The Speakeasy Blog
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.
The massive federal farm bill, soon to be voted on by both houses of Congress, includes an amendment allowing for research into the industrial uses of hemp.
It allows colleges and universities, and now also state agriculture departments per the conference committee revisions, to grow hemp for academic or agricultural research purposes, but applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.
We'll probably do a feature story on this, but for now, here's a Vote Hemp press release with more details.
Just moments ago, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion approving a medical marijuana initiative for the November ballot.
Because it is a constitutional amendment, as opposed to a statutory initiative, it will have to get 60% of the vote to be approved.
But it now looks like medical marijuana is on the verge of a breakthrough in the previously solid South, and in the South's most populous state, at that.
Kudos to People United for Medical Marijuana/United for Care for overcoming significant odds and actually getting this sucker on the ballot.
Big congratulations are in order for our German brethren. They have scored a major publicity and resource coup that will definitely help them advance the cause.
Millionaire Choice is a reality TV program where self-selected contestants compete in a multi-stage process of elimination to see whose idea will be funded. The cross-media campaign is determined by the vote of viewers.
"The madness! George has won. We are completely overwhelmed. The work of 10 years has now finally paid off. Along with the events in the US and Uruguay, this can be the starting point for the hemp movement gaining strength in Germany," the group's home page exclaimed.
"January 25, 2014 will be long remembered by the DHV and raise the German hemp scene to a new level," the group said in a weekend press release. "When we decided to participate in the Millionaire Choice, we would not have expected this tremendous success. We thank you all for your votes and your infectious enthusiasm. You