The Speakeasy Blog
It was a banner day in Annapolis Monday, where legislators, working against an end-of-session deadline, managed to pass both marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana expansion bills.
The bill decriminalizes up to 10 grams of marijuana for adults 21 and over. A first offense will result in only a $100 citation. A second offense will result in just a $250 fine, but a third offense would require an appearance in court and possibly drug treatment.
Also on Monday, the House and Senate reached final agreement Monday on a bill that would create 15 licenses for medical marijuana growers. The measure is Senate Bill 963. It also would allow dispensaries to operate and let growers sell the medicine directly. Passage of the bill into law would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state.
Two marijuana reform measures pass in one session. Too bad legalization didn't. But it is coming.
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart told a congressional committee today her agency is "fighting back" against Justice Department policies tolerating marijuana in states where it is legal. The president needs to dump her, or at least remind her who the boss is.
DEA Administrator Tells Congress Her Agency Is “Fighting Back” Against Administration’s Tolerance of Marijuana Legalization
At a Wednesday House subcommittee hearing, DEA director Michele Leonhart publicly opposed Department of Justice position on legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington and warned of dangers of marijuana legalization … to pets.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michele Leonhart, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), repeatedly criticized the Obama administration at a hearing Wednesday on the DEA’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
In a memo released in July 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would not interfere with the effective implementation of laws regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adults in Colorado and Washington. When asked by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) during a Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing whether the Obama administration’s tolerant views toward legal marijuana had affected morale at the DEA, which is a branch of the DOJ, Leonhart replied that “our agents are fighting back against those messages. It makes us fight harder.” She had earlier criticized the DOJ for a perceived delay in issuing a response to Washington and Colorado’s new laws, claiming there was “a lot of confusion in those 296 days.”
Leonhart also claimed that public opinion in Colorado is turning against the initiative making marijuana legal, yet two recent polls suggest Colorado residents are more supportive of the law than ever before. A Public Policy Polling survey from March showed that 57% of Colorado voters think marijuana should be legal, and a Quinnipiac poll from February showed 58% support for the state’s legalization law. It was supported by 54.8% of voters in 2012. Finally, Leonhart claimed legalization would be dangerous to pets in Colorado and warned of a surge in veterinary clinic visits due to dogs consuming marijuana.
The Marijuana Policy Project has launched a Change.org petition calling on the president to fire Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology. The petition currently has more than 29,000 signatures and is available at https://www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-fire-anti-marijuana-dea-administrator-michele-leonhart.
"Administrator Leonhart’s comments were shocking," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies. "The DEA is not simply ignoring the administration’s policies with respect to regulating marijuana, but actively undermining them. Publicly criticizing and questioning the competence of your supervisor would get anyone fired in the private sector. It’s frankly astounding to me that Ms. Leonhart is still employed and American taxpayers continue to foot her $165,000 salary to publicly campaign against the president’s policies. As more Americans recognize that marijuana is safer than alcohol, more think we need to start treating it that way. Michele Leonhart is standing in the way, and it is time for her to go."
Yes, it is time for Michele to go. I would nominate someone like Ethan Nadelmann or Eric Sterling to replace her, but honestly, Zippy the Pinhead would do as well.
The Maryland Senate today overwhelmingly approved a marijuana decriminalization bill with bipartisan support. It now heads to the House of Delegates.
The bill's next stop is the House Judiciary Committee, where a similar bill last year died without a vote. If you are a Maryland resident, contact your members of the House of Delegates to tell them to fight for this bill.
Kudos to the Maryland senators who did the right thing on decrim--even if they couldn't get a legalization bill through--and to the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland and the Marijuana Policy Project for helping show them the way.
Yep, you read that right. The global anti-drug bureaucracy doesn't think it's a good idea to criminalize drug use.
Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC – which includes Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.
DPA was happy to hear it:
"There is simply no good basis in science, health or ethics for bringing someone into the criminal justice system solely for drug possession," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "Hopefully the UN’s recommendations will help accelerate the global trend toward ending the criminalization of drug use and possession. That certainly would make an enormous difference in the United States."
And so are we. While decriminalizing drug use does not remove all the harms associated with drug prohibition (especially since it would still leave a huge black market in drug production and sales), it would be a huge step toward recognizing the humanity of drug users. In the US alone, it would also save about 1.5 million each year from being saddled with arrest records.
