I attended a progressive event with MPP’s Morgan Fox in D.C. last Tuesday, where Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI) and Barney Frank (D-MA) both spoke.
Unsolicited — in front of the 60 or 70 activists and opinion leaders in attendance — Rep. Conyers made an off-handed criticism of the drug war, which was nice to hear.
And Rep. Frank spent most of his time at the microphone talking about the marriage-equality victories on November 6 in four states, saying a few times that the gay-rights community “must press our advantage.”
In other words, if the political momentum is on your side, you should use that momentum.
After their remarks, I chatted with Rep. Frank one-on-one. (This would surely be the last time I speak to him before he retires from the U.S. House in January.) After congratulating me on our wins in Colorado and Washington on November 6, he said to me, “We must press our advantage.”
In fact, that’s what we’re going to do with a new slate of ballot initiatives for November 2016, as well as congressional legislation to allow states to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
I want to thank Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul (R-TX) for their service in the U.S. House; both men are retiring on the same day, as it turns out. They’ve made a wonderful contribution to the marijuana-policy-reform movement through their legislative leadership over the last three decades.
I’ve been organizing and advocating for marijuana policy reform in New Hampshire since 2007, and some of the successes have been very gratifying. After two near-victories on the medical marijuana issue (the governor vetoed bills in both 2009 and 2012), it now appears very likely that New Hampshire will pass an effective medical marijuana law in 2013.
However, I have often wished I could do something to help seriously ill patients in my home state of West Virginia. Sadly, medical marijuana legislation hasn’t been seriously considered in the Mountain State, despite the best efforts of Delegate Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor), who introduced bills in both 2011 and 2012.
The situation in West Virginia changed dramatically for the better this week, as Delegate Manypenny hosted a successful public forum Tuesday in the House of Delegates chamber. The forum was called “Should West Virginia Reform its Marijuana Laws?” and generated positive media coverage, including this article in the Charleston Gazette.
Featured speakers included an emergency room physician, the president-elect of the West Virginia Nurses’ Association, and a retired police lieutenant and FBI unit chief. This impressive line-up laid to rest once and for all the notion that marijuana policy reform supporters are merely self-interested marijuana users rather than conscientious, civic-minded advocates interested in improving public policy.
I was truly honored to be included in this forum and given the opportunity to speak about marijuana policy in the House chamber — a chamber I had last visited in the 1980’s as a student in the Wood County school system.
With strong, credible advocates like these supporting medical marijuana in West Virginia, patients in the Mountain State finally have reason to be optimistic about the future.
In New Hampshire, I’ve often argued that decision-makers should consider the state’s motto — Live Free or Die — when considering whether patients should be free to follow their doctors’ advice without fear of arrest. West Virginia’s state motto — Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers Are Always Free) — seems equally relevant to this issue.
May both states live up to their mottos by passing effective medical marijuana laws, and may they do so soon!
In an interview released today, President Obama said that going after marijuana consumers will not be a priority of the federal government in states such as Colorado and Washington, where voters approved ballot measures this November making marijuana legal for adults. He also highlighted the need for a conversation about how to reconcile state and federal marijuana laws.
Marijuana officially became legal in Colorado on Monday after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the voter-approved initiative into law. The measure adopted by voters in Washington went into effect last week. The initiatives also direct the legislatures of both states to create regulations in order to establish a legal market for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults.
While it is heartening to see Obama reiterating his position on not spending federal resources going after individuals, this does not represent a significant change in policy. Federal policy has not focused on them for some time, as most possession cases are dealt with at the state and local level.
The question is how the implementation of market regulations will be treated. It is time for the Obama administration and the governments of Colorado and Washington to determine how to work together to advance those state-based systems without frustrating legitimate federal interests. We look forward to having this conversation with White House and Department of Justice officials.
It seems like such a conversation is more possible than ever before, and supporters of reform should be cautiously optimistic. As Dominic Holden at The Stranger put it:
Obama is, if nothing else, encouraging more conversation about marijuana legalization instead of promising to shut it down. And the more people talk about this issue, the more it wins.
I remember one of the clients I had on internship. He’d been drinking a fifth of bourbon a day for years. As you’d guess, his liver was a mess, and his thinking was clearly impaired. I couldn’t help but wonder how much better his health would have been (and how much money he could have saved) if he’d used cannabis instead. Of course, if I’d suggested that he switch to a safer drug, my supervisor would have berated me so loudly that everyone in the clinic would have had to cover his ears. There was little evidence to support this practice, no matter how much I thought it might help.
Although the idea remains controversial, substituting cannabis for drugs that cause more harm has a ton of advantages. It can certainly be cheaper, easier on the body, and less impairing. Harvard professor Lester Grinspoon mentioned this idea decades ago. I must get two e-mails a week from people who swear by the practice, but individual cases hardly count as compelling evidence. Fortunately, real people with real problems do everything that they can to tackle their troubles, no matter what the published research might say.
