The Speakeasy Blog

California Study Suggests Marijuana a Substitute for Alcohol

A New York Times article this week, Few Problems With Cannabis for California, reports that a pending study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management by Mark Anderson and Daniel Reese has found increased marijuana use to be a substitute for alcohol use in California:

Based on existing empirical evidence, we expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use.
 

The article discusses alcohol's relationship to traffic fatalities and violent crime, including domestic abuse, predicting that marijuana legalization will reduce those problems, with youth use of marijuana remaining stable.

The substitution question has been raised repeatedly at academic fora on marijuana legalization since the Colorado and Washington initiatives passed last year. In our movement we have tended to assume that they are substitutes, but not all academics are sure. At a one-day conference held by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, at their Washington office, one of the guest presenters said the evidence they've seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana is a complement for alcohol use, e.g. increased availability of marijuana could have the effect of increasing alcohol use and is at least correlated with it. Another one of the guest presenters immediate chimed in to say that the evidence his team has seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

DPRC co-director Beau Kilmer often notes that a change in the amount of alcohol use, up or down, could dwarf any increase in marijuana use in terms of its public health ramifications, because alcohol is more harmful than marijuana. But he's cited evidence pointing in both directions, sometimes in different directions for different groups of people. Hopefully the JPAM study's findings will be born out by further research.

Another Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing...

US Capitol, Senate side
From http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=d3ddc8eaa9b9f780d5af0a554e5fcf98:

September 11, 2013

NOTICE OF COMMITTEE HEARING

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing entitled "Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences" for Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

By order of the Chairman.

Witness List

Hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

On

"Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226
10:00 a.m.

Panel I

The Honorable Rand Paul
United States Senator
State of Kentucky

Panel II

The Honorable Brett Tolman
Shareholder
Ray Quinney & Nebeker
Salt Lake City, UT

Marc Levin
Policy Director
Right on Crime Initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Austin, TX

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Marijuana Policy Going on Now

An interesting hearing on federal marijuana policy in the face of medical marijuana in 20 states and legal marijuana in two states was supposed to start a few minutes ago.

It hasn't yet, though.

You can watch the hearings in real time here.

I'll be popping back in periodically to update this blog post as warranted, and will be writing a feature article on it for later today.

Update: 2:50 PM EST the hearing has started. Leahy is speaking.

Update: Leahy: "I don’t think federal prosecutors should be pursuing low level users of marijuana complying with the laws of their states."

Update: 3:00 PM EST Grassley: "Marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug....we could see a Starbucks of marijuana..."

Update: 3:20 PM EST In response to a question from Leahy, Deputy AG Cole said that a preemption lawsuit wasn't a good choice because if the federal government prevailed, marijuana would still be legal in Colorado and Washington, but there wouldn't be any regulation.

Update: 3:35 PM EST Sen. Whitehouse asks for clarity regarding not prosecuting financial institutions and others receiving funds. Cole says only if the eight federal enforcement priorities are implicated. Earlier, he suggested that the DEA wasn't going to be pressuring armored car companies to not work with dispensaries.

Update: 3:45 PM EST Cole is done. Now up are the King County, WA, sheriff, a rep of Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper, and neo-prohibitionist Kevin Sabet.

Update: 3:50 PM EST King County Sheriff Urquhart: "My experience shows me the drug war has been a failure. We've incarcerated a generation of citizens, but not stopped demand. We in the government have failed the people, and the people decided to try something else. I support I-502."

Update: 4:00 PM EST Kevin Sabet finds Deputy AG Cole's recent guidance "disturbing" and argues that the administration can take steps now to destroy the looming creation of Big Marijuana. Why open the floodgates and hope for the best?

Update: 4:15 PM EST The issue of access to banking services has been raised throughout the hearing, both by senators and by witnesses. I was a bit surprised, but I guess business is business.

I'm signing off on this post now unless someone says something really surprising in the remaining minutes. Look for our feature article on the hearing later today.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Youth Drug Use on Decline, Most Media Fail to Notice

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One of the two annual major drug use surveys in the US released its results this week, coinciding with National Recovery Month, according to the news release from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health contains a wealth of information and is hard to boil down, but there are some number that seem salient.

