The Speakeasy Blog
Due to out-of-town visitors, I have tour guide duties this afternoon, so I won't have time to get around to the Chronicle AM. But...
And we have our first drug war fatality of the year to report.
I'll try to get them both up before I have to take off today.
My visitors want to see the Sonoma Coast, where tides are expected to be dramatic today.
The possession of small amounts of marijuana in the nation's capital could soon be no more than a ticketable offense. A decriminalization bill is set to move in the city council, with a committee vote set for tomorrow.
It then moves to the full council, where it is also expected to pass.
Interestingly, the council's moves on decrim come just days after DC activists filed an initiative that would hop-scotch half-measures like decriminalization and move forward to full legalization. We are planning a feature article this week on the initiative campaign, and one thing we'll be asking people is how the politics of city council decrim intersects with the politics of legalization through the popular vote.
In the meantime, the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working closely with DC functionaries and elected officials on the decrim effort, has a press release with more information. Stay tuned!
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) plans to use his executive powers to allow the limited use of medical marijuana, the New York Times reported Sunday.
The move is something of a reversal for Cuomo, who has opposed medical marijuana pending in the state legislature. Cynics might suggest he is trying to burnish his progressive credentials with a limited opening, but undercut the pending bill, which would be less restrictive. In any case, the Times says he will make it official during Wednesday's state of the state speech.
Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a prominent medical marijuana advocate, has pointed out that New York's state's Department of Health conducted medical marijuana research during the 1980s under the legislation that Cuomo cited as the legislative basis for his action. An article in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics discusses the New York research, which it describes as large scale and designed in accordance with FDA phase III clinical trial procedure, on pages 51-52.
Whether New York can move forward with this kind of program in the absence of licensing that the DEA in recent decades has refused to grant is unclear. Along with recent legislation passed in Maryland calling for medical marijuana distribution academic medical centers, and petitions filed by the governors of Rhode Island and Washington state, it should at least up the pressure on the administration to rein in DEA's obstruction on this issue.
Legal retail marijuana sales to adults got underway in Denver (and the rest of Colorado) a couple of hours ago. This is a historic day, as Amendment 64 finally goes into full effect.
But I didn't want to dally with shouting hosannas from the rooftops.
And I wanted to get this pic posted. It pretty much says it all.
Happy holidays, indeed! First Uruguayan President Mujica give us a Christmas present by signing his country's law legalizing marijuana commerce (no surprise there, really), and now, a federal judge throws invites us to welcome the new year with a ruling throwing out Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) welfare drug testing law.
The law required anyone applying for welfare benefits to undergo a drug test without any particularized suspicion that he or she was using drugs. The federal courts have been loath to okay suspicionless drug testing, with a few notable exceptions for workers in public safety positions and some school kids.
The case is Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families. We'll have more on it later.
Oh, and the never-say-die Gov. Scott says he will appeal.
Like any other businessmen seeking to differentiate their product from similar competitors, heroin dealers come up with brand names, too. Among the latest is this entry from Massachusetts: "Obamacare"
Branding heroin is nothing new; legendary New York City heroin dealer Frank Lucas had his "Blue Magic" back in the 1970s. In recent years, the trend has continued, with names such as "Bugs Bunny," "Buddha," "Bin Laden," and "LeBron James" all making appearances, some for more obvious reasons than others.
"Kurt Cobain" I can understand, from a heroin marketer's viewpoint. This shit will blow your brains out.
But I'm not sure what message dealers are trying to convey with the "Obamacare" brand. Is this stuff gonna kill you as dead as socialized medicine? Or is it gonna bliss you out like knowing you have access to reasonably priced health insurance despite preexisting conditions?
The White House announced this morning that President Obama had granted commutations to eight federal prisoners, including poster boy for drug war excess Clarence Aaron, who has served more than 20 years.
The sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) said four of its supporters, including Aaron, had had their sentences commuted. The group also said it expected four more crack cocaine offenders to be named as having received commutations as well.
In the White House statement, President Obama acknowledged that commuting the sentences of a handful of prisoners was only a first step:
"Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness," the president said. "But it must not be the last. In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all."