Years after I left internship, Dr. Amanda Reiman showed that many patrons of the Berkeley Patients’ Group used the plant to decrease or stop their consumption of other substances. The obvious next step would be a randomized clinical trial. Folks with drug problems would be randomly assigned to receive treatment as usual or to use cannabis exclusively instead. We’d follow up with them later and see how they were doing. Then we’d know if the treatment was helpful. It would take some money to give them the treatment they needed, but no matter how the experiment turned out, we’d know something very valuable.
If I’d called the National Institute of Health to pitch this idea, they’d probably have laughed their heads off. They’d have said that everybody knows that you can’t treat alcoholism with cannabis. I’d have mentioned Dr. Reiman’s study. They would have said that it was just one sample, and they were all from the same place, so no dice.
For this reason, we wanted to know if more medical cannabis patients made comparable claims. My esteemed colleagues contacted over 400 medical cannabis patients who were patrons of four different dispensaries in British Columbia. (I was just the data monkey on this project. Once New York state becomes more enlightened about medical cannabis, I’ll be more help.) Over 75% of these folks said that they used cannabis in place of some other drug. Replacing prescription drugs was the most common practice (68%), but many used the plant instead of alcohol (41%) and illicit drugs (36%). (Participants could report more than one drug for substitution, so the totals don’t equal 100%.)
We now have literally hundreds of people reporting that they can use cannabis instead of drugs that cause more harm. People who use alcohol or other drugs problematically often balk at treatments that demand complete abstinence. Who might show up for treatment if patients knew that they could use cannabis as part of the program? Maybe they’d run into trouble with the plant. But maybe they’d have healthy, productive, fun lives. They’d certainly have fewer problems if they laid off stimulants, alcohol, or opiates. So, how about it? What will it take to get a harm reduction program going where folks can use cannabis instead of hard drugs? I hate to think that the world might never know.
A lawsuit challenging Arizona’s medical marijuana law was rejected last week, when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon rejected arguments by Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and refused to declare the law invalid.
This is great news for patients, but wait, there’s more! Last week, the Phoenix FOX affiliate reported that a dispensary in Tucson became the first to open its doors in Arizona. However, that dispensary does not yet have medical marijuana available for patients, so the honor of being the first state-licensed dispensary actually goes to Arizona Organix in Glendale, which began supplying patients Thursday, December 6.
Prop. 203 has overcome several obstacles since it was approved by voters in 2010, and the law now appears to be well on its way to being fully implemented. However, advocates must remain vigilant, as we know the program’s opponents will continue trying to challenge the rights of patients in court and in the legislature. Montgomery has already announced he will appeal Judge Gordon’s ruling, so it’s clear the effort to preserve and protect Arizona’s medical marijuana law must continue.
On this day in 1933, Congress responded to the growing number of states and citizens who decried the failed war on alcohol by ratifying the 21st Amendment. By effectively repealing federal alcohol prohibition, this historic event allowed states to determine the best way to deal with alcohol without interference from the federal government.
Tomorrow, history will begin to repeat itself as the ballot measure approved by voters in Washington officially goes into effect, making it the first state to remove all penalties for marijuana possession by adults. The federal government would be wise to learn from history and do what it did 79 years ago: get out of the way.
When it comes down to it, marijuana prohibition and alcohol prohibition are nearly identical, both in their intentions and in their failings. Both products are popular, and both prohibitions cause great harm to society. The laws that put non-violent alcohol users in prison and enriched violent gangsters like Al Capone are eerily similar to those that have destroyed the lives of millions of otherwise law-abiding marijuana consumers and propped up the cartels responsible for the daily violence south of the border.
Despite the glaring similarities with alcohol prohibition, there are still many government officials who simply do not see the parallels and insist that we cannot let responsible adults purchase marijuana – a far safer product than alcohol – from legitimate businesses instead of in the underground market.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the position of the U.S. Department of Justice, but we have yet to learn how, or if, they will push this position in states that choose a different, more rational path.
Washington’s new law will allow individuals 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana without penalty, fine, or arrest. Therefore, as of tomorrow, adults will no longer be persecuted simply for choosing to consume marijuana. It is now up to the state to create a system to tax and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana so that this lucrative market can be properly managed, instead of being left in the hands of criminals without quality control or oversight.
The federal government should not interfere. It made that mistake when it tried to enforce federal law in states that had removed alcohol penalties, and the result was unnecessary suffering at the expense of states’ rights, vast amounts of money, and individual liberties.
The Obama Administration should not make the same mistake.
According to a national poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, a record high 58% of American voters said they think marijuana should be made legal, compared to only 39% who do not. In addition, 50% of respondents said they think marijuana will become legal under federal law within the next 10 years.