One of them is that current marijuana use by adults (past 30 days) has increased from 5.8% of the population in 2007 to 7.3% in 2012, or 18.9 million current users. However, current marijuana use among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased slightly from 2011 to 2012, 7.9% down to 7.2%, although it's up slightly from 2006 and 2007 (6.7% in both years), but in turn down from 2002 (8.2%). It doesn't look like teen marijuana use is going up generally, and it may be going down, but data like this is usually complicated.

Another is that heroin use has been going up, 373,000 past-year users in 2007 vs. 669,000 in 2012. But cocaine and methamphetamine use have dropped significantly during the same timeframe, while nonmedical use of prescription drugs has stayed about constant.

The other major annual drug use survey, Monitoring the Future, has a category that I believe is useful, "Illicit Drugs Other Than Marijuana." NSDUH doesn't seem to provide a breakdown on that. MTF has found that while use of any given illicit drug besides marijuana varies, the percentage using some illicit drug besides marijuana is roughly constant over time.

Also, drug use by older people (the "baby boomers") is way up relative to a decade ago, though still only about 7%.

How did the mainstream media do? Mixed. A number of outlets highlighted the increase in drug use by older persons, and I certainly agree that's a key finding. But most major outlets focused on the increase in marijuana use overall, while failing to note the decrease in teen marijuana use, including TimeCNN, US News and World Report, USA Today and Fox News. In the (quick and incomplete) look at Google News links that I took, only ABC noted that youth illicit drug use had dropped even as overall illicit use had increased.

I think it's a significant "fail" that most major media did not note that, given the importance place that youth drug use naturally holds in these concerns. Overall, though, the media did not "freak out" over the drug use stats, and that's a good thing.

I've only taken a fairly quick look at the new numbers. We'd welcome any insights readers have on this topic -- even if you think I'm wrong -- post to the comments below, or email us your thoughts or links to your own analyses.

HUGE: Administration to Allow State Marijuana Legalization to Proceed

Dept. of Justice building, Washington, DC (gsa.gov)
Deputy Attorney General James Cole has issued "guidance" to federal prosecutors with respect to the state marijuana laws. The memo is online here. The press release is here.

Though it refers to regulatory legalization, as is happening in Colorado and Washington, the memo indicates that the guidance is for "all states." It additionally includes "civil enforcement," which would seem to go beyond criminal prosecutions and investigations to include problems like forfeiture threats directed at landlords and so forth. As a DOJ memo it would not constrain IRS audits of dispensaries.

There is plenty of wriggle room for prosecutors to target people, if that's what Cole and Holder and Obama intend. But at a first glance at least, it looks to me like the memo is seeking to allow Colorado and Washington to proceed with marijuana legalization, and that it may help ease things up in the medical marijuana states as well.

Phil will be posting a Chronicle story momentarily.

Senate Judiciary Holding Marijuana Hearing Next Month

Dept. of Justice building, Washington, DC (gsa.gov)
As promised, Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has scheduled hearings on marijuana policy. "Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws" will take place September 10 at 10:00am EST in Hart 216. The page has a webcast button. No witness names have been posted yet.

One option that may get discussed is the idea for the federal government to sign contracts with states agreeing to permit their legal systems to move forward if the states commit to moving against illegal growers who are exporting outside their states. Mark Kleiman, who is consulting on I-502's implementation for Washington State, suggested it in an article published last wee in the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, according to The Seattle Times (hat tip Center for Legal Cannabis). The idea was floated by Stuart Taylor at a forum I attended at the Brookings Institution last April, "Marijuana Legalization: Are There Alternatives to State-Federal Conflict?" Taylor published a paper on it for Brookings last spring, who points to a provision of the Controlled Substances Act that makes it possible for the government to do without congressional action.

Also of relevance: state officials in Washington and Colorado believe the Dept. of Justice has given "tacit approval" for their legalization systems moving forward, according to a report by Talking Points Memo.

The Other Reason Bloomberg's Wrong About Stop and Frisk

The other piece of big news today was a federal judge finding New York Police Department's "stop and frisk" program unconstitutional. Judge Scheindlin used some pretty scathing language in her nearly-200 page opinion. Phil's article is here.

Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ruling, claiming that the stop and frisk practice works and makes the city safer. But as I pointed out in a recent post, while there is research suggesting NYC police have done a lot of good innovating, so far at least the research has not borne out stop and frisk as being one of them.