As many as a thousand people marched through the streets of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, Wednesday in support of arrested Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
They called for his release from a Mexican prison and for him not to be extradited to the United States. Many of them said he provided employment in poor areas of the nearby Sierra Madre mountains and that his group had provided security for residents.
Many were dressed in white, holding signs with messages that included "Don't Extradite El Chapo," "We Want Chapo Freed," and "Sinaloa Supports You, Chapo."
"The government doesn't give any job opportunities," said Daniel Garcia, an unemployed 20-year-old. "The situation is, honestly, really difficult and he helps out the young people, giving them jobs."
"We support 'Chapo' Guzman because he is the one who gives us jobs and helps out in the mountains," said Pedro Ramirez, who was part of a group of 300 who had travelled from Badiraguato, a town in the Sierra Madre where Guzman was born 56 years ago.
Another demonstrator said he trusted Guzman more than any elected official.
The obvious question, of course, is how did this demonstration come about? Going back to Pablo Escobar in Colombia, drug traffickers have sought and won popular support by providing jobs, services, and facilities to communities where they operate. Mexican traffickers have done the same thing, hosting children's parties and building soccer stadiums and the like.
Was this a spontaneous outpouring of support for Sinaloa's most famous son? Or did El Chapo's buddies buy themselves a demonstration? In either case, the power of the cartels to mobilize popular support should not be underestimated.
Reports are coming out that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the elusive head of the Sinaloa Cartel has been captured in a joint operation by US and Mexican forces.
But in Mexico City, presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez would say only that police have "captured an individual" whose identity has not yet been confirmed.
If they actually have El Chapo, this will be a huge victory for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which, like its predecessors, has been criticized for its inability for years to track down the head of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization.
Many, many Mexicans (and others) believe it was not the lack of ability of the government to find Guzman, but the lack of will -- that his huge narco-wealth had protected him from capture for more than a decade since he bought his way out of prison in Mexico.
Somewhere around a hundred thousand people have died in the multi-sided Mexican drug wars in which Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel battled rival drug trafficking organizations, and the cartels fought the police and the Mexican military. (Or, sometimes, the military or the police fought for the cartels, especially Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.)
A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Aloha State died in a state Senate committee Thursday, but a decriminalization bill still lives.
But a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2358, still lives.
The AP reported that decrim got a much less frosty reception than the legalization bill, so stay tuned.
Italy's constitutional court today struck down a 2006 law that removed the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs, treating pot possession like heroin possession. Thousands of prisoners will go free.
The Giovanardi-Fini law had been passed in 2006 by the rightist government of Silvio Berlusconi, pushed by reactionary social conservative and neo-fascist elements within the regime. It undid an earlier distinction between "soft" drugs like marijuana and hash and "hard" drug like heroin and cocaine, subjecting cannabis users to sentences three times longer than under the old law.
The law is reported to be the primary cause of prison overcrowding in the country, which has the worst overcrowding problem in all Europe. Prison rights groups estimate that up to 40% of Italian prisoners are doing time for drug crimes.
"The so-called drug war as conceived in North America has been lost and it's time to return to rational rules that distinguish between substances," Franco Corleone, of the human rights group Society of Reason, told Reuters.
Senator Carlo Giovanardi, arch-conservative architect of the law revealed the he is still an idiot with his reaction to the high court decision, which struck down his handiwork as "illegitimate."
The ruling was a "devastating choice from a scientific viewpoint and in the message it sends to young people that some drugs are less dangerous than others," he said, somehow missing the scientific fact that some drugs are less dangerous than others.
President Obama this afternoon signed into law the omnibus farm bill, which includes an amendment allowing for research into hemp production in states that have authorized it.
“With the U.S. hemp industry estimated at over $500 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal law to allow colleges and universities to grow hemp for research means that we will finally begin to regain the knowledge that unfortunately has been lost over the past fifty years,” says Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra. “This is the first time in American history that industrial hemp has been legally defined by our federal government as distinct from drug varieties of Cannabis. The market opportunities for hemp are incredibly promising—ranging from textiles and health foods to home construction and even automobile manufacturing. This is not just a boon to U.S. farmers, this is a boon to U.S. manufacturing industries as well.”