We'll have a fuller write-up on this good news later today, but we thought you would want to hear as soon as we did. .
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and other government officials said repeatedly this week that they are considering legalizing and regulating opium poppy production in areas where it is already being grown illicitly.
Perez Molina has been talking a good game about alternatives to prohibition--and he just days ago stuck up for Uruguay in the wake of criticism of its marijuana legalization--but he has yet to actually do anything dramatic. This could be it.
I'll write more about this interesting development during the daylight hours.
In the meantime, a Spanish-language article from Prensa Libre is available here.
Here's what MTF had to say about teen marijuana use:
"Annual marijuana prevalence peaked among 12th graders in 1979 at 51%, following a rise that began during the 1960s. Then use declined fairly steadily for 13 years, bottoming at 22% in 1992 -- a decline of more than half. The 1990s, however, saw a resurgence of use. After a considerable increase (one that actually began among 8th graders a year earlier than among 10th and 12th graders), annual prevalence rates peaked in 1996 at 8th grade and in 1997 at 10th and 12th grades. After these peak years, use declined among all three grades through 2006, 2007, or 2008; after the declines, there began an upturn in use in all three grades, lasting for three years in the lower grades and longer in grade 12. In 2011 and 2012 there was some decline in use in grade 8, with 10th and 12th grades leveling in 2012. In 2010 a significant increase in daily use occurred in all three grades, followed by a nonsignificant increase in 2011. In 2012 there were non-significant declines for daily use in the lower grades and a leveling at 12th grade with use reaching 1.1%, 3.5%, and 6.5% in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively."
The bolding is ours. There are short term ups and downs, but they seem to be of mainly rhetorical and polemical significance.
If you look at the handy tables at the end of the report, you see that combined lifetime marijuana use for all three grades (8, 10, and 12), was at 30.7% last year, about the same as it was in 1995 (31.6%) or 2005 (30.8%). Much happens, but little changes.
Ditto for annual use: 26.1% in 1995, 23.4% in 2005, 24.7% last year.
Ditto for monthly use: 15.6% in 1995, 13.4% in 2005, 15.1% last year.
Ditto for daily use: 2.7% in 1995, 2.9% in 2005, 3.6% last year.
The daily use figures could be alarming ("Daily Teen Pot Smokers Up 25% Since 1995"), except the trend-line is not steadily upward, but varies from year to year (it was 3.7% in in 2001 and 2.7% in 2007).
Look for some terrifying spin about how the numbers show the kids are going to pot. But when you look at the numbers more closely and over time, when it comes to teens and marijuana, meh, what's new?
In one of its last acts of the legislative session, the Michigan Senate passed a bill mandating drug testing for selected welfare applicants and recipients. It was a straight party-line vote.
Senate Republicans originally wrote the bill so that children whose parents were cut off because of a failed drug test would lose their benefits as well. Because they care so much about the kids, I suppose. Democrats managed to get an amendment passed that would allow a third party to receive the benefits for the children.
The Republican-dominated legislature earlier this year passed a bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, allowing the state to cut off unemployment benefits for anyone who fails a drug test required by a prospective employer.
I'll write a straight news article about this later today. But I'll take a moment now to note that this kind of cheapjack, poor-bashing legislation is almost entirely the exclusive domain of the Republican Party.
Update: The committee markup has been postponed until next week -- that means there's still time to call! (Calls needed from AL, AZ, CA, CT, DE, HI, IL, IA, MN, NY, RI, SC, TX, UT, VT.)
Tomorrow -- Thursday, December 12 -- the US Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to discuss mandatory minimum sentencing and S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act is a bipartisan bill sponsored by committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), which would allow federal judges to bypass the much-criticized mandatory minimum sentences, sparing thousands of nonviolent federal offenders from years or even decades of incarceration. The bill would also extend retroactive sentencing reductions to some federal crack prisoners who had already been sentenced before the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act that reduced crack sentences was passed.
Today is a National Call-In Day for people who have Senators on the Judiciary Committee to call them in support of the bill. Please read the list of committee members below. If you live in one of the states that is on the list, please call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be transferred to the Senator's office. (If you are from Minnesota, Texas or Utah, you have two phone calls to make, as both of your Senators as on the Committee.) There is a phone script below that you can use as a guide for your call. When you are done, or if you are not from one of these states, please post this alert to your web sites or social media, or circulate them to people you know who are from any of these states.