A strong plurality (47%) of respondents said they think President Obama should allow Colorado and Washington to implement the ballot measures approved by voters last month to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. Just 33% said they approve of President Obama using federal resources to prevent them from going into effect. Interestingly, support for the rights of states could be higher, but 46% of Republicans surveyed support the federal government asserting its power over the states.
Download the full poll results here.
Marijuana possession by adults is scheduled to become legal in Washington on Thursday when Initiative 502 officially goes into effect. A similar measure adopted by Colorado voters, Amendment 64, will go into effect no later than January 6. The new laws in Colorado and Washington make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use. They also direct the legislatures of both states to create regulations in order to establish a legal market for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults. So far, the federal government has not stated whether it intends to use any resources to interfere with the implementation of the new state laws.
The poll of 1,325 voters asked the same question that has been used by Gallup since 1970 to measure support for marijuana legalization in the country. In October 2011 Gallup found, for the first time, a majority (50%) of Americans supported making marijuana legal. Election results and pre-election polls in Colorado suggest PPP’s automated telephone survey might be a more accurate gauge of support for marijuana legalization, perhaps due to a hesitancy of voters to express their pro-marijuana sentiments to live operators, such as those utilized by Gallup.
In the wake of our victory in Colorado — where 54.8 percent of the voters passed Amendment 64, a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana like alcohol — good people are understandably clamoring to pass similar measures in their states.
Here is a listing of the ingredients of the recipe that led to the historic victory in Colorado on November 6.
1. Presidential Election: Given that no one had ever previously legalized marijuana in the history of the world, we assumed that the election in Colorado would be close — win or lose. So we intentionally chose to place our initiative on the ballot during a presidential election, which always attracts a larger proportion of young voters, who are more supportive. …
To read more, please visit The Huffington Post.
Today is a notable occasion. It is the 30th anniversary of a Florida man gaining the ability to use marijuana for medical purposes and of the beginning of a bafflingly hypocritical stance by the federal government.
One of the strangest ironies in the government’s war on marijuana is demonstrated by a man named Irv Rosenfeld. The federal authorities still officially maintain the legal fiction that marijuana has no accepted medical use; the substance is still classified in Schedule I, and medical marijuana providers are still raided and prosecuted by the DEA. Yet, the federal government has been producing and delivering marijuana to Rosenfeld for decades. Rosenfeld suffers from a rare bone disorder, multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses, in which cancerous spurs of bone grow outward through his body, causing extreme pain and necessitating six surgeries to date. To treat his condition, he receives approximately 300 pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes from the federal government every 25 days.
The marijuana is produced at the University of Mississippi as part of the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. This program, administered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was first established in response to the successful lawsuit against the government on behalf of Robert Randall. Randall, a glaucoma patient, was arrested for growing his own medicine in 1975, but successfully employed a “medical necessity” defense. Since it was established that marijuana was the only medicine that worked to control his glaucoma, it was argued that any sensible person in such a situation would violate the marijuana laws rather than allowing themselves to go blind. The program currently supplies medical marijuana to only four known surviving patients; it was closed to new applicants by the first Bush administration in 1991, rejecting hundreds of already filed applications.
Rosenfeld works as a stockbroker. Contrary to official innuendo about the incapacitating effects of the marijuana “high,” he shows all signs of being fully functional while smoking 10-12 joints per day. Federal anti-drug authorities show no interest in studying his case, while simultaneously complaining of the lack of evidence for the medical efficacy or safety of smoked marijuana. They are apparently also not concerned with the 1988 ruling of the DEA’s own Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young, who found that “marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people” and is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” The federal government even holds a patent for the medical use of cannabinoids, chemicals found in marijuana.
Rosenfeld will be in Illinois from Tuesday through Thursday of next week, in support of the medical marijuana bill under consideration in the state legislature. Anyone interested in interviewing him should contact Morgan Fox, either through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 202-905-2031.
A new poll released on Tuesday concluded that the vast majority of Americans are not impressed with the results of the nation’s anti-drug efforts. A full 82% of respondents answered “no” to the question: “Is the United States winning the war on drugs?” This is a significant increase from a poll released in June of this year, in which 66% of respondents characterized the drug war as a failure. Only 7% answered “yes” to the most recent poll question, while 12% were undecided.
As the Huffington Post reports, several other marijuana-related questions were asked in the same poll. One of these found that 45% supported legalizing marijuana, with 45% opposed and the remaining 10% undecided. This is consistent with two earlier polls released this year on the same question. Asked which was more dangerous, alcohol or marijuana, 51% of the latest poll’s respondents answered “alcohol,” while only 24% said “marijuana,” and 24% were undecided. Contrary to the traditional image of marijuana’s legalization being an issue of interest only to its users, 88 % said that they had not smoked marijuana even once in the past year, which is similar to the national average.