Read Vote Hemp's press release here.
The Maryland Senate today moved to undo a restriction in existing state law that prevents injection drug users from picking up more clean needles at the Baltimore needle exchange than they turn in.
The bill doesn't include a specific limit on the number of needles can pick up at one time, but one of the bill's supporters, Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell (D-Baltimore), said 50 might be a good number, and that the bill may be amended to get specific.
The bill is supported by the entire Baltimore Senate delegation as well as the city of Baltimore. The health department there says the city's needle exchange program serves about 2,500 people a year and exchanges about 200 needles for each one.
Needle exchanges are a proven means of reducing the transmission of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne illnesses among injection drug users.
Good on the Maryland Senate for moving to get rid of this mindless restriction.
Alaska election officials have certified that a marijuana legalization initiative there has qualified for the ballot. Alaskans will go to the polls in August.
The initiative is sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska with the help of the Marijuana Policy Project.
It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults and the cultivation of up to six plants. It would also allow people to keep the fruits of their harvest in excess of an ounce as long as they keep it at home. It would create a system of state-regulated and -taxed retail marijuana sales.
Alaska appears to be in line to be the third state to legalize marijuana.
Also positive is that drug testing legislation for food stamp recipients, included in the House's first Farm Bill passed last summer, is absent. Two victories!
The District of Columbia city council today approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, but a second vote is needed for final approval.
If approved again then, it will then have to get the okay from the mayor.
If that happens, Congress then has a limited opportunity to block it.
But it's on it's way
The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.
The Oglala Sioux are considering legalizing marijuana, Phil noted in yesterday's Chronicle AM roundup. A proposal to take the idea to a vote by residents of the reservation passed the Tribal Council's business development committee, according to South Dakota's Rapid City Journal. The Sioux would be the first Native American body to take up legalization.
In 1998, the Tribal Council approved hemp growing, prompting well-known activist Alex White Plume and his family to plant hemp growing crops from 2000 through 2002. Federal authorities wiped out the crops, however, and the federal courts rejected White Plume's appeal.
Meanwhile, a French legislator has filed a legalization bill. Esther Benbassa, a member of France's Green Party, said that France has rising marijuana use despite one of the most restrictive drug laws in Europe, according to UPI.
Things are looking for good for a vote for marijuana decriminalization in the DC city council this afternoon. From Phil's "Chronicle AM" drug policy roundup yesterday:
DC City Council Votes on Decriminalization Tomorrow. The DC city council is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.
At $25 per violation -- less than most parking tickets, and less than the $100 fine originally proposed for the bill, the legislation would be a really nice step forward. (On the other hand, if one counts the value of the marijuana that police will still seize, the net cost might still be more than a parking ticket.)
In his now famous interview with Jake Tapper last week, President Obama, while expressing sympathy for some marijuana reforms, told Tapper that the White House can't move marijuana to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to allow medical use, only Congress could:
OBAMA:[W]hat is and isn't a Schedule One narcotic is a job for Congress. It's not...
TAPPER: I think it's the DEA that decides...
OBAMA: It's - it's not - it's not something by ourselves that we start changing. No, there are laws under - undergirding those determinations...
As Tapper remarked, the president in fact can reschedule marijuana administratively, without an action of Congress. The DEA chief administrators for decades have declined to do so -- after DEA's own administrative law judges ruled that they should, the first one back in the '80s -- but Attorney General Holder could overrule them, and so could President Obama. On State of the Union with Candy Crowley last Sunday, CNN pushed back on the claim again, with Crowley pointing out the president's error after playing a clip from the interview.
Now members of Congress have joined in. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) says that Obama could reschedule marijuana for medical use in a "a matter of days," according to US News & World Report:
"I don't dispute that Congress could and should make the change, but it's also something the administration could do in a matter of days and I hope they will consider it," says Blumenauer, who is currently circulating a letter among colleagues asking Obama to do so. Eight members of Congress have signed the letter so far.
Has Obama heard this? By now I'd imagine so.
The tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman yesterday has prompted expressions of grief and of praise for his talent. It also, naturally, has prompted discussions of addiction, the impact of pain pill prescriptions on the addicted, even of pain pill restrictions causing more people to turn to heroin.
