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.
Hillary Clinton: Drug Legalization Won’t End The Drug War November 30, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: central america, Central America Drug War, decriminalize marijuana, drug war, Foreign Policy Magazine, hillary clinton, Hillary Clinton Drug War, Hillary Clinton Marijuana, Latin America, marijuana, marijuana legalization, Politics News, roger hollander, Washington Marijuana Legalization
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Posted: 11/30/2012 11:03 am EST Updated: 11/30/2012 11:32 am EST
Hillary Clinton is not convinced domestic drug legalization would end the cartel violence ravaging Central America.
As Politico reports, during a forum hosted by Foreign Policy magazine on Thursday, the Costa Rican ambassador to the U.S. asked the U.S. secretary of state whether she believed the drug war was winnable.
“I respect those in the region who believe strongly that [U.S. legalization] would end the problem,” Clinton said, as reported by Politico. “I am not convinced of that, speaking personally.”
“We are formulating our own response to the votes of two of our states as you know — what that means for the federal system, the federal laws and law enforcement,” she said.
Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
Earlier this month, Raymond Yans, the head of the U.N.’s drug watchdog agency, criticized the U.S. for sending “a wrong message abroad” with its passage of the landmark legalization in Colorado and Washington, and urged the U.S. to challenge both states.
He said he hoped Attorney General Eric Holder “will take all the necessary measures” to ensure that marijuana use remains illegal in the U.
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 Anti-Science Streak in Federal Marijuana Policy May 17, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Drugs.
Tags: ca, cannabis, conor friedersdorf, marijuana, medical marijuana, narcotics, Obama, roger hollander, schedule one
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ROGER’S NOTE: MORE OBAMA HYPOCRISY.
By Conor Friedersdorf, www.opednews.com
Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Diego, recently helped run a study that provided multiple sclerosis patients with either a marijuana joint or a placebo that looked, smelled, and tasted like marijuana. After smoking whichever substance they were given, patients were tested to see if it reduced their muscle spasticity — an affliction, common to MS patients, that causes painful, uncontrollable spasms of the extremities. Spasticity was unaffected among the placebo patients but dropped 30 percent on average among the patients given real marijuana. The side effects? “Smoking caused fatigue and dizziness in some users,” says Reuters, “and slowed down people’s mental skills soon after they used marijuana.”
The UC San Diego study is just the latest to suggest that marijuana has some medical benefits. Sixteen states, thousands of doctors, and tens of thousands of sick people concur in that judgment. It is dramatized by the personal testimony of sick people who are offered much more powerful drugs, but nevertheless insist that consuming marijuana was most effective at helping them.
Marijuana is nevertheless classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule One drug. Under the law, drugs placed in that category must meet all of the following criteria (emphasis added):
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Critics of the Obama Administration’s drug policy, myself included, have focused on the president’s broken promise about federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in jurisdictions where they’re legal. But an even less defensible aspect of Obama’s drug policy is how marijuana is scheduled.
As John Walker points out, the Controlled Substances Act gives the executive branch the power to unilaterally change a drug’s classification:
Obama can instruct the relevant agencies under him to take an honest look at the research and reschedule marijuana so it qualifies as having legitimate medical uses. The Obama administration could easily and justifiably move marijuana to, say, schedule III, which happens to be the same schedule that synthetic THC is in, making medical marijuana legal under federal law.
There would be nothing unusual, extraordinary or legally suspect about Obama doing this. The executive branch has often moved certain drugs to lower or higher schedules based on new data without Congressional involvement. In fact, multiple sitting governors have petitioned the Obama administration asking him to move marijuana to a lower schedule, so he should be aware of the flexible authority he has. Obama is not some hapless victim whose actions on this issue are constrained by congressional law. The truth is pretty much the exact opposite. Under current law Obama effectively has the power to unilaterally make medical marijuana legal.