That is to say, there are other things police do in New York, besides stop and frisk, that have produced a larger than average crime drop than other cities. And they also do stop and frisk, which research hasn't found to help with that.

One more note for now is that we have also written, and more extensively, about NYC as the world's marijuana arrest capital. This is different from the stop and frisk practice, but stop and frisk undoubtedly fuels it.

A Sentencing Reform Turning Point?

For months now there have been signs that political will may be building for a change in direction in sentencing and prison policy. In one of the top news stories the past 24 hours (NYT and WaPo, among others), it's been reported that US Attorney General Eric Holder will issue a revised policy on when federal prosecutors will seek mandatory minimum sentences, seeking to spare low-level drug offenders from such heavy punishments. Holder will address the American Bar Association at their annual conference in San Francisco (10:00am TODAY, Pacific Time, e.g. any minute), and is expected to highlight the reforms. (The ABA has someone live-tweeting, and it's scheduled to run on C-Span.)

The move should bolster momentum for the Justice Safety Valve Act, sponsored by Sens. Leahy (D-VT) and Paul (R-KY), as well as the Durbin-Lee Smarter Sentencing Act, the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections and other efforts. In a sign of changing times, the conservative ALEC legislators and business leaders network has called for passage of the Leahy-Paul bill.

Phil will be posting a feature report in the Chronicle after the speech is done.

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States

HUGE: Sanjay Gupta Apologizes for Anti-Marijuana Stance, Slams DEA

In a commentary on cnn.com this morning, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta endorsed medical marijuana -- and apologized for not doing so sooner:

Reading... papers [about medical marijuana] five years ago, it was hard to make a case for [it]... I... wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled "Why I would Vote No on Pot."
 
... I didn't look hard enough.. I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis...

I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof... Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."

They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works...

We have been terribly and systematically misled [about marijuana] for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.
 

Gupta's documentary "WEED" will run on CNN this Sunday at 8:00pm EST.

 

 

For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Marijuana Legalization in Uruguay???

Movida Cannabica Florida Uruguay display at the Legislative Palace (facebook.com/movida.floridauruguay)
The Uruguayan government's proposal to legalize marijuana was "fiercely debated" in the House today, according to The Washington Post about an hour ago. President Mujica's party, The Broad Front (Frente Amplio en español) has a wider majority in the Senate, so the House is seen as legalization opponents' best chance to stop it. Stay tuned.

Tony Newman sent out a press release for Drug Policy Alliance this week.

See some of our prior Uruguay stories here and here. Also, former Uruguayan Senator Margarita Percovich speaking at our 2003 conference, here. (Ms. Percovich was in parliament at the time, and became a senator later. I believe she is doing human rights work now.)

This will be huge and historic news if it happens -- the first time a country has legalized marijuana outright, anywhere in the world -- a direct break with the international drug control treaties.

Location: 
Montevideo
Uruguay

DC Finally Selling Medical Marijuana

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Capital City Care, one of DC's new medical marijuana dispensaries, made its first sale this week.
DC has seen its first legal marijuana sale under the city's medical marijuana law, enacted in 1998 by voters but blocked by Congress for most of that time. According to The Washington Post, an HIV positive patient (identified only by his middle name, Alonzo), who suffers from insomnia and occasionally from difficulty swallowing or digesting, side-effects of his powerful antiviral medications, visited Capital City Care at 7:00pm yesterday evening.

With just nine patients qualified to date, according to DC's Dept. of Health, things are still moving slowly. But they are moving. Having lived in this area since 1995, having worked in this issue since before then, and also having helped out on the polls on that election day 15 years ago, I'm pretty happy to see this finally happen, and proud of my friends who are part of it.

The Post has a photo gallery here.

Two More Reasons Why Ray Kelly Is Full of It and Shouldn't Head DHS

Kally with outgoing DHS secretary Janet Napolitano
Criticisms have swirled around NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly''s record on the "stop and frisk" practice, particularly since Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggested him for Homeland Security secretary last week and Pres. Obama spoke supportively. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic penned "Prominent Democrats Are Now Comfortable With Racial and Ethnic Profiling," asking "How else can one interpret President Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer saying that the NYPD's Ray Kelly would make a good secretary of Homeland Security?" In Reason's July issue (published before the president's comment), Jacob Sullum makes a case that the stop and frisk program constitutes harassment and is unconstitutional. An interview by Jennifer Gonnerman with the admittedly disgruntled ex-NYPD officer Pedro Serrano published last May in New York magazine paints a picture of New York stop and frisks as corrupt or even criminal.

