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The Media Should Stop Pretending Marijuana’s Risks Are a Mystery — The Science Is Clear December 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Health.
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Roger’s note: “Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend, pass it on over to me …”

 

signatures-to-legalize

 Paul Armentano

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.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).

Uruguay’s government may go into the drug-dealing business to fight crime June 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Uruguay.
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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, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Drugs.
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 ROGER’S NOTE: MORE OBAMA HYPOCRISY.

By Conor Friedersdorf, www.opednews.com

 
 
May 15 2012, 12:45 PM ET187

 

The classification of cannabis as a schedule one narcotic is among the least defensible aspects of prohibition.

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:

drugs obama tp.jpg

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.

Obama Justice and medical marijuana April 26, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, 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.

Steve Jobs and Drug Policy October 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs.
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Saturday, Oct 8, 2011 8:43 AM 17:12:54 CDT
www.salon.com

By Glenn Greenwald

.

(updated below)

It’s fascinating to juxtapose America’s reverence for Steve Jobs’ accomplishments and its draconian drug policy with this, from the New York Times‘ obituary of Jobs:

[Jobs] told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand.

Unlike many people who have enjoyed success, Jobs is not saying that he was able to succeed despite his illegal drug use; he’s saying his success is in part — in substantial part — because of those illegal drugs (he added that Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once”). These quotes (first published by a New York Times reporter) have been around for some time but have been only rarely discussed in the recent hagiographies of Jobs: a notable omission given that he himself praised those experiences as an integral part of his identity and one of the most important things he ever did. A surprisingly good Time Magazine article elaborates on this Jobs-LSD connection further:

The paradoxes of love have perhaps never been clearer than in our relationships with Apple products — the warm, fleshy desire we feel for such cold, hard, glassy objects. But Jobs knew how to inspire material lust. He knew that consumers want something that not only sparkles and awes, but also feels accessible, easy to use, an object with which we want to merge and to feel one and the same. . . .

Not coincidentally, that’s how people describe the experience of taking psychedelic drugs. It feels profoundly artificial yet deeply real, both high-tech and earthy-crunchy, human and mystically divine — in a word, transcendent. Jobs had this experience. . . . As attested by the nearly spiritual devotion so many consumers have to Jobs’ creations, the former Apple chief (and indeed many other top technology pioneers) appeared to have found enduring inspiration in LSD. Research shows that the psychedelic experience is, in fact, long lasting: a new study published last week found that people who took magic mushrooms (psilocybin) had long-term personality changes, becoming more open, more curious, more intellectually engaged and more creative. These personality shifts persisted more than a year after taking the drugs.

America’s harsh prohibitionist drug policies are grounded in the premise that the prohibited substances have little or no redeeming value and cannot be used without life-destroying consequences. Yet the evidence of its falsity is undeniable. Here is one of the most admired men in America, its greatest contemporary industrialist, hailing one of the most scorned of these substances as integral to his success and intellectual and personal growth. The current President commendably acknowledged cocaine and marijuana use while there is evidence suggesting the prior President also used those substances. One of America’s most accomplished athletes was caught using marijuana at the peak of his athletic achievements. And millions upon millions of American adults have consumed some or many of those criminally prohibited substances, and themselves will say (like Jobs) that they had important and constructive experiences with those drugs or know someone who did.

In short, the deceit at the heart of America’s barbaric drug policy — that these substances are such unadulterated evils that adults should be put in cages for voluntarily using them — is more glaring than ever. In light of his comments about LSD, it’s rather difficult to reconcile America’s adoration for Steve Jobs with its ongoing obsession with prosecuting and imprisoning millions of citizens (mostly poor and minorities) for doing what Jobs, Obama, George W. Bush, Michael Phelps and millions of others have done. Obviously, most of these banned substances — like alcohol, gambling, sex, junk food consumption, prescription drug use and a litany of other legal activities — can create harm to the individual and to others when abused (though America’s solution for drug users — prison — also creates rather substantial harm to the drug user and to others, including their spouses, parents and children: at least as much harm as, and usually substantially more than, the banned drugs themselves). But no rational person can doubt that these substances can also be used responsibly and constructively; just study Steve Jobs’ life if you doubt that.

Jobs’ praise for his LSD use is what I kept returning to as I read about the Obama DOJ’s heinous new policy to use the full force of criminal prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries in California. In October, 2009, I enthusiastically praised Eric Holder and the DOJ for appearing to fulfill Obama’s campaign promise by refraining from prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries in compliance with state law (a “rare instance of unadulterated good news from Washington,” I gushed). As I wrote:

Criminalizing cancer and AIDS patients for using a substance that is (a) prescribed by their doctors and (b) legal under the laws of their state has always been abominable. The Obama administration deserves major credit not only for ceasing this practice, but for memorializing it formally in writing.