Thirty-four percent of respondents agreed that the government spends too much money on the war on drugs, and only 23% of all respondents claimed that the government should be spending even more. According to the New York Times, the enforcement costs alone have been $20 to $25 billion per year over the past decade.
In the wake of the recent successful ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington to legalize the marijuana industry, as well as Massachusetts becoming the 18th state with an effective medical marijuana law, one more question from the poll is worth noting. A full 60% said that marijuana laws should be left to the states, while only 27% said that the federal government should determine the marijuana laws in any particular state. As MPP’s Steve Fox noted yesterday in the Chicago Sun-Times, the federal government’s authority to prohibit marijuana has always been highly questionable on constitutional grounds.
The survey of 1,000 adults nationwide was conducted on November 9-10, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. The exact wording of all of the questions in the poll can be found here, and information on methodology can be found here.
The House I Live In, a newly released documentary from director Eugene Jarecki, dissects the United States’ failed drug prohibition policies, both previous to and following the declaration of the “War on Drugs” under the Nixon administration. Endorsed by Brad Pitt, who is one of the producers, the film deals with the serious consequences of our anti-drug crusades, including world-record rates of incarceration, the development of an influential prison-industrial complex, and, connected with these, the exacerbation of racial and class-based divisions in society. As with the prohibition of alcohol, current drug laws also enrich the organized crime elements, which now control large and extremely profitable drug markets.
The director makes his case largely through interviews with supporters and opponents of the War on Drugs who are involved in it in various ways, including judges, prison guards, and narcotics officers, as well as drug users and dealers. David Simon, notable as the director of the critically-acclaimed HBO series The Wire, which was centered on inner-city drug gangs, is also one of the main interview subjects. Jarecki concludes that the War on Drugs is a cruel, expensive, and ineffective policy which has done great harm to the country, including the people who are ostensibly being protected from drugs by the law.
If you would like to attend a screening in your area, check the schedule here. We’ll be alerting our members of upcoming screenings as they happen.
The infamous school drug-education program known as D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) may be removing marijuana from its curriculum. D.A.R.E. officer Mike Meyer of Kennewick, Washington explains that program’s materials for December make no mention of the substance, though he says he does not know why.
If true, this is a welcome step, although eliminating D.A.R.E. altogether would be preferable. All credible studies of the program, including a report from the Government Accountability Office, have failed to find any decrease in drug use connected with participation in D.A.R.E. Officials with the organization have apparently been slow in admitting this, however. In a libel suit brought by D.A.R.E. against Rolling Stone magazine, Federal Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that allegations printed in the magazine, including that D.A.R.E. had actually tried to suppress scientific research critical of the program, were “substantially true.” D.A.R.E. appealed the decision, but the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the ruling.
Although D.A.R.E. officials admitted their failure in 2001 and proposed a new, less hysterical curriculum, research since then has still failed to demonstrate any success. The “new” curriculum, as it is described on the website, does not seem to involve any increased commitment to facts, but rather now involves “role-playing sessions” and “discussion groups.” The summary of the new program, revealingly, makes insinuations that drug use is connected to terrorism, and in place of facts, explains that officers will be using “stunning brain imagery” as “tangible proof of how substances diminish mental activity, emotions, coordination and movement.”
Although they have possibly abandoned the anti-marijuana crusade in their school curriculum, D.A.R.E. still disseminates dishonest information on their website. An ironically named “fact sheet” repeats claims that marijuana “has a high potential for abuse,” and although it is short on the details or prevalence of this abuse, it does claim that marijuana can weaken the immune system and cause insanity and lung disease. The “fact sheet” categorically denies the medical benefits of marijuana, suggesting that it causes only “inebriation.” At the same time, it admits that THC, which the page describes as “the psychoactive [in other words mind-altering or “inebriating”] ingredient in marijuana,” has medical benefits. It implicitly denies the countless cases of experiences of medical marijuana patients who tried conventional treatments without success, claiming simply that “existing legal drugs provide superior treatment for serious medical conditions,” and “the FDA has approved safe and effective medication for the treatment of glaucoma, nausea, wasting syndrome, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.” The page even quotes the Institute of Medicine study, “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” the very same study which confirms the medical usefulness of marijuana and refutes claims that it poses a major proven risk of addiction or lung cancer, or that it causes brain damage, amotivational syndrome, suppression of the immune system, use of other illicit drugs, or premature death from any cause. The study further points out the shortcomings of existing legal medications for the relevant medical conditions, including the slow and unreliable action of synthetic THC pills.
According to Mike Riggs at Reason, D.A.R.E. headquarters has neither confirmed nor denied any shift in policy.