Kelly for his part has doubled down, claiming in a Wall Street Journal editorial that the stop and frisk practice is part of good policing, a reason for New York City's dropping crime rate which has saved "7,383 lives," most of them young men of color. But Alex Pareene has provided a point-by-point rebuttal to the Kelly piece in Salon.com. And MSNBC "Morning Joe" co host Mika Brzezinski pushed back on the claim in an interview with Kelly yesterday, pointing out "... the numbers... show that the people who are stopped and frisked are primarily minorities and primarily end up to be found doing nothing wrong. So one of the arguments would be that going up to people who are doing nothing wrong is not stopping crime -- it's breeding resentment and playing a dangerous game of profiling that could explode at some point." (Quote via Mediaite and Mike Riggs.) A "room for debate" collection in The New York Times yesterday offers opinions on both sides of the Kelly question.

chart from the Zimring article
One question I've not seen asked directly is, what does academic research say about stop and frisk? A look online shows that the leading scholar researching New York City's crime drop is UC-Berkeley professor Frank Zimring. Zimring is the author of a 2001 book, "The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control." In August of that year he published a Scientific American article highlighting his findings. (It's behind a paywall for subscribers, the note about becoming a Facebook fan of Sciam notwithstanding.) An earlier version of the article can be found on Scribd, and I believe that despite its academic nature is spectacular for what it implies about the current debate.

Briefly, Zimring is a big fan of the innovations that New York City police have made in recent decades, which he credits with gaining a drop in crime going significantly beyond that seen by other cities during the same time period. Zimring is careful, however, to note that just because the NYPD tried new tactics during the time that that happened, doesn't mean that every one of those tactics was necessarily successful. There are two programs he believes were clearly effective, according to a chart on page 29 -- the targeting of "hot spots" and the destruction of public drug markets. (Though Zimring notes that drug sales did not decrease as a result of shutting down the markets -- they just shifted into less visible forms that produce less crime.)

There are three tactics Zimring believes probably were effective, according to the chart -- increased manpower, COMPSTAT management and mapping, and gun programs.

And there is one tactic Zimring points out for which it is "not known" whether it was effective or not. Care to guess which one that was? You guessed right -- it's "aggressive arrests and stops" -- the very practice for which Kelly is now loudly proclaiming success, despite the heavy criticisms that have been heaped upon it.

Which means one of two things:  Either Kelly knows that stop and frisk has not been proven to be successful, but is trying to put one over on the rest of us; or he believes it works, but without evidence, and has made key decisions about policing policy and civil liberties with insufficient basis.

Whatever one thinks about stop and frisk, and whatever further research ultimately may determine about it, there's another reason to object to Kelly's proposed DHS appointment. While conducting numerous stops and searches of New Yorkers, police have gone on to arrest many of them for minor offenses -- including marijuana possession, and at sky-high rates. This is actually a pattern common to cities large and small around the country -- police frequent certain neighborhoods, do lots of searches while they're there, and then arrest people for any small thing they find, not just for the serious crimes they' (sincerely or ostensibly) go to the neighborhoods to fight. The result is gaping-wide disparities in who gets arrested for crimes like possession -- people use drugs as much if not more in the nice parts of town, but police don't go there as much or stop many people who live there when they do. This combination of otherwise defensible targeting of high-crime neighborhoods for police presence, but combined with the strict arrest policies that have become common the last few decades, is one of the major driving forces of racial disparity in the criminal justice system, perhaps the leading one.

But the bigger problem here for Kelly is that in New York State it is illegal for police to make most of these marijuana arrests -- because marijuana is decriminalized in New York State unless the possessor has it in public view.  What researchers like Harry Levine have documented is that police in New York City have a practice of ordering people to remove any marijuana from their pockets where it was hidden, and then arresting them for having it in public view -- even though it only came into public view because a police officer coerced the defendant into displaying it!