One of those options is heroin maintenance programs (also known now as heroin assisted treatment, or HAT). The most famous such program operated in Liverpool, England, before the conservative Thatcher government, encouraged by the Reagan administration (so we heard), shut it down. But HAT programs current operate in Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Montreal. Patients in such programs receive a supply of pharmaceutically-produced heroin from a clinic (for free, though one can infer similar benefits if the heroin were merely cheap). They regularly access health services as a part of their participation. Those who need to inject the drug to relieve their cravings receive instruction on how to do so without damaging their veins, and heroin is made available in other forms as well.
A 2009 paper by leading drug policy researcher Peter Reuter, written for The Abell Foundation in Baltimore, reviewed research done in three of those countries. According to Reuter, Switzerland found a decrease in criminal involvement from 70% of the patients down to 10% after 18 months; and an increase in employment, from 14% to 32%. The health safety results were particularly impressive, including decreased contact with the street drug scene, and with very few adverse events or safety issues.
Many of those findings relate more to indigent addicts than they would to a famous actor. But the final point seems key, very few "adverse events" (e.g. overdoses and so forth) or safety issues, in any of the programs. Again, we don't know how Hoffman would have fared if he had entered a heroin maintenance program instead of buying it on the street. For that matter, we don't know if under legalization, broad or just for the addicted, whether Hoffman would have accessed such services in time, or chose to access them at all. But we know that many people do access these services in the countries that offer them, and that very few of the patients enrolled suffer overdose.
More generally, by prohibiting heroin, even for people who are already addicted to it, we prevent a whole class of possible approaches from every being taken to try to help people -- a whole set of options that people with substance abuse problems might be able to use to manage their problems -- to literally save their lives.
In the meanwhile, there are things to do that are legal even now, at least in a few states that have moved forward with them, with no federal laws standing in the way. These are Good Samaritan policies, that protect people from criminal liability when they seek help in an overdose situation; and use of the antidote medication for heroin overdoses, Naloxone. Meghan Ralston wrote about these in an oped yesterday.
We can also improve the debate. It's not enough to talk about the challenges of addiction and the risk of relapse people can face their entire lives, important as that is. It's a good start that people are starting to recognize the unintended consequences of the pain pill crackdown. But that isn't enough either. It's also important to take the next logical step in the argument, and rethink prohibition.
"I hear the drumbeats from Washington and Colorado," states that recently approved legalization measures, he said. Oregon voters could do the same.
And he wants the legislature to take it on:
"I want to make sure we have a thoughtful regulatory system," Kitzhaber said. "The Legislature would be the right place to craft that."
Perhaps Kitzhaber is hoping to head off a ballot initiative that could legalize marijuana in Oregon instead. Either way, we'll take it.
Update: Here's the news. Potentially sounds really big.
We'd hoped when Obama granted commutations to several federal prisoners serving mandatory minimums, including Clarence Aaron, that it might be the start of something bigger. That is now looking more likely.
There's more good news, which is that the bill as passed this week omits language passed in a previous version of the Farm Bill that would encourage states to drug test Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP -- formerly known as "food stamps") recipients. When the legislation was first passed last June (under a different bill number), it had both the (good) hemp language and the (bad) drug testing language.
Update: It has passed the committee!
I'll do more retweeting as I'm able, but also recommend checking out the other Twitter accounts in the meanwhile. We'll publish something about the proceedings later in the day -- hopefully and very possibly with good news!
They just keep on coming -- polls showing a majority nationwide in favor of marijuana legalization. The latest is from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ/NBC poll showed the strongest support for legalization coming from voters under 35, nearly three-quarters of whom favored it. Support declined with age: Among 35-to-49-year-olds, support was at 51%; among the 50-to-64 age group it was 49%; among senior citizens, it declined to 38%.
Democrats were strongly in favor (66%); Republicans were not (38%).
Support was steady at near 55% across education levels, from high school to post-grad.
We are living a sea change.
Assuming that's right, one has to wonder how a Republican who is supposedly for smaller, less intrusive government and for states rights, can define respect by the administration for states' decisions to roll back our incredibly intrusive prohibition laws as "imperial."
Of course we have been making such observations for decades.