Last night, the voters in both Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures to repeal their states’ prohibition on marijuana and replace it with a system of taxation and regulation. These new laws, which will go into effect within the next month, will also remove criminal penalties against the possession and private use of marijuana by adults 21 and older. Colorado’s law also allows adults 21 and older to cultivate up to six marijuana plants (three of which may be mature). Both laws direct state agencies to develop rules and regulations for the registration of marijuana cultivators, product producers, and retail establishments.
As you can probably guess, we here at MPP are overjoyed! Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 54.8% to 45.1%, and Washington voters approved I-502 by a margin of 55.44% to 44.56%. These historic victories represent the first bricks to be knocked out of the marijuana prohibition wall. While we are grateful and joyous in victory, we know there is plenty more work that needs to be done. And so we will continue to work. We will work as hard as we can to change the hearts and minds of all Americans, while continuing to pressure state and federal lawmakers who have the power to enact real change.
MPP is proud to have been the primary financial backer of the Colorado campaign and to have played a key role in the drafting of Amendment 64 and in the coordination of the campaign. We are also so very grateful and proud of the work done by The Colorado Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol out of Denver – where MPP had three paid staffers – and both the ACLU-WA and the New Approach Washington campaign for drafting and passing I-502. These professional, savvy, and intelligent campaigns demonstrated that the public at large much prefers a well regulated and taxed system of adult marijuana use to the tired and failed marijuana prohibition. They proved that when presented with a well thought out plan, voters will listen.
Repeal of marijuana prohibition in Colorado and Washington are the first and most important steps towards seeing an end to marijuana prohibition. The federal government and 48 states still cling to failed prohibitionist policies that do nothing to prevent use or abuse while costing taxpayers a fortune. Please continue to write, email, and call your state and federal lawmakers and urge them to reconsider failed marijuana prohibition. Please remember to be respectful, and be prepared to have an intelligent conversation about the need to reform marijuana laws; we have background materials available. If your friends and family don’t already support reform, start a conversation with them, too.
Tuesday, November 6. Election Day. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be watching the news, reading about exit polls, and trying to figure out the results before the major networks make the call. But how are you going to keep track of all the marijuana-related issues on the ballot? That’s where we come in!
We’re going to be providing coverage of the various marijuana-related measures on the ballot on Facebook and Twitter, providing updates and results as they come in. So, if you haven’t already, please use the links below to ‘like’ our Facebook page and ‘follow’ us on Twitter. Please share these accounts with anyone you know who wants to be kept up to date on the latest results!
We’re just days away from making history! There’s still time to make a difference – please use this online phone bank tool from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to call Colorado voters and ask them to vote Yes on 64!
Also, if you’re looking for a simple summary of Colorado’s Amendment 64, as well as the latest polling data, be sure to check this out!
On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, and our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition was put to rest. Americans grew tired of the ever-worsening violence associated with the rise of the criminal alcohol market that developed in the absence of a legally recognized and properly regulated industry. As a society, we came to realize that the dangerous and unavoidable collateral markets created by prohibition were in fact more detrimental to society than alcohol itself. On November 6, 2012, some 79 years later, many Americans will have the opportunity to strike the very important first blows against another failed prohibition: marijuana’s.
The upcoming General Election will allow millions of Americans to bypass the legislative process and decide for themselves whether prohibitive marijuana policies should stand. Three states – Colorado, Washington, and Oregon – will be voting on measures to end the state prohibition on adult marijuana possession and use. Two states – Arkansas and Massachusetts – will be voting on whether exemptions should be carved out of their state criminal codes to allow possession and use for the seriously ill. One state – Montana – will vote on a referendum to repeal a law that gutted their previously enacted medical marijuana law. Finally, a host of cities and towns across the country will be voting on measures that either reform city codes or send symbolic messages that greater reform is needed.
State measures to end marijuana prohibition
Three states will be voting on measures to tax and regulate marijuana, and odds are at least one will pass. There has been steady majority or plurality support for both Colorado’s and Washington’s initiatives, and Oregon’s question has seen a recent uptick in the polls as well. If any of the three do pass, it would represent a sea change in American marijuana policy.
While the minutia of all three measures differ – and I highly encourage voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to read their measures – they are born of common goals. The idea is to devise a system where marijuana sales are brought out of the criminal market and instead subjected to careful regulation and taxation. With tight controls, marijuana would be legally grown and sold by law-abiding, tax-paying businesses, as opposed to the criminal enterprises that currently hold a monopoly over the lucrative marijuana market. Creating a legal and regulated market ensures safety and transparency with regard to potency by allowing cultivators to legally test their product. Strict age limits on sales will create barriers to underage consumption by imposing penalties on businesses that sell to minors (when was the last time a drug dealer asked for ID?). A taxed and regulated market also means that states will see added revenue that can help with funding education projects, medical research, etc. The current system ensures that states capture no revue on marijuana sales.