These are illegal arrests, and they happen tens of thousands of times every year in New York City. In September of 2011 Kelly acknowledged the problem by sending a memo to NYPD officers instructing them not to do that any more. Kelly was appointed commissioner in 2002, for the second time, nine years before sending the memo . He only took action to stop this widely-known, very widespread lawbreaking by his officers, that directly violates the rights of New Yorkers, after it was repeatedly publicized in the media and taken up by legislators. And since the memo went out, NYPD officers have continued to engage in the practice about 80% as often as they did before. It's better that Kelly sent the memo compared with if he never did anything about the issue. But "too little, too late" is an understatement, and now he's aggressively defending the root stop and frisk practice that sustains the illegal arrest campaign.

Kelly may be a skillful commissioner whose work has done good in some ways for the city; I'm willing to believe that. But his unconcern for rule of law and civil rights, his apparently complete insensitivity to issues of inappropriate profiling, and his willing to propagandize in the media, make him a poor choice for Homeland Security, an area of government in which all those concerns take on special weight due to its nature. I hope that Sen. Schumer and Pres. Obama will heed the warnings. It's good to talk about race and the justice system, but if you really care about it then your actions -- whom you appoint, and for what -- are what count.

Obama Discusses Race and Justice System in Trayvon Martin Remarks

Pres. Obama's remarks on the Trayvon Martin case dealt extensively with issues of racial bias in the criminal justice system (starting at about 4:30). Drug laws are briefly touched on (4:38). Obama discusses his work in Illinois's legislature passing racial profiling legislation (9:30).
 
Media have focused on Obama's past involvement in the racial profiling issue in recent days. An Associated Press article yesterday detailed his efforts in the the Illinois legislature to address the issue. In a piece on Salon.com this morning, Edward McClelland posted audio of an interview with the president last year, including a recording Obama played of a 2000 campaign ad highlighting racial profiling (at about 40:20).
 
Video of the speech and interview follow:
 
 
 

Will Mexico Cartel Leader's Capture Reduce Violence or Drug Abuse?

The leader of Mexico's brutal Zetas organization has been captured in northern Mexico, authorities announced. According to the Associated Press:

Trevino Morales, 40, was captured by Mexican Marines who intercepted a pickup truck with $2 million in cash on a dirt road in the countryside outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, which has long served as the Zetas' base of operations. The truck was halted by a Marine helicopter and Trevino Morales was taken into custody along with a bodyguard and an accountant and eight guns, government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told reporters.
 

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/miguel-angel-trevino-morales.jpg
Trevino Morales (state.gov)
The US State Dept. had offered up to $5 million for help in capturing him.

The report is mainly about the facts of the capture, and of Morales and the Zetas. There's one expert quote, about Morales:

"He is the most sadistic drug capo in Mexico," said George Grayson, a professor of Latin American politics at the College of William and Mary and an expert on the Zetas cartel. "He delights in inflicting torture and pain. He deserves to be in the lowest rungs of hell."
 

Grayson's take on Morales is easy to accept, if one has read any articles about the Mexican drug wars of the past several years. In fact there are reports I wish I'd never read. That said, I wish the reporter had sought some expert quotes about whether capturing a kingpin like Morales is likely to reduce drug trafficking or availability or abuse; and whether it could reduce the violence.

The answer to the first question is decidedly "no." The Zetas will continue doing business and/or will splinter into rival factions doing business and/or other drug trafficking organizations will get the business. This is what has always happened previously.

Looking at the second question, the backdrop is that illegal drug trafficking exists because of prohibition. Absent drug prohibition laws, the trade and the vast revenues it currently generates would mostly reside in the licit economy, not encouraging violence in the trade. All that would be left in the underground is a sliver from "gray market" activity, smuggling to evade taxation and so forth.

Mexico's drug wars have reached the height of violence they have in recent years, in part because of the escalation of anti-cartel activity -- such as the capture of cartel leaders like Morales. It's had the effect of producing many localized drug trafficking groups, fighting many more wars than was the case before. The current weakness of the government in terms of keeping a lid of crime is also a factor. The aggressive escalation of anti-cartel activity undertook by the administration of former Pres. Enrique Calderon came at a time when the government was least able to minimize the unintended consequences of such a program, which made it even worse.

Does that mean that Morales's capture will necessarily provoke yet more violence? It might, but that depends on which way Mexico goes. One of the truisms of prohibition is that tolerating the prohibited activity can sometimes reduce the violence associated with the prohibited activity. One cartel can be replaced by a less violent one, if the government quietly allows that to happen.