His failure to do so is frustrating and to his discredit because it’s what the language of a law duly passed by a bygone Congress and signed by a past president demands. There just are accepted medical uses of marijuana today. Pretending otherwise is every bit as much an affront to science and empiricism as the most ill-informed denial of evolution or climate change.
Yet here is how the Obama White House touts its drug policy:
Congress also bears substantial responsibility for the anti-scientific, anti-empirical aspects of American drug policy. If Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are able to define the terms of the upcoming presidential election, this issue won’t come up. But voters have consistently shown interest in the subject when permitted to directly question politicians, and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, is eager to challenge Obama and Romney on this issue given the chance. When opportunities for these challenges arise, the classification of marijuana is one of the most vulnerable parts of the status quo to attack.12 states have pending medical marijuana legislation.
The Future? April 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs.
Tags: decriminalization, drugs, legalization, marijuana, roger hollander
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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
Latin American military men against drug war April 14, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Guatemala, Latin America.
Tags: Colombia, decriminalization, drug policy, drug prohibition, drug regulation, felipe calderon, gerald le dain, harm reduction, jefferson morley, juan manuel santos, Latin America, le dain commission, marijuana, perez molina, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Roger’s note: There was a time when Canada lead the way. In 1972, the Le Dain Commission headed by Supreme Court Judge Gerald Le Dain, recommended the decriminalization of soft drugs such as marijuana. That was exactly 40 years ago. Although ignored by a succession of Canadian governments to this day, the report was a landmark for a policy of a sane harm reduction approach to the drug problem.
In Colombia Obama will hear from presidents looking for alternatives to prohibition
Ending drug prohibition is creeping into the U.S. political debate, thanks to a couple of Latin American military men. Oh sure, George Will’s not-quite endorsement of legalization is noteworthy, but more than one erudite conservative columnist has gone further before. The views of three Latin American statesman are important but former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz made the same case 23 years ago. The record high in public support for marijuana legalization found in a Gallup poll last year may be a factor, but the Obama administration has declared a “war on pot” since then.
It is the anti-prohibition campaign of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, one a former general, the other a former defense minister, that has forced the Obama administration to engage critics respectfully for the first time. Perez will be pushing a formal proposal to open discussion of alternative policies at the summit of American heads of state that President Obama is attending, in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend.
While Obama doesn’t support decriminalization, said his advisor Dan Restrepo this week, “we welcome” the debate. “It’s worth discussing,” Vice President Biden told reporters in Central America last month, “but there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization.”
So while there’s no change of heart in Washington, there has been a change of tone. The Obama administration cannot afford to blow off the views of two staunch U.S. allies who have both waged drug wars in their countries, not at a time when public opinion in Latin America is increasingly disenchanted with the militarized approach.
Their approach is tactful. Santos says he doesn’t want to change U.S. policy, but merely hear U.S. officials defend it.
“There are good arguments for legalizing, but I would prefer to reach that conclusion after an objective discussion,” Santos told the Washington Post this week. “The U.S. says, ‘We don’t support legalization, because the cost of legalization is higher than no legalization.’ But I want to see a discussion where both approaches are analyzed by experts to say, really, the cost is lower or not.”
In a piece for the Guardian, Perez called for an “intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach – drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that consumption and production should be legalized but within certain limits and conditions … Legalization therefore does not mean liberalization without controls.”
Perez and Santos may not make headlines in Cartagena this weekend. In an effort to lower expectations and avoid confrontation with Obama, Santos told reporters in Cartagena yesterday that drugs should not be the “center of discussion” at the summit. At the same time, he added, a review of drug policy was necessary and reflected the will of the “vast majority” of countries in attendance.
“We will not see any shift in policy,” said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Foundation, “but this is forcing Washington to engage and defend its position at high levels.”
“In the public forum, ending prohibition will probably only get a brief discussion,” predicted Ethan Nadelman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Privately it will be much more vigorously discussed. The challenge for the United States will be how to blur the differences. This is the first time ever that the decriminalization and alternatives to prohibition have ever been on the agenda of a major gathering of heads of states.”