So what will the effect of passage be and what will the feds do? The first question is pretty easy: if one, two, or all three of these pass, millions of Americans 21 and older will no longer be subject to arrest for the possession or private use of a plant proven safer than alcohol. It is clear that states can, and do, create their own criminal laws. In addition, 99% of all marijuana arrests are made under state law. So if states remove their criminal penalties against marijuana possession and private use, we can expect to see a significant drop in marijuana-related arrests.
The second question – how the feds will react – is difficult to predict. The feds can choose to allow the states to proceed with implementation of the regulatory structure without interference. This would be what I like to call the ‘laboratory of democracy’ approach. We already know the results of the marijuana prohibition experiment: control in the hands of criminals, laced product, exposure to all kinds of other illicit drugs, violence, and no decrease in use or abuse. It’s high time a state tests a different approach. Although taxation and regulation may not lead to a decrease in use or abuse, it will certainly eliminate or greatly reduce the negative collateral consequences that are inherent in marijuana prohibition.
The feds could also sue to enjoin the implementation of the new regulatory schemes. At first blush, this may seem scary, but as Dominic Holden recently stated, this too represents a major opportunity for change. A suit against Colorado, Washington, or Oregon would force us to have a national dialogue about our current marijuana policies. With 50% of the population – not to mention an ever-growing list of opinion makers – arguing for the end of marijuana prohibition, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. Look at the increase in support for gay marriage after the first lawsuit was filed challenging California’s Prop 8. If we can have an open and honest conversation, we can expedite policy reform.
Either way, we’re not going to know until a state votes to change their marijuana policies. If you live in Colorado, please vote “yes” on Amendment 64. If you’re in Washington, you’re voting “yes” on I-502. For those of you in Oregon, please vote “yes” on Measure 80. To all of you, I’m envious of your ballot.
State medical marijuana questions
In addition to the three states voting on measures to regulate and tax the adult sales of marijuana, two states have initiatives on the ballot that will create medical marijuana programs. Arkansas and Massachusetts, if passed, will become the 18th and 19th medical marijuana states. They will join the District of Columbia and 17 other states that currently recognize the legitimate medical use of marijuana.
The number of medical marijuana states continues to grow despite obstruction and interference from the federal level, and for the most part, the previously enacted laws continue to thrive. Passage of one or two more laws come November 6 will not only protect citizens of Arkansas and Massachusetts from arrest and prosecution for using a medicine recommended by their physicians, but it will further the momentum and send a loud message to federal policy makers: reform your punitive and unscientific marijuana laws.
Unfortunately, the federal government’s attempt to undermine state medical marijuana laws worked in at least one state, Montana. This past legislative session, Montana lawmakers debated a series of bills that proposed severe restrictions and even outright repeal of the voter-approved medical marijuana law. The amendments the legislature settled on are onerous enough that many took to calling it “repeal in disguise.” After passage, enough signatures were gathered to put the new restrictive law to the voters as an up or down referendum. By rejecting the ‘repeal in disguise’ law, voters in Montana can once again affirm their desire to see sensible marijuana policies.
Reform on the local ballots
Reform comes not just from the state level, but from the local level as well. Municipalities across the country will have marijuana policy related questions – some binding, others not – on their ballots.
Five municipalities in Michigan will be voting on marijuana policy measures. Kalamazoo will be voting on whether to allow three medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within city limits. Residents of Detroit and Flint will decide if their city codes should be amended to remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana on private property. Grand Rapids will ask its residents if the code should be amended to replace the possibility of arrest for marijuana possession with a nominal civil fine. Finally, Ypsilanti voters will decide on a measure to make the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of marijuana by adults 21 years or older the lowest priority for law enforcement personnel.
In addition to voting on medical marijuana, voters in certain districts in Massachusetts will also vote on non-binding public policy questions that direct elected officials to support taxing and regulating marijuana. While they do not have the effect of law, passage of the questions would send a strong message to the representatives of those districts that their constituents support taxing and regulating marijuana. Further north, voters in Burlington, Vermont will be asked if the city should “support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of all cannabis and hemp products?”
Finally, many cities and localities across California will be voting on measures to allow or ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in their municipality. Unlike most laws with regulated distribution, California’s medical marijuana law allows localities to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as opposed to the state.
High-level political support for marijuana policy reform
It is worth pointing out that marijuana policy reform is not just relegated to a ballot issue. There are many top-level politicians who are starting to either speak up, or speak louder, on the need to reform our marijuana policies. For instance, Gov. Pete Shumlin in Vermont has long supported decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. The Democratic Attorney General and candidate for Governor in Montana, Steve Bullock, opposes the recent assault on patients rights’ and will vote against IR-124. More impressive is the fact that the entire political delegation representing Seattle, Washington, including Mayor Mike McGinn, supports taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.
The beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition
We very well may remember Wednesday, November 7 as the morning we woke up to discover marijuana’s been legalized. If not, then we most certainly will have seen the most support for a regulation and taxation measure to date. Regardless of the outcomes of the various questions, we will have advanced the conversation in a major way. Marijuana policy reform is not about letting a bunch of people get high. It’s about adequately addressing the harms that are associated with marijuana use while stamping out the atrocities that were born from marijuana prohibition. The ballot measures in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon would do just that, while the medical questions being asked of the citizens in Montana, Massachusetts, and Arkansas and the various municipal questions would impact the marijuana policy conversation as well. As a nation, we are moving ever closer to acceptance of a taxed and regulated marijuana marketplace; it’s now just a matter of time.
The incoming Dutch government has rejected a proposal for a “wietpas” or “weed pass,” a compulsory registration for anyone using the country’s famous marijuana cafes. The proposal would have limited access to the cafes to Dutch residents. The mayors of the Dutch cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht expressed opposition to the proposal, citing a probable increase in black-market street dealing if the measure were implemented. Instead, the coalition government produced an agreement, which, although lacking a registration system, would still ostensibly allow only Dutch residents access to the cafes.
The weed pass proposal was apparently connected with complaints of “drug tourism” in the Netherlands. Tourists from neighboring countries such as Germany, Belgium, and France are a daily sight and apparently a major source of revenue for the Dutch “coffee shops.” Use of the drug by Dutch citizens is actually relatively rare, even in comparison with residents of other European countries, with less than 6% of adults having used it in the past year. Ard van der Steur, a member of parliament for the right-wing People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, described the current situation as “an incredible criminal industry that we need to get rid of,” and complained that “we now function as a supplier of drugs for the rest of Europe.” Tahira Limon, a spokeswoman for the city of Amsterdam, stated however that marijuana is not a serious problem for the country. “The problems we have with substance abuse are almost always related to alcohol,” she said.
How much, or even if, this new revised restriction will be enforced is still in question. The coalition’s new policy agreement states that it will be “if necessary phased in,” and that details of enforcement will be determined “in discussion with the local councils concerned.” Some cafe owners say that they do not expect an actual change in policy, while others complain that the policy is still unclear.
Marijuana is still technically illegal in the Netherlands, as the country is a signatory to treaties such as the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, requiring the prohibition of cannabis along with several other drugs. In practice, however, small-scale marijuana distribution and possession is tolerated in licensed cafes in several cities, including Amsterdam. This policy has been in place since 1972, when it was recommended by a government commission.
Marijuana arrests continued at disturbing levels in 2011, the vast majority of which were for simple possession. According to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, 757,969 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana, more than 87% of which were for possession. This is a slight decrease from 2010. Marijuana arrests accounted for slightly less than half of all drug arrests last year.
In 2011, one American was arrested for marijuana possession every 42 seconds.
Despite intensive law enforcement resources being used to arrest and punish marijuana users, rates of marijuana use continue to rise. The “National Survey on Drug Use and Health” — commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and released in late September — showed that marijuana use had slightly increased nationally between 2010 and 2011. According to the report, more than 29.7 million people aged 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the past year.
“It’s obvious that decades of law enforcement efforts have failed to reduce the availability or use of marijuana. Arresting one American for marijuana possession every 42 seconds is an exercise in futility, especially when one considers that marijuana is safer than alcohol,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. “A business that continues to employ bad policies will eventually fail, but taxpayers are being forced to continually bail out the fiscally irresponsible and morally bankrupt institution of marijuana prohibition. A majority of Americans are tired of this nightmare. It’s time for politicians to regulate marijuana like alcohol.”
A Rasmussen poll in May showed that 56% of voters supported removing criminal penalties for adult marijuana use and instead taxing and regulating the substance in a manner similar to alcohol. In November, voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon will have the opportunity to end marijuana prohibition in their states.While the graph below may look like an improvement, it is important to remember several things: 1) Marijuana arrests account for 50% of all drug arrests. 2) 86% of all marijuana arrests are for simple possession. 3) This means that 43% of all drug arrests are for marijuana possession. 4) Arresting 655,416 people in one year for possession of a plant that is demonstrably safer than legal alcohol is indefensible. We must also remember that this number can easily start to climb again if we do not continue to work for reform. Please do your part to help cut marijuana arrests dramatically next year and donate whatever you can to support Amendment 64 in Colorado. There is only one week left until the election, and every little bit helps convince voters who are still undecided. Together, we can help Colorado become the first place in the world to make marijuana legal!
When the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers face off in game one of the World Series tonight, it will be the first time two teams from different medical marijuana states meet in the Fall Classic (The Giants and Angels played an intrastate series in ’02). There may be a smattering of Tigers fans in attendance, but unless they’re transplants living in California, they probably won’t be medical marijuana patients. When the series shifts to Detroit for game three, however, patients in California will be able to follow their team to Detroit with their medicine. Why the difference? Reciprocity.
