.
Manuel Esteban Tejada was a teacher in the Colombian province of Cordoba, near the Panamanian border. Unfortunately for him, he was also a union member. On January 10, paramilitary gunmen broke into his house at 6 a.m. and shot him multiple times, killing him.
Tejada was the first trade unionist killed in Colombia in 2011, but not the last. At least five more have already been killed this year. Colombian and international labor officials report that 51 unionized workers in Colombia were killed in 2010–25 of them teachers. More union members were killed in Colombia last year than in the rest of the world combined.
The fact that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to belong to a union hasn’t kept President Barack Obama from backing a free-trade deal with the South American nation that would further erode labor rights and wages.
Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced a labor rights “action plan” as a ploy to gain congressional votes in favor of the controversial deal. The Obama administration hopes this effort, which would do virtually nothing to deal with the violence targeting labor leaders, will convince some Democrats to hold their noses and vote for the trade deal, despite Colombia’s deadly labor track record.
Just days before the two leaders made their announcement, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia–farm workers who belonged to a union–were murdered. Business as usual in Colombia.
It’s no surprise that Washington would sacrifice labor rights in the rush to secure this free trade deal. But Colombia isn’t only the world’s leader in union murders–it’s also the world’s leading cocaine producer. Although efforts to stamp out drug trafficking have dominated the U.S.-Colombia relationship for decades, this trade deal would likely boost cocaine production.
Free trade deals scrap tariffs and quotas on imports. Countries that enter such agreements can no longer protect strategic industries and sectors to ensure they are competitive. And no one in Latin America can compete with U.S. grain farmers. The technology, mechanization, and subsidies at U.S. famers’ disposal make grain production in the United States extremely cheap relative to Latin America.
For example, once Mexico eliminated corn tariffs and quotas under NAFTA guidelines, an estimated 2 million Mexican corn farmers went bankrupt. They simply couldn’t compete with U.S. corn prices.
Research has shown that 1.8 million Colombian farmers will see their net income fall 17 percent if the U.S.-Colombia trade deal is enacted. An estimated 400,000 will see their net incomes fall by between 48 percent and 70 percent.
Meanwhile, Caterpillar (which wants to sell bulldozers to Colombia), Walmart (which wants to resume tariff-free purchases of Colombian flowers), and other large U.S. corporations stand to profit handsomely from the U.S.-Colombia free trade deal.
Free traders in Congress and the corporate lobbyists who are pressuring them insist that the trade deal will create new jobs, absorbing people from sectors without a “comparative advantage.” That’s a boldface lie. Since the early 1990s, nearly all Colombian exports have entered the U.S. tariff-free under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Any jobs created in Colombia by gaining unfettered access to U.S. markets were created years ago.
But there is one Colombian export market that can always absorb new workers: the cocaine trade. When Colombian farmers are pushed out of grain farming due to cheap U.S. imports, expect them to face a terrible choice. They’ll either lose their farm, join the vast ranks of Colombia’s unemployed, and watch their children drop out of school and become malnourished–or switch to farming coca crops to stay on their farm, keep their kids in school, and put food on their tables.
Colombian farmers want out of coca farming because it doesn’t pay very well and violence often dogs coca production. But the U.S.-Colombia trade deal will leave them with virtually no other choice.
By pushing it forward, Washington is catering to corporate interests instead of heeding Colombia’s human rights crisis and seriously considering its impact on illegal drug trafficking. We can only hope that there are enough lawmakers willing to recognize that this deal isn’t worth the costs to us or to Colombians.
Jess Hunter-Bowman is the Associate Director of Witness for Peace, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history monitoring U.S. policy in Latin America. http://witnessforpeace.org
Tags: AIDS, criminalisation, decriminalisation, decriminalization, drug decriminalization, drug policies, drug policy, drug use, drugs, harm reduction, hiv, HIV/AIDS, roger hollander, vienna declaration, war on drugs
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Please visit our website, check it out and support us by becoming a member. The web address for the Vienna Declaration is http://www.viennadeclaration.com/.Please sign on, and urge your colleagues and friends to do so as well.