Perez and Santos are still in the minority among Latin American presidents, most of whom say, at least publicly, that they oppose legalization. But the desire for alternatives to legalization and prohibition is widespread. In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has followed the U.S. approach in declaring war on the cartels in 2006. Some 41,000 people have been killed in the last six years without reducing the supply of drugs or increasing the public’s sense of safety. Calderon has said legalization might be the only solution but with the Mexican presidential election approaching in July is not going to change his policy. After the election is a different story. The Mexican business community is increasingly supportive of legalization and regulation as the only solution to the country’s appalling levels of violence.
As the calls for reconsideration of drug war have proliferated, the Obama administration sent Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to Central America to argue for a prohibitionist policy.
“To send three top officials in a month shows that the administration is taking this seriously,” said Hidalgo. “They don’t want this debate to gain ground.”
But the more the administration responds in Latin America, the more legitimate drug policy reform becomes at home.
- Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).More Jefferson Morley
‘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.
Dispatches from the Field: Women in Prison — an American Growth Industry November 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, First Nations, Women.
Tags: 14th amendment, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, decriminalize marijuana, Delita Starr, eddie warrior, ellen shahan, female inmates, incarceration, indigenous rights, jury nullification, marijuana, marijuana legalization, oklahoma corrections, oklahoma justice, oklahoma prisons, Patricia Spottedcrow, prison industrial complex, roger hollander, war on drugs, women in prison, women prisoners, women's prisons, womens issues
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Who says “American Exceptionalism” is dead? Not when it comes to incarceration. Nowhere on Earth — except the USA — does a country put more of its citizens in prison. And, increasingly, those citizens are female.
In 1980, before the War on Drugs became big business and prison corporations were allowed to regain a toehold, there were 12,300 women incarcerated in the United States. By 2008, that number had grown to 207,700. The rate of increase between 1995 and 2008 alone was a staggering 203%. The $9 million dollars it cost to incarcerate female offenders in 1980 has now ballooned to over $68.7 billion.
Who are these women, and how did they come to be caught in the web of the prison-growth industry?
By and large, these are young women who have less than a high-school education, have a history of being battered and/or sexually abused, and, with that, a resultant history of drug abuse. They are more likely to be HIV positive or infected with Hepatitis C, have either symptoms or a diagnosis of mental illness, and prior to incarceration were unemployed. While young African American women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, roughly 49% of women in prison are white, 28% are African American, and almost 17% are Latina. More than two-thirds are incarcerated for drug, property, or public order offenses. And the vast majority are mothers of minor children.
Here’s one such story.
Oklahoma, Not OK
On New Year’s Eve 2009, in rural Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, a 24-year-old Cheyenne mother of four, and her mother, Delita Starr, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana out of Starr’s house for eleven dollars. Two weeks later, the person who sought them out for the first buy came back for a twenty-dollar bag. The buyer turned out to be a police informant.
Spottedcrow and Starr were charged with distribution and possession of a dangerous controlled substance in the presence of a minor, and were offered a plea deal of two years in prison. Having no priors, meaning they’d never been in trouble with the law, and having been busted for such a small amount, they turned the deal down. Both women pled guilty, thinking they’d get “community service and a slap on the wrist.”
Unfortunately, as is too often the case, it didn’t play out that way. Though it was a piddling amount of money and a first offense, in the eyes of Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, because Spottedcrow’s mother made the actual sale of the “dime bag,” and Spottedcrow’s nine-year-old son made change, Spottedcrow had involved three generations in a “criminal enterprise.” Seeking to teach her a lesson for selling thirty-one dollars’ worth of marijuana (and showing up for sentencing with traces of marijuana in a coat pocket), Judge Pritchett gave the young mother twelve years in prison — ten years for distribution and two years for possession — to run concurrently, with no probation. In addition, she fined Spottedcrow $4,077.89.
Starr was given a thirty-year sentence, suspended so she could care for her grandchildren. She was also saddled with five years of drug and alcohol “assessments,” plus $8,591.91 in court fees and fines. At $50 a month, she’s now paid off $600 of it. Her monthly income is $800.