So Mexico has some choices to make. But it would be better to expand the set of choices by considering international legalization systems, as Latin American leadership is currently pressing for a discussion of.

Michael Douglas Tribute to Mike Gray

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Actor Michael Douglas gave a tribute to our friend Mike Gray at the memorial service in Los Angeles this week. He talked about first working with Mike on the movie The China Syndrome, and about MIke's work on drug policy reform and how the drug war has affected him and his family. You can listen to it on the Drug Truth Network here.

It was recorded by Doug McVay, who attended the memorial with Common Sense for Drug Policy. Mike was the board chair of CSDP, and Doug and I are both board members.

Documentary: How to Make Money Selling Drugs

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A new documentary from Tribeca Films has hit the wires. How to Make Money Selling Drugs was produced by Adrian Grenier ("Entourage") and Bert Marcus, and directed by Matthew Cooke. It features interviews with celebrities Russell Simmons, Susan Sarandon, David Simon (creator of "The Wire"), and Arianna Huffington. Some of my colleagues also figure in the movie, including Neill Franklin, Eric Sterling and Howard Wooldridge, among others.

It is opening in select theaters in some cities (see the web site for info), and is available through iTunes and OnDemand. There's also an iPhone app, Tug of War on Drugs.

Grassley Immigration Bill Amendment Affects Real and Imagined Drug Offenders

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US Capitol, Senate side
An amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) would affect real and imagined drug offenders. SA 1570, amendment to S. 744 (and the same as Grassley's SA 1299 calls for deportation of immigrant gang members and barring them from become legalized immigrants. Among the types of crimes included are felony drug offenses. But according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), the amendment doesn't require proof, it creates guilt by association, and there's no process for challenging evidence used under the amendment in a proceeding.

The ILRC alert includes some examples of people caught up in the Kafkaesque situation these kinds of laws have created:

Ronny (not his real name), a 35-year old green card holder, was brought to the United States at the age of 2. Ruben's parents are US citizens and he is engaged to a US citizen. In 2003, Ronny was arrested for marijuana sale in Illinois. He pled guilty to this sentence and received a sentence to 18 days in jail and 2 years of probation, which he successfully completed. This was Ronny's last criminal offense. In July of 2012, immigration officers, in a joint operation with local authorities in DuPage County, Illinois, arrived at Ronny's home to arrest him and put him in deportation proceedings. Ronny discovered he was on a gang list, compiled by DuPage law enforcement. Ronny has never been in a gang, nor engaged in any gang-related activities, though he did grow up in a neighborhood where gang activity was prevalent and had friends who were associated with gangs. Ronny could be considered a gang member and a danger to society.
 

Julia (not her real name) lives in California. She has applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Although Julia has never been involved with a gang, she has friends who were gang members and was arrested twice as a juvenile for offenses that were dismissed by the Prosecutor. It is likely that Julia would be considered to be an active gang member and a danger to the community.

Call (888) 891-3271 for the Congressional Switchboard and ask to speak to each of your two Senators in turn. Also, tweet your Senator with #NOonGrassley1570. Visit http://www.govsm.com/w/Senate to find Twitter information for US Senators.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Action Alerts: Farm Bill Hemp and Drug Testing, Mayors Marijuana Resolution

We sent out two action alerts on our email list yesterday. If you've not a subscriber, you can sign up here. (The page says "user account," for participating non-anonymously on our comment boards, but it also gets you subscribed to our list. Subscribing gets you action alerts as well as the email editions of the Chronicle.

As of the time of this writing, both alerts seem to still be current.

[Update: The Hudson SNAP drug testing amendment has passed the House, and the Farm Bill of which it's a part is expected to pass. Efforts to block it now move to the conference committee.]

[And another update: The hemp amendment PASSED! The full House of Representatives!]