Yet now, U.S. Attorneys in California will expend substantial law enforcement resources to persecute medical marijuana dispensaries that sell to consenting adults even though those transactions have been legalized by the voters of California and 16 other states (to see what a complete reversal this is of everything Obama and Holder previously said on this subject, see here).

Progressives love to point out the hypocrisy of social conservatives who righteously rail against (and demand legal sanction for) the very same sexually sinful behavior in which they enthusiastically engage — and rightly so. But what about a society that continues to imprison millions of human beings for using substances that vast numbers of people in the nation have secretly used and enjoyed, or which empowers people with the Oval Office, or reveres people like Steve Jobs, who have done the same? The DOJ claims dispensaries are now masking non-medical marijuana sales, leading to this question: even leaving aside the rather significant (and shameful) fact that drug laws are enforced with overwhelming dispropritionality against racial minorities, what possible justification is there for putting someone in a cage for using a substance they choose to use without any evidence that they’ve harmed anyone else or even risked harm to anyone else?

All of this becomes even more incomprehensible when one considers the never-ending preaching about the need for “austerity,” which means: depriving poor and middle class citizens of services and financial security. In this environment, how can it possibly be justified to expend substantial sums of money investigating, arresting, prosecuting and then imprisoning large numbers of people for doing nothing more than consuming marijuana or selling it in states where it is legal to sell it to other consenting adults? That makes about as much sense as deploying a State Department army of 16,000 for a permanent presence in Iraq at the same time political and financial elites plot cuts to Social Security and Medicare. I genuinely don’t understand why a policy that single-handedly sustains America’s status as World’s Largest Jailer — and that consigns huge numbers of minorities and America’s poor to prison and permanent criminal status for no good reason, in the process breaking up families at astonishing rates (to say nothing of the inexorable erosion of civil liberties) — isn’t a higher priority for progressives.

But just like the senseless and monumentally wasteful Endless military War, America’s Drug War feeds the pockets of a powerful private industry: the growing privatized prison industry, which needs more and more prisoners for profits, gets many from drug convictions, and thus vehemently opposes and lobbies against any reform to the nation’s drug laws as well as reform of harsh criminal sentencing. That, combined with self-righteous, deeply hypocritical anti-drug moralizing and complete obliviousness to evidence, has ensured not only that the Drug War and its prison obsession endures, but that it remains outside the scope of what can even be discussed in mainstream political circles. And as the Obama DOJ’s newly intensified attacks on marijuana demonstrate, the problem is, in many respects, getting worse, even as most of the world moves toward a much more restrained and health-based (rather than crime-based) approach to dealing with drug usage.

* * * * *

In 2009, I produced a study on the overwhelming success of drug decriminalization in Portugal, published by the CATO Institute. That study has been widely cited and discussed in numerous places, including receiving a critical response from the White House Drug Control Policy Office. I’m now working on an update to that report which I will present at this excellent Conference on Ending the Drug War, to take place on November 15, in Washington D.C., featuring former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Castañeda, the Speaker of the Uruguayan House of Deputies Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou and several others. The Conference is open to the public and tickets can be obtained at the above link.

UPDATE: In The Los Angeles Times today, a former Deputy Chief of the L.A.P.D. details how drug prohibition “has cost our country more than $1 trillion in cash and much more in immeasurable social harm”; “the damage that came from the prohibition of alcohol pales in comparison to the harm wrought by drug prohibition“; and “that ending today’s prohibition on drugs — starting with marijuana — would do more to hurt the [drug] cartels than any level of law enforcement skill or dedication ever can.” In sum:

There’s no doubt that the violence, the growth of cartels and gangs, the overpopulation of our prisons and the squandering of our police resources would not occur if we eliminated illegal drug profits and implemented a non-criminal approach to regulating drugs. We did this once with alcohol, and there’s no reason we can’t do it with other drugs today.

There may be no reason we can’t do it, but there are plenty of reasons we don’t do it, beginning with the large number of government and private factions that benefit in countless ways from this ongoing war.

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald. More Glenn Greenwald

 

Time to Stop the Real Reefer Madness September 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Mexico.
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            by Laura Carlsen

            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.

posted Sep 16, 2011. www.yesmagazine.org
Reefer Madness video still
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 invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness.

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.

Needle exchange photo by D.M. GillisWhy 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.

Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on
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
Central America.

The United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people.

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.

drug war protest by Fronteras Desk

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 the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions.

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.


Laura CarlsenLaura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, and a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus, where this column originally appeared.