- Alabama: Sen. Jeff Sessions (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Arizona: Sen. Jeff Flake (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- California: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Connecticut: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Delaware: Sen. Christopher Coons (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Hawaii: Sen. Mazie Hirono (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Illinois: Sen. Richard Durbin (thank for sponsoring the bill)
- Iowa: Sen. Charles Grassley (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Minnesota: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Minnesota: Sen. Al Franken (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- New York: Sen. Chuck Schumer (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Rhode Island: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (thank for sponsoring the bill)
- South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey Graham (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Texas: Sen. John Cornyn (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Texas: Sen. Ted Cruz (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Utah: Sen. Orrin Hatch (urge to vote for S. 1410)
- Utah: Sen. Mike Lee (thank for sponsoring the bill)
- Vermont: Sen. Patrick Leahy (thank for sponsoring the bill)
Here is a script to use if your Senator is not a sponsor of S. 1410:
"I'm a constituent, and I'm calling to ask the Senator to vote in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing reform, including the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410, at this Thursday's Judiciary Committee markup. The Senator should vote to reform mandatory minimums because they are unfair, expensive, and don't keep us safe. Thank you for considering my views."
And here is a script to use if your Senator is a sponsor of S. 1410:
"I'm a constituent, and I'm calling to thank the Senator for his support of mandatory minimum sentencing reform, including S. 1410, at this Thursday's Judiciary Committee markup. The Senate should vote to reform mandatory minimums because they are unfair, expensive, and don't keep us safe. Thank you for considering my views."
David Borden, Executive Director
The Uruguayan Senate approved the government's marijuana legalization bill on a 16-13 vote Tuesday evening. It already passed the lower chamber, and it's the president's bill, so he's going to sign it. Uruguay will have a legal, state-regulated marijuana commerce 120 days after that.
In the mean time, he's a news release from the Drug Policy Alliance:
Uruguay Becomes First Country In World to Legalize Marijuana
Uruguayan Senate Approves President Mujica’s Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana
Initiative Reflects Broad Political Shift as Latin American Countries Seek Alternatives to Drug Prohibition and the War on Drugs
The Uruguayan Senate has just approved a bill that makes their country the first in the world to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adults. The final vote was 16 out of 29 votes in the Senate. The bill was approved in the House of Representatives in July with 50 out of 96 votes and now Uruguay will have 120 days to write the regulations before implementing the law.
The marijuana legalization proposal was put forward by President José Mujica in June 2012 as part of a comprehensive package aimed at fighting crime and public insecurity. After a year and a half of studying the issue, engaging in political debate, redrafting the bill, and the emergence of a public campaign in favor of the proposal, Uruguay’s parliament today gave final approval to the measure.
“It’s about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach,” said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. “For 40 years, marijuana prohibition has been attempted and it simply hasn’t worked. But rather than closing their eyes to the problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking, Uruguay has chosen responsible regulation of an existing reality. Let’s hope others soon follow suit!”
The Uruguayan proposal has also gained attention abroad over the past year, as momentum has built throughout the U.S., Latin America and elsewhere for broad drug policy reforms. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world to approve the legal regulation of marijuana. In August, the White House announced that the federal government will not interfere with state marijuana laws – as long as a number of stipulations are adhered to, such as preventing distribution to minors.
“Last year, Colorado and Washington; this year, Uruguay; and next year, Oregon and hopefully more states as well,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We still have a long way to go but who would have believed, just five years ago, that legalizing marijuana would become a mainstream political reality so quickly both in the United States and abroad?!”
The Uruguayan bill allows four forms of access to marijuana: medical marijuana through the Ministry of Public Health, domestic cultivation of 6 plants, membership clubs similar to those found in Spain, and licensed sale in pharmacies. It also prohibits sales to minors, driving under the influence, and all forms of advertising.