I'm pasting them both below. One is about two amendments (one good, one bad) to the federal "Farm Bill" that are likely to be voted on by the House of Representatives sometime today. We have a Chronicle story online here. The other is an alert we sent out for the group Marijuana Majority that asks mayors to support a resolution at the US Conference of Mayors meeting calling on Congress and the administration to respect state marijuana law reforms. The mayors meeting is happening this week, so the resolution will also get voted on anytime. Both alerts target your own elected officials, e.g. the congressmen and mayors for whom you may have voted (US only). Here they are (farm bill first, mayors below):

 


 

 

Dear reformer,

I'm sorry for the double email today, but a lot is happening. We've just gotten word that there are two amendments coming to the floor of the US House of Representatives, possibly as soon as tonight and almost certainly this week. We really want one of the amendments to pass; we really don't want the other to pass. So we're asking you to CALL YOUR U.S. REPRESENTATIVE'S OFFICE ON THE PHONE AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS MESSAGE. Info for doing so is below.

Both amendments are being offered to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947). The good one, Amdt. #37 by Reps. Polis (D-CO), Blumenauer (D-OR) and Massie (R-KY), would allow industrial hemp growing for research or other academic purposes in states that allow it. One state that passed a hemp bill recently is California.

The bad one is Amdt. #22 by Reps. Hudson (R-NC), LaMalfa (R-CA) and Yoho (R-FL), which would allow states to require drug testing of all new applicants to the federal SNAP food assistance program. States that have tried this (before it being struck down on constitutional grounds) have found it cost far more than it saved, partly because welfare recipients don't use drugs at higher rates than the general population, as surveys have found. And of course when a low-income parent loses access to food stamps, the entire family is harmed.

Please call your US Representative's office as soon as you get this message, asking for a "Yes" vote on Amdt. #37 (hemp) and a "No" vote on Amdt. #22 (drug testing of food assistance applicants), both to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. You can reach your Rep (or find out who your Rep is) through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Or, you can look up information about your Rep, including the direct phone number for the office, in our online legislative center.

 


 

 

Dear StoptheDrugWar.org supporter:

Later this week, the US Conference of Mayors will vote on a historic resolution calling on Congress and the President to respect state marijuana laws. StoptheDrugWar.org is working with the group Marijuana Majority and others to encourage mayors to support the resolution.

Please visit http://marijuanamajority.com/mayors/?source=drcnet to send an email to the mayor or your town or city supporting this important resolution. When you're done, click on the "call your mayor" link to call your mayor's office on the phone and for talking points to use when you do, and use the share links to let others know about it too. The text of the resolution, and list of mayors already supporting it, are online here.

You Don't Need Prohibition to Help People

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CDC headquarters, Atlanta
A new Centers for Disease Control study has found the US rate of tobacco usage dropping again:

ATLANTA (AP) — Fewer U.S. adults are smoking, a new government report says.

Last year, about 18 percent of adults participating in a national health survey described themselves as current smokers.

The nation’s smoking rate generally has been falling for decades, but had seemed to stall at around 20 to 21 percent for about seven years. In 2011, the rate fell to 19 percent, but that might have been a statistical blip.

Health officials are analyzing the 2012 findings and have not yet concluded why the rate dropped, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC released its study Tuesday.

Of course, this was achieved without prohibition -- some regulation that has not been without controversy, but without prohibition. So what else could be achieved without prohibition?

Big Sentencing Ruling Today from the Supreme Court

There was a big Supreme Court ruling today. In Alleyne v. United States, a 5-4 majority extended an important sentencing reform that had begun with in the 2000 case Apprendi v. New Jersey.

According to Mike Gottlieb on SCOTUSblog:

It has been settled since... Apprendi v. New Jersey that any facts which increase a criminal defendant's maximum possible sentence... must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt... [I]f a statute makes it illegal to sell a drug and authorizes a ten-year maximum sentence for such an offense, but provides for a twenty-year maximum sentence for a sale of a larger quantity of the same drug, the jury rather than the judge must make a finding about the quantity before the twenty-year maximum may be imposed.
 
In 2002, the Court decided... that Apprendi did not apply to facts that would increase a defendant's mandatory minimum sentence, and therefore that a judge could constitutionally decide to apply a mandatory minimum sentence on the basis of facts not proven to a jury.
 

But not anymore. According to Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog:

[H]ere is the money quote from the majority opinion: "Because there is no basis in principle or logic to distinguish facts that raise the maximum from those that increase the minimum, Harris was inconsistent with Apprendi. It is, accordingly, overruled."
 