Is Pot Legalization Push in California a Trend That Will Spread? February 8, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Drugs.
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Sunday 07 February 2010

by: Jeff Mitchell  |  The Sacramento Bee

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(Photo: mAicLo)

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.

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

Marijuana issue suddenly smoking hot March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs.
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JEREMY D. MAYER

www.politico.com, March 29, 2009

Smoking pot doesn’t cause schizophrenia, but marijuana as an issue sure gives our political system the symptoms. We have just elected our third president in a row who at least tried marijuana in early adulthood, yet it remains illegal.

As we discovered again this week, President Obama, like his two predecessors, supports imprisoning people for making the same choices he made.

Beyond imprisonment, one of my policy students, who was honest on a security clearance about her one time use of pot, could lose her job for doing what Clinton, Bush and Obama did.

On television, leading comedian Jon Stewart and America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock, swap pot smoking stories with lighthearted abandon, laughing along with their audience, who, like most Americans, end up voting for politicians who support draconian punishments for pot users and dealers.

Year after year, major Hollywood films like Pineapple Express show potsmoking in a positive light, yet legalization remains unmentionable to both our political parties. And America’s most popular Olympian, Michael Phelps, like the majority of people his age, has tried pot, but loses millions in sponsorship when it is revealed that he has done what most of his fans have done.

Several states have legalized medical marijuana, and a few are contemplating decriminalization, and yet, other states are about to prevent those whose urine tests positive for marijuana from receiving desperately needed benefits to which they would otherwise be legally entitled.

At least eight states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, are actively considering making drug tests mandatory for food stamps, welfare, or unemployment. In a classic demonstration of how America has always had one drug law for the rich and one for the poor, no one has suggested drug testing recipients of billions in bailout cash. We could probably save a lot of money by testing Wall Street financiers for pot (or cocaine, for that matter).

Perhaps these accumulated paradoxes have finally become large enough for the nation to begin reconsidering its position on pot. For an issue that has been in stasis for decades, marijuana is suddenly hot, one might even say, smoking.

By jamming up the White House’s “Open for Questions” website with votes for questions about their favorite substance, advocates for the legalization of marijuana managed to force President Obama to address the issue.

This is success in Washington, even when the president chuckled derisively and came down against legalization. Of the thousands of issues in the competitive policy environment, only a few get this kind of attention.

Some think the economic crisis will help the legalization cause.

California state legislator Tom Ammiano argues that marijuana, by far the most lucrative crop with an estimated $14 billion in sales, could provide over a billion dollars of tax revenue in California alone.

There are, however, a few problems with these numbers. First, it is always tough to estimate what total sales are for any illegal substance. Good data just doesn’t exist in this area. Second, even if $14 billion is accurate, that’s the California sales total when pot is illegal. When a pothead scores a dimebag in Los Angeles, the high price is mostly a function of the illegality. He’s paying for the risks taken by the grower, the importers, and the dealers at each step of the marijuana process.

Currently, dealers risk not only jail, confiscation of property, and the burden of a criminal record, but they also face violence from other rival dealers. That’s why the markup on pot is so extreme.

Legalize pot, and perhaps 80% of its price vanishes. And since marijuana requires very little processing, unlike cocaine or heroin, the supply of pot could skyrocket if it were legalized, further driving the price down. Why pay for it when you can grow your own, tax-free?

It is also possible, though, that legalization would result in a surge in demand, since potential users who avoided it due to fear of incarceration or its high price might now indulge.

Advocates of decriminalization or legalization have reason to take cheer from many recent developments. Tax revenues, although not as high as some dreamers would wish, would certainly be substantial, and would replace the billions spent interdicting and confiscating marijuana, as well as imprisoning users and small time dealers. Legalizing marijuana would immediately remove millions of dollars in income from the international drug cartels that are making life hell in Mexico.

The tide of public opinion is slowly moving towards decriminalization. As polling expert Nate Silver recently pointed out, only 10% supported legalization in 1969, while at least 40% do so today. The younger you are, the more likely you are to have tried marijuana, and to support its legalization. NORML doesn’t have to persuade anyone to win; if they just wait for the anti-pot geezers to die, most Americans will favor legalization within a decade.

Or, they could wait for Obama to go back to the position he had when he was an obscure Illinois state legislator, just four years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQr9ezr8UeA

I don’t use pot, but I do believe that the tide of history is moving against our ridiculous and counterproductive ban on this relatively harmless substance. The question is not will we decriminalize, but when?

Jeremy D. Mayer is the author of “American Media Politics in Transition” (McGraw Hill, 2007) and an associate professor and director of the master’s program in public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

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