In the year since Mujica’s announced his proposal, support for the initiative has risen among diverse sectors of Uruguayan society. A national TV ad campaign, featuring a mother, a doctor, and a lawyer explaining the measure's benefits on public safety and health – has reached hundreds of thousands of Uruguayans. Regulación Responsable (“Responsible Regulation”), the coalition of prominent Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support the initiative, has held events around the country, sparking debate at all levels. LGBT, women’s rights, health, student, environmental and human rights organizations have all united to support Regulación Responsable, alongside trade unions, doctors, musicians, lawyers, athletes, writers, actors and academics.
“This is a truly diverse movement comprised of people who believe that marijuana reform will benefit all of Uruguayan society,” said Hetzer.
In mid-July, the former president of Brazil and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, publicly praised Uruguay in an op-ed published throughout the region. A week later, Uruguayan members of Congress received a letter of support signed by 65 Mexican legislators, congratulating their “leadership” in promoting “better drug policies and laws.” And the week before the House vote, these Uruguayan members of Congress received a second letter of support signed by more than 100 organizations worldwide, celebrating “the immense contribution and comprehensive proposal to deal with the implications that drugs have on health, development, security and human rights.”
In recent years, debate and political will for drug policy reform has gained unprecedented momentum in Latin America. In 2011, Kofi Annan, Paul Volcker and Richard Branson joined former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and other distinguished members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs – and to “encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs,” especially marijuana.
More recently, current presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay have joined these calls for reform. In May, the Organization of American States produced a report, commissioned by heads of state of the region, that included marijuana legalization as a likely policy alternative. The OAS report predicted a likely hemispheric move towards marijuana legalization in the coming years.
Mujica and this growing chorus of current and former Latin American political leaders are contending that legal regulation will separate marijuana users from the offer of more dangerous drugs on the black market, allow access to medical marijuana for patients in need, and enable Uruguay to reinvest the millions of dollars now flowing into the pockets of drug traffickers into education, treatment and prevention of problematic drug use. “By approving this measure, Uruguay has taken the broad regional discussion on alternatives to drug prohibition one step further. This represents a concrete advance in line with growing anti-drug war rhetoric in Latin America and throughout the world,” said Hetzer.
The CCHI isn't the only initiative out there. Two more are at the state attorney general's office awaiting approval to begin signature-gathering, including one filed last week by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act.
The question now is whether these most recent poll results are likely to persuade enough major players that California should be contested next year instead of waiting for 2016. There are big logistical and financial obstacles to getting an initiative on the ballot for next year at this late date.
Look for more on the Field Poll results in a Chronicle news brief later today.
The Drug Policy Alliance has filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the California Secretary of State's office. But it's not clear whether backers will try to get it on the ballot next year.
The initiative is backed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which says that given impressive recent poll numbers, it wanted to have something ready for 2014 just in case.
It's not clear whether there will actually be an effort to get this on the ballot for 2014, or if this is more like a place marker for 2016. Look for a firm decision on that next month.
Another initiative, The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, was submitted in August and is now in its signature gathering phase. It has until the end of February to come up with 504,000 valid voter signatures, but it has not received big money backing, making the effort to get on the ballot an uphill battle.
"Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice -- in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial," said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple."
In one case cited, Sandra Avery, a small-time drug dealer, declined to plea to 10 years for possession of 50 grams of crack with intent to deliver. Prior convictions she had for simple drug possession triggered a sentencing enhancement, at the prosecutor's behest, and Avery was sentenced to life without parole.
I think that very clearly constitutes a human rights violation, and we need to take this kind of power away from the officials who perpetrate such violations. One way to do that is by repealing mandatory minimum sentencing. There is a real chance of doing that, for the first time in a very long time, as a recent article we published shows. More on this coming soon.
I posted some photos last month, but here is the video from Phil's award at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. It was produced by Peter and Istvan from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, who were the official conference videographers and whose you may have seen me post here before.
Phil's award was first in the line-up, and this video begins with Ethan Nadelmann talking about the DPA awards and their history. At a little over a minute in, he describes the Brecher Award, then turns it over to Tony Newman, who introduces Phil. And then it's all Phil -- I think he did a great job.
According to KUSA TV, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd offered up an amendment to undo the ban, which had passed last week on a 7-5 vote. The vote last night to reverse was 7-6.