Believing she would be released on probation, Spottedcrow made no preparations for her incarceration. When her sentence was handed down, she was taken into custody without having a chance to say goodbye to her children, shackled, and transported three hours away to Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, where she became a minimum security prisoner at a cost to Oklahoma taxpayers of $40.43 a day — ten dollars more per day than the total cost of marijuana sold in two separate incidents combined, and $25 more per day than it would have cost the state to provide drug treatment, were that available in Kingfisher County.
Eddie Warrior, a state-run facility that opened its doors in 1989, was built to house fifty women to a dorm, one or two to a cubicle. Just six years later it was at capacity. In the four-part documentary, Women in Prison, Eddie Warrior case manager Teri Davis states that shortly thereafter, with the facility already full, “they started hauling people in.” Now there are a hundred-and-twenty inmates to a dorm, some with serious communicable diseases, living in rows of bunks four feet apart.
“The inmates don’t like it,” says Davis. “And who would? Crammed up with another inmate in your face, coughing because she’s sick, coughing all over you . . . packed in like sardines in a can, with no amenities.”
Perhaps most disturbing about conditions at Eddie Warrior is that they are not unusual. Lurking behind the injustice of Spottedcrow’s harsh sentence is a darker story of human rights violations in America’s female prisons. In Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, compiled and edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, female inmates speak of atrocities “ranging from forced sterilization and shackling during childbirth, to physical and sexual abuse by prison staff.” Describing their lives as harrowing and rife with misogyny, author Peggy Orenstein declares their treatment “utterly unacceptable in a country that values human rights.”
However high the cost of justice, the cost of injustice is greater still.
A Clear Case of Civil Rights Violations
A growing civil rights movement in Oklahoma is demanding Spottedcrow’s release.
The Society to Preserve Indigenous Rights and Indigenous Treaties (SPIRIT) got involved in Spottedcrow’s case “because she is Native American, poor, and a minority,” says Brenda Golden, of SPIRIT. “We are not pro-marijuana and do not advocate breaking the law. But we do believe Patricia’s sentence is way too harsh for the crime she committed and is indicative of the treatment we receive in Oklahoma…. We are committed to continuing the fight to get this sentence reduced so Ms. Spottedcrow can be reunited with her four small children.”
Trial Attorney Josh Welch took her case pro bono. Calling it an “abuse of judicial authority,” he filed a motion in Kingfisher County to modify her sentence, saying, “A judge’s responsibility is to help people, not just punish them.” On Monday, October 3, Mr. Welch received an Order from Associate District Judge Robert Davis modifying Spottedcrow’s sentence from the original twelve years to eight years in prison with four years’ probation. Welch says he’s happy the sentence was modified, but not happy that only four years were removed. “The new judge didn’t back off the first sentence. He said the reduction was because she had done well while incarcerated. We disagree with the sentence. She shouldn’t even be in jail.”
“This may not be easy,” Welch told SPIRIT’s Brenda Golden in an email, “but we will not stop until she’s released.” Welch plans to file an Application for Post-Conviction Relief. Change.org, has created a petitionto the Governor of Oklahoma requesting a pardon for Spottedcrow. As of this writing, they’ve gathered almost 35,000 of the 50,000 signatures needed.
A Trail of Tears
In the Women in Prison documentary, Judge Susie Pritchett, who imposed the original sentence, states that Spottedcrow “needed to learn that there were consequences to this lifestyle she had chosen.” Tragically, and in direct opposition to the sort of outcome the judge would seem to favor, Spottedcrow’s lifestyle was indeed forever changed. Because of her conviction, she can never again pursue her chosen field. Her “chosen lifestyle” was that of a certified medical assistant employed by a nursing home. When the economy tanked, not because of any choice Spottedcrow ever made, she lost her job. In fact, almost half of all incarcerated women were unemployed in the month before their arrest. Spottedcrow was not the first to look for a way to make some “easy money” when things got tight. But as she conceded in an interview with Ali Meyer of Oklahoma News Channel 4, “It was a stupid mistake that I paid an awful lot for.”