In lead up to XVIII International AIDS Conference, scientists and other leaders call for reform of international drug policy and urge others to sign-on
28 June 2010 [Vienna, Austria] – The International AIDS Society, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS today launched a global drive for signatories to the Vienna Declaration, a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. The Vienna Declaration is the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010), the biennial meeting of more than 20,000 HIV professionals, taking place in Vienna, Austria from 18 to 23 July 2010.
The Vienna Declaration describes the known harms of conventional “war on drugs” approaches and states: “The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. A full policy reorientation is needed. … Reorienting drug policies towards evidence-based approaches that respect, protect and fulfill human rights has the potential to reduce harms deriving from current policies and would allow for the redirection of the vast financial resources towards where they are needed most: implementing and evaluating evidence-based prevention, regulatory, treatment and harm reduction interventions.”
The Vienna Declaration calls on governments and international organizations, including the United Nations, to take a number of steps, including:
Undertake a transparent review the effectiveness of current drug policies;
Implement and evaluate a science-based public health approach to address the harms stemming from illicit drug use;
Scale up evidence-based drug dependence treatment options;
Abolish ineffective compulsory drug treatment centres that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and
Unequivocally endorse and scale up funding for the drug treatment and harm reduction measures endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations.
The Declaration also calls for the meaningful involvement of people who use drugs in developing, monitoring and implementing services and policies that affect their lives.
To sign the Vienna Declaration, please visit the official website at http://www.viennadeclaration.com/. There you will find the full text of the declaration in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, along with a list of authors. The two-page declaration references 28 reports, describing the scientific evidence documenting the effectiveness of public health approaches to drug policy and the negative consequences of approaches that criminalize drug users.
Tags: African Americans, blacks, crime, drug war, drugs, felons, michelle alexander, Race, racism, reagan presidency, roger hollander, ronald reagan, war on drugs
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Monday 08 March 2010
Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.
Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.
Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.
Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:
- There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
- As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
- A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.
- If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.
Excuses for the Lockdown
There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We’re told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.
The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades — they are currently are at historical lows — but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.
The drug war has been brutal — complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods — but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.
That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.
This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime.
Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.
The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes — sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.
Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.” The facts bear him out. Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the “New Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labeled a felon.
But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn’t the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that’s where the violent offenders can be found? The answer is yes… in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.
The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders. Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.
The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s — the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war — nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.
In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time — a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.
Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers — not to mention president of the United States — causes us all to marvel at what a long way we’ve come.
Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that’s with affirmative action!
When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colorblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure — the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.
This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.
Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010). The former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU in Northern California, she also served as a law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. To listen to a TomCast audio interview in which Alexander explains how she came to realize that this country was bringing Jim Crow into the Age of Obama, click here.
Copyright 2010 Michelle Alexander
Is Pot Legalization Push in California a Trend That Will Spread? February 8, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Drugs.
Tags: California, cannabis, drugs, jeff mitchell, marijuana, medical marijuana, medicinal marijuana, pot, pot legalization, roger hollander
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Sunday 07 February 2010
San Francisco – It’s almost a cliché these days that this city and its sister to the east, Oakland, stand as the primary incubators of some of California’s infamously wacky but later transformational social and political ideas.
From the Silicon Valley to Oakland and Berkeley to the Napa Valley – if it was at first weird, untested, illegal and/or controversial, it probably got its start right here.
Now a small but determined coalition of Bay Area activists and politicos are on a mission to have California be the first state in the union to fully legalize, regulate and tax the use of marijuana – and they’re approaching that goal from several different angles.
The groups began their quest by building on the foundation that the 1996 approval of Proposition 215 provided.