Shepherd suggested that rather than calling the police, neighbors try being neighborly. That would mean talking to your neighbor if his marijuana smoke bothers you, and dealing with your neighbor's concerns if your marijuana smoke bothers him.
It looks like the fat lady is about to sing. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, which has an operative in Montevideo, the Uruguayan Senate will vote next week, most likely next Tuesday, on the pending bill to legalize marijuana commerce. That's the final vote.
The bill is sponsored by the government and has already passed the House on a 50-46 vote in July. Once approved in the Senate, the government will have 120 to write regulations before the law goes into effect.
Once the law goes into effect, Uruguay will have become the first country on the planet to break the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and subsequent treaties when it comes to marijuana legalization.
The Dutch have long allowed limited retail sales, but they remain formally illegal, and the supply remains criminalized, and other countries have decriminalized possession, but not taken the next step. Two US states have taken the next step, but marijuana commerce remains illegal under federal law.
If things go as planned, December 10, 2013, could be a day for the history books.
The Denver city council is poised to give final approval today to an ordinance that would prevent people from smoking pot on their own property if they are visible to the public. The police chief says it would be a low priority, and even the Denver Post thinks it's stupid, but it looks like that won't stop the council.
The ordinance passed a first vote on a margin of 7-5 last week, and the council votes typically don't change.
And here is the Denver Post's Monday editorial, which slams the council for pursuing the idea. "The proposal is unenforceable, will provoke fruitless disputes and, if it were followed, would restrict many pot users almost exclusively to the indoors," the Post noted.
British publications have gotten their hands on a leaked UN document that reveals fundamental splits among nations as the international organization prepares for the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs in 2016. Much, but not all, criticism of the status quo is coming from Latin America.
Read the Guardian's article here: Leaked Paper Reveals UN Split Over War on Drugs
Among the countries seeking specific reformist changes in the UN's drug stance:
Ecuador wants language recognizing that the world needs to look beyond prohibition.
Venezuela wants language addressing the economic implications of drug prohibition.
Norway wants language that includes a critical assessment of the "so-called war on drugs."
Switzerland wants language that recognizes the public health consequences of current policies.
The European Union wants language emphasizing drug treatment and care over incarceration.
It's been little over a half-century since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs codified the global drug prohibition system. The consensus represented by the 1961 treaty is now, at long last, crumbling.
Peter spoke at the hearing and recommended the EC refocus its attention from law enforcement to public health, and instead of adopting the EC proposal to follow the example of New Zealand by regulating rather than prohibiting the drugs.
A bill that would make Uruguay the first country to create a legal marijuana commerce passed the Senate Health Commission Thursday. The government-supported bill has already passed the lower house; a final Senate vote is expected next month.
Read more here:
The Green Party mayor of Berlin's hip Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district has won the support of the district council for her plan to make the area a zone of cannabis tolerance. Now, they have to get the federal government to buy in.
Read more about it here:
"Berlin borough pushing for Germany's first cannabis coffee shop"
[Update: I've posted an improved version of this editorial in the Chronicle. Request links and likes there instead. - DB]
One of the top political stories this week is the recent bust for cocaine possession of Rep. Trey Radel, a Republican freshman congressman from Florida. Radel pleaded guilty today, and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. As I write this piece, he is giving a press conference to apologize to the country and his family.
The drug testing language was actually added to the bill through an amendment sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), which was passed on a voice vote, no roll call. That means there is no way to know, at least from the official legislative record, what Radel's position on the amendment was. His vote for the Farm Bill is consistent with supporting the amendment, with opposing the amendment, or with having no position on it. It's legitimate to point out, as a Politico article did, that Radel's arrest "brings up drug testing for food stamps." I hope it does, but that's a different point.
A ThinkProgress article noted that Radel has made comments suggesting "nuance" in his views on drug policy, pointing out he cosponsored a bill to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenses. Perhaps in a nod to the "drug testing vote" headlines, the article has an update at the bottom mentioning the vote. I believe the original thrust of the article was on target, and I don't see the hypocrisy angle holding up in this case, at least from as much as we know right now.