Speaking of consequences, however, what about the consequences of Judge Pritchett’s actions? Seventy-five percent of incarcerated women are mothers, most of them parents of children under age eighteen. What happens when the state takes a mother away from her children for an entire decade?
Children of female inmates are at enormous risk to continue the cycle and end up in prison themselves, according to another Women in Prison participant, Dr. Laura Pitman, Deputy Director of Female Offender Operations for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, who adds that thirty percent of the female prison population had at least one incarcerated parent themselves. African-American children are nine times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison and Hispanic children are three times more likely than white kids to have an incarcerated parent. All told, a million and a half children in America have a parent in state or federal prison, which, according to theFamily and Corrections Network, “means a crisis for that child.”
The effect on Spottedcrow’s children has been devastating. Aged 1, 2, 4, and 9 at the time of her arrest, all but the eldest are unable to comprehend her disappearance. And because Spottedcrow is housed a full three-hours’ drive from her mother’s home, her family is unable to visit. As the youngest learns to talk, she knows her mother only as a voice on the phone. Meanwhile, Starr tries to explain to her grandkids. “It’s hard. The little girls do not understand why their mom’s gone…. The baby had a real hard time. We’ve spent nights crying. . . . She goes to the bedroom door and knocks: ‘Mama! Mama!’ And we cry.”
In Long Beach, California, when members of The Human Solution learned of Spottedcrow’s plight, they took up a collection and arranged for her children to receive new clothes to wear on a trip to visit their mom. In return, the Oklahoma woman who helped arrange the clothing donation made a cash contribution to The Human Solution so people would have gas money for court support. Thus, the movement to free prisoners of the drug war grows bigger and stronger.
“We’ll Do This My Way”
It also grows louder. On Wednesday, November 2, 2011, angry protesters screamed in frustration outside the Long Beach courthouse where former medical marijuana dispensary owners Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were quickly losing ground. In preparing for their upcoming trial, Judge Charles D. Sheldon had eliminated as “irrelevant” all medical evidence and witnesses. “We’ll do this my way,” he said, ruling out the two doctors who were prepared to testify that the Joes were, at the very least, qualified medical-marijuana patients. Having already been denied the right to defend themselves as legally compliant dispensary owners, the Joes had retreated to their fall-back position — that of being patients first. But with his latest decision, Judge Sheldon had taken that away, too.
Protesters claimed the judge had denied the Joes their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. In two previous California medical-marijuana cases, defendants had been allowed an affirmative defense, meaning they were able to tell the jury they were legally compliant dispensary owners, as well as qualified medical-marijuana patients. In one such case, the defendant was found not guilty. In the other, the case was dismissed in the interest of justice. Not so for the Joes.
Like Patricia Spottedcrow, Grumbine and Byron have turned down plea deals, choosing instead to exercise their right to a jury trial. Motivated by the same do-good instincts that led them to create a medical-marijuana collective in the first place, they put their fate in the hands of a jury for the sake of all medical-marijuana patients and caregivers. They hoped to solidify the legal standing of their fellow patients and dispensary owners, along with their own, in a precedent-setting case. They thought the jury would hear all the facts. They were wrong. Instead, says Grumbine, it’s “a steamroller to conviction.”
At a November 9 hearing — their twenty-second court appearance — the Two Joes suffered yet another defeat. Having filed a motion to quash the warrant that triggered a massive tri-county raid and turned their lives upside down, Grumbine and Byron had to appear before Judge Judith L. Meyer, who signed the original warrant. She denied the motion. After opining that the medical-marijuana-dispensary thing “is all a sham,” Judge Meyer reminded the defendants that their next court date with Judge Sheldon was on November 23 “in Department K, as in Kangaroo.” To quote Dr. Hunter S. Thompson out of context once again, “Jesus! How much more of this cheap-jack bullshit can we be expected to take?” Kangaroo court, indeed.