The statewide initiative, which made California the first state in the nation to legalize medicinal marijuana, broke down many long-held views on the drug – especially in its compassionate use for cancer patients and other chronic disease sufferers.
San Francisco and Oakland were among the first to see medical pot dispensaries pop up.
A whole section of Oakland’s downtown has willingly taken on the nickname “Oaksterdam” (a play on the name of the capital city of the Netherlands, where pot use has been legal since the early 1970s) because of its array of dispensaries and marijuana-related products and services.
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said a political sea change on the issue of marijuana in California began in early 2009, when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal drug officers no longer would target the operators or customers of legitimate medical pot dispensaries.
Then an April 2009 Field Poll showed that 56 percent of Californians now support full legalization, regulation and taxation of the drug.
“That decision plus the Field Poll has had a dramatic impact on how we look at pot in California these days,” said Kaplan, who believes full legalization and regulation of marijuana is just a matter of time. State and local governments, she notes, can use the new tax revenues that pot legalization would bring.
In Oakland’s case, the city already collects money from legal medicinal pot businesses located there as a result of the passage of Measure J last summer. The measure placed a special tax of $18 per $1,000 of sales on medical pot dispensaries in the city. In the process, Oakland became the first city in the nation to assess a tax on marijuana.
Now Kaplan wants to take it to next level. “It’s time we take the criminal element out of the pot business,” she said. “By having local government license and regulate these grow houses, the criminal element and the irresponsible operators can be removed from the equation, which will make our cities safer.”
Richard Lee, president of Oaksterdam University – a vocational school for future marijuana industry entrepreneurs – likens the current environment to the 1920s and early 1930s, when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensured that alcohol was available only through illegal and underground “speakeasy” drinking clubs.
It wasn’t until December 1933 that ratification of the 21st Amendment made alcohol consumption legal again.
“Alcohol prohibition ended slowly,” said Lee, who owns several other pot-related businesses in the Oaksterdam district.
Bay Area residents, in particular, are more sympathetic to legalizing pot than Californians in other parts of the state. More than 70 percent of the area’s registered voters supported the idea in last year’s Field Poll, more than any other region of the state.
“Maybe it harkens back to … the Summer of Love and the hippies” in 1967, Lee said.
Whatever the reason, it wasn’t by mistake that Lee chose Oakland and San Francisco to be headquarters cities for his Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 initiative effort.
Proponents recently filed an estimated 693,800 petition signatures to qualify the measure for the statewide ballot in the November election. To qualify, the measure needs 433,971 valid voter signatures, officials said.
If approved by the electorate, the cannabis tax measure would make limited private possession and cultivation of pot legal for those 21 and older. It also would allow local governments to permit, regulate and tax marijuana growing operations within their jurisdictions. Lee says the measure could generate billions in new tax revenue for the state in its first year.
“We think Californians are now ready to legalize marijuana in a controlled, safe manner, which will bring whole new streams to revenue to Sacramento and to our local governments,” Lee said.
The more permissive atmosphere helped Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, pass a pot legalization bill out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee recently.
If the Bay Area is ground zero for the effort to fully legalize pot, many other California communities are still struggling with issues surrounding the use of medical marijuana.
One recent example occurred Jan. 26, when the Los Angeles City Council voted to shut down an estimated 80 percent of that city’s 1,000 medical pot dispensaries.
Corey Cook, a University of San Francisco political science professor, said 2010 indeed may be the year that California legalizes pot and that Bay Area politicos and activists likely will be at the forefront of the effort. But he warned that political trends popular in San Francisco and the East Bay don’t always sell well in more rural parts of the state.
“If this gets painted as a Haight-Ashbury vs. the rest of California thing, there’s likely to be a backlash,” Cook said. “On the other hand if it’s promoted as a way to help a severely deficit-plagued state pay for schools and parks, then there’s a chance it will succeed.
“I’m going to be watching this one with great interest.”
Jeff Mitchell is a Bay Area-based journalist.
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