Reciprocity is what allows patients to travel from one medical marijuana state to another. States that have it recognize the legitimacy of those out-of-state patients’ ID cards, at least for a short period of time and under some limited exceptions. For example, some states only provide protections for visiting patients who would qualify under their own laws, so a patient from California who uses marijuana to treat insomnia would not be able to use marijuana in Arizona, where insomnia is not a qualifying condition.
Here’s what Michigan’s law says:
“Visiting qualifying patient” means a patient who is not a resident of this state or who has been a resident of this state for less than 30 days.
A registry identification card, or its equivalent, that is issued under the laws of another state … that allows the medical use of marijuana by a visiting qualifying patient … shall have the same force and effect as a registry identification card issued by the department.
There are 17 states that allow patients with doctors’ recommendations to use medical marijuana, but only five—Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Montana, and Rhode Island—include reciprocity. All of those states’ laws were drafted by MPP.
So how does a medical marijuana patient travel, you might ask? It would be very risky to drive from, say, California to Michigan, since that would involve passing through plenty of states that don’t recognize any form of medical marijuana. And while you might think the T.S.A. won’t take too kindly to flying with medical marijuana, they do have an unofficial policy of deferring to state and local authorities, and there are a few examples of patients boarding planes after their medication turned up at the security checkpoint. Obviously we don’t recommend Giants fans doing so without checking with the T.S.A. in Detroit first.
So there you have it. No word on whether two-time Cy Young winner, World Series champion, and noted marijuana user Tim Lincecum is aware of the policy.
Denver’s flourishing and tightly regulated medical marijuana industry will be the subject of a “60 Minutes” report this Sunday.
With Colorado voting on whether to regulate and tax the rest of the state’s marijuana market on Nov. 6, this should be an interesting episode.
Viewers can see the segment on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT on their local CBS affiliate. Those of you in the Denver area can see it at 6:00 p.m. MT on Channel 4.
UPDATE: The full segment can be viewed here.
A new audio recording reveals a disturbing example of current NYPD practices, specifically the “stop and frisk” policy of stopping and searching pedestrians without warrants or probable cause. A 17-year-old named Alvin, who made the recording, explains in the video below that he had been repeatedly stopped and searched by the police for no apparent reason and so had decided to record the next incident. Upon being asked why they are stopping him, the officers on the recording explain that his offense is “looking back at us like that” and “being a fucking mutt.” They then threaten to slap him in the face and break his arm.
The full audio recording is available at The Nation.
The NYPD’s numbers report that the department stopped and frisked 684,330 people last year, which as the Wall Street Journal points out, was “14 percent more than in 2010 and about seven times the number in 2002.” City officials claim the program is effective in reducing crime and getting guns off the streets. However, the New York Civil Liberties Union disputes this, pointing out that less than 0.2 percent of the stops yielded any guns, and approximately 88 percent of the stops did not result in arrests or even citations.
One aspect of the stop and frisk policy, namely the “Operation Clean Halls” program, is ostensibly aimed at drug dealing in and around low-income apartment buildings. The tactics are now being challenged in court, with Assistant District Attorney Jeannette M. Rucker testifying that people are being arrested on trespass charges for being in or around buildings which they actually live in or where friends they’re visiting live.
The tactic also seems to facilitate arrests on marijuana charges. In 2011, there were approximately 50,000 arrests made in the city for minor marijuana possession. This is despite a New York state law, which since 1977 has essentially decriminalized possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana. Under this law, the offense is only punishable by small fines or up to 15 days in prison if it is the individual’s third such offense within a three-year period. A new lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society claims that people are being illegally arrested on minor marijuana charges, sometimes for “public display” of marijuana, which is a criminal offense carrying up to 90 days in prison. Attorneys suggest, however, that the “public display” often simply involves defendants in stop-and-frisk encounters being ordered by police to empty their pockets.
This seems to be not only an attempt to get around the decriminalization law, but also in violation of the recent directive from the city’s Police Commissioner criticizing such practices. Governor Cuomo also introduced legislation earlier this year to remove the “public display” loophole, but the proposed measure did not pass.
As marijuana possession is generally a private activity, which goes mostly undetected without intrusive practices by the police, the stop-and-frisk program is likely responsible for the bulk of these unnecessary arrests. The solution seems obvious: the city should simply abandon the stop-and-frisk program, thereby saving a great deal of time and money, not to mention sparing innocent New Yorkers needless harassment.
News & Information
A very well built documentary about cannabis and drug prohibition. Does the drug prohibition work? Have a look and think for yourself.
The term medical marijuana took on dramatic new meaning in February, 2000 when researchers in Madrid announced they had destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats by injecting them with THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
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