Don’t get out of jury duty, get into it!
Grumbine and Byron have only one defense left: the defense of last resort – Jury Nullification. Simply put, Jury Nullification (or “Juror Nullification”) means a juror has the power – nay, the awesome responsibility – to refuse to convict if they believe the law is corrupt or the proceedings have been compromised. The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) was created to inform American citizens that “juror veto – juror nullification – is a peaceful way to protect human rights against corrupt politicians and government tyranny.” With thousands of people in the street, and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators getting arrested in droves for rising up against government tyranny and abuse of power, the time for J-Null may have come.
Jurors Can Stop Government Tyranny by Refusing to Convict
As a juror, your first and greatest duty is to your fellow citizen. While jury duty may sometimes require you to punish a fellow citizen for breaking the law, it may also, at times, require you to protect your fellow citizen from tyrannical abuses of power by government officials.
Jury convictions, right or wrong, just or unjust, are almost never overturned. In a recent case in Texas, Troy Davis was executed even after many jurors, upon hearing new evidence, tried to take back their guilty verdict. Imagine having to live with the knowledge that you sent a man to his death, based on insufficient or false evidence. In the case of Grumbine and Byron, there was no victim. Both defendants were motivated by a desire to help end suffering by providing patients legal access to a plant that helps and heals. For this, each now faces up to seven years in the slammer.
“Jurors cannot be required to check their conscience at the courthouse door,” says FIJA. Rather, they are empowered to use it in court, with absolutely no fear of retribution. So in the future, don’t get out of jury duty, get into it. The life you save could be Joe Grumbine’s.
We’ll take a closer look at Jury Nullification in an upcoming post. In the meantime, FIJA has created a Juror’s Handbook to help inform potential jurors of their legal authority to refuse to enforce corrupt laws. “Short of being elected to office yourself,” says FIJA, “you may never otherwise have a more powerful impact on the rules we live by than you will as a trial juror.”
Time to Stop the Real Reefer Madness September 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Mexico.
Tags: cocaine, drug addiiction, drug cartels, drug war, felipe calderon, harm reduction, laura carlsen, marijuana, medical marijuana, mexico drug wars, obama's drug war, plan colombia, reefer madness, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Since its inception, the War on Drugs has cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives. The civilians caught in the crossfire say it’s time for change.
- A still from the 1936 film, Reefer Madness.
In the 1930s, a church group commissioned a film “to strike fear in the hearts of young people tempted to smoke marijuana.” But it was not until the 1970s that Reefer Madness—billed as “the original classic that was not afraid to make up the truth” due to its grotesque portrayal of the supposed dangers of marijuana—obtained cult status.
After the scare tactics of the 1930s, U.S. marijuana policy varied depending on the political climate, even as scientific research consistently debunked extreme claims that the plant caused uncontrollable violent behavior, physical addiction, and insanity.
Then on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon launched his signature “war on drugs.” The new crackdown on illegal drug use shifted the issue from a local health and public safety problem to a series of federal agencies under the direct control of the president. President Ronald Reagan later doubled down on the drug war, ushering in an age of mass incarceration.
The drug war model not only criminalized but also, like teh film before it, demonized illegal drug dealing and use—and the individuals involved—in moralistic and military terms. In many states, selling marijuana carried longer sentences than murder. Although the abuse of legal drugs now kills more people than illegal drugs, the architects of the drug war continues to promote the view that it is some inherent evil of the substance, rather than the way individuals and groups use it, that determines whether a drug is a threat to society or an accepted social custom.
Why Punish Pain?
A hit of compassion could keep drugs from becoming a crime problem.
The Drug Policy Alliance has revealed that U.S. authorities arrest some 800,000 people a year
for marijuana use. Two-thirds of those incarcerated in state prisons
for drug offenses are black or Hispanic, even though consumption rates
for whites are equal. Largely because of drug laws and draconian
enforcement, the United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people, often destroying the hopes and futures of its youth. The United States spends more than $51 billion a year on the domestic war on drugs alone.