It's hard to tell how things will play out. Apprendi had a larger long-term effect by leading to another ruling, Booker, in which sentencing guideline systems became advisory rather than obligatory -- judges can now sentence below the guidelines that Congress and the Sentencing Commission established, if they offer good reasons, though prosecutors can appeal it. That's an enormous change to the guidelines half of federal sentencing, though underused by (one might say overly-deferential) judges. Now it applies to mandatory minimums as well.

Berman also offers some initial reactions as to what it could mean here. He's not predicting an overturning of mandatory minimum sentencing in the way mandatory guidelines were undone, but significant changes are possible -- changes that could help a lot of people.

Also of interest -- in Apprendi it was Justice Scalia who was pivotal for the majority; today it was Justice Thomas.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Cameron Douglas Writes from Behind Bars

Actor Cameron Douglas was serving five years prison time for a drug law violation, when he was tested positive for drug use. The judge added 4.5 more years to his sentence, the heaviest penalty ever dealt out in that situation. He wrote an editorial, "Words Behind Walls," submitted by his girlfriend on his behalf to the Huffington Post.

"Words Behind Walls" is not mainly about his own story -- although he goes into being kept in solitary confinement for 11 months -- but mostly about the tragedy and injustice of half a million nonviolent drug offenders in the prisons and jails, many simply in a cycle of addiction and relapse like he is.

His piece, linked above, is worth reading -- but not before I remark on the incomprehensible cruelty shown by the judge in this case. That judge must be some kind of lost soul himself. At least that is how it looks from here.

Angry Afternoon (The Human and Fiscal Cost of the Medical Marijuana Wars)

Two reports came out today about the federal government's attacks on medical marijuana providers. First, California NORML surveyed court records connected with medical marijuana cases, finding nearly 500 person years of incarceration for medical marijuana defendants. Second, Americans for Safe Access has estimated $300 million spent by the Obama administration on anti-medical marijuana enforcement, after $200 million spent in two terms of the Bush administration -- half a billion total.

Dale Schafer and Mollie Fry (canorml.org)
Among the cases highlighted are those of people like Richard Flor, Montana medical marijuana provider who died in federal prison. They include the husband and wife defendants Dale Schafer (a hemophiliac) and Dr. Mollie Fry (a cancer patient). Not highlighted in the release, but on the list, is my friend Bryan Epis, California's second medical marijuana defendant and the first to be convicted. Bryan is getting out soon, but he's spent too many years behind bars. There are many more, of course.

Some people argue that these people knowingly took a risk, violating federal law, and even if one disagrees with a law, it's the law and prosecutors are bound to uphold it. But that misses a basic ethical point, and a practical one. In practical terms, police and prosecutors have discretion to focus their resources on the cases of most importance to them. They also can choose not to prosecute, or make deals to let people out of prison time, no abuse of discretion being thereby committed. In many cases that's what happened.

And so in a situation such as this one -- states passing pro-medical marijuana laws, now even legalization laws, the Obama administration effectively encouraging people further by promising a more-or-less hands off approach to the issue, that clearly would have been the right approach for officials to take. If they felt (rightly or wrongly) that they had to shut down certain operations, the ethical approach, given all that came before, would have been to tell the people things have changed, they have to stop doing what they're doing or face prosecution, but giving them that chance. (The same idea applies to Marc Emery, whose business was accepted by authorities for nine years until they hit him with the years he's serving.)

Instead of doing that, in the many cases CANORML has highlighted, they instead let the parties go about their business for years, until they had the evidence compiled they would need to get the extremely harsh sentences they wanted. If these outlets were really harming the public, shouldn't they have moved to close them down as soon as they could instead? I thought the point of our laws was to protect the public, not to destroy the individuals targeted by the law.

Those are a few of the reasons it's an angry afternoon for me.

Harm Reduction 2013

Our friends at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union attended the international harm reduction conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, this week, and have brought some of it to the rest of us through a new video:

 
Among the highlights are the former presidents of Switzerland and Poland.
Location: 
Vilnius
Lithuania

What will legal marijuana look like in Washington?

Here are the Initial Draft Rules promulgated by the state Liquor Control Board. Today is the last day to submit comments before the board begins the process of crafting the official draft rules. That process will include public hearings.

An assessment of the initial draft rules by the Henry Wykowski law firm is available here.

I'll be interviewing various interested parties for a feature article later this week. In the meantime, the two links above provide a start.

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