Exporting the War
The export version of the drug war has an even darker side. It makes the implicit racism of the domestic war overt. Foreign drug lords are stereotypically portrayed as the root of an evil enterprise that, in fact, takes place mostly in the United States, where street sales generate the multibillion-dollar profits of the business. Under the guise of the drug war, the U.S. government has sponsored military responses in other countries that the Constitution prohibits domestically—for good reasons.
Attention is diverted from the social roots of drug abuse and addiction at home to a foreign threat to the American way of life—a way of life that, regardless of one’s moral beliefs, has always been characterized by the widespread use of mind-altering drugs. The false war model of good vs. evil, ally vs. enemy precludes many community-based solutions that have proven to be far more effective. U.S. taxpayers pay billions of dollars to fumigate foreign lands, pursue drug traffickers, and patrol borders as well as land and sea routes to intercept shipments.
None of this has worked. More than a decade and $8 billion into Plan Colombia, that Andean nation is the number-one cocaine producer in the world. Mexico has exploded into violence as the arrests and killings of cartel leaders spark turf battles that bathe whole regions in blood.
drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country.
Last month, 52 people lost their lives in an attack on a casino in Monterrey, Mexico. The news shocked Mexico since it represents yet another escalation of violence, but it’s become almost routine alongside daily drug-war deaths. For U.S. citizens, it was further proof that Mexico is under an assault by organized crime.
According to some Mexican researchers, the sudden rise in violence in Mexico correlates directly to when President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown in the war on drugs by sending troops and federal police into the streets in 2006. Meanwhile, Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country and demand a change in strategy. Calderon has refused to consider alternative models.
Obama’s Drug-War Failure
This year the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report that concludes that “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”
Instead, the Obama administration has added fist and firepower to the drug wars. Ignoring 40 years of policy failure, Obama has broken campaign promises to seek a more humane and effective drug policy. His administration has failed to support international harm reduction models, reversed a decision not to
go after state medical marijuana regimes voted by popular referendums,
reaffirmed marijuana’s classification as a schedule 1 controlled
substance with no medical value, and expanded drug wars in Mexico and
The government reprehensibly continues to expand the failed drug war in the face of the budget crisis and drastic cutbacks in schools, healthcare, and basic social programs. A good example is the multimillion-dollar boondoggle called the “Merida Initiative.” Under this ill-conceived regional security cooperation measure, the United States sends intelligence and defense equipment and provides military and police training for Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Central American countries. This drug-war strategy has increased violence in Mexico and led to a severe deterioration in public safety, rule of law, and human rights. The resources go to Mexican security forces notorious for corruption and even complicity with organized crime.
Photo by Fronteras Desk
The results of the drug war in Mexico have been nothing short of catastrophic. Since it began, nearly 50,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in drug-war-related violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, children have been orphaned and traumatized, men, and thousands have been kidnapped and still missing.
The attacks on cartels—including the killing or capture of leaders—spark turf wars that rage throughout Mexico, with the worst concentrated along the northern border. In response, some cartels have reorganized, with splinter groups frequently employing far more violent tactics than their parent organizations. Military operations have pushed the violence around the country in what experts call a “whack-a-mole” strategy that shows no signs of letting up.
The invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness—government perseverance with lethal and ineffective policies. The
drug war, with its exaggerated claims and mistaken focus on confronting
drug trafficking with police and military force, has cost the United States and its targeted suppliers like Colombia and Mexico millions of dollars and thousands of lives.
In Mexico, a peace movement has arisen against the drug war. It has opened up dialogue with the government but been met with an absolute refusal to consider other options. In the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions, but politicians dismiss the issue because it’s taboo or too risky for their political aspirations.
Policymakers must come to their senses regarding the madness of the drug-war strategy. If they don’t voluntarily propose reforms, then citizens will have to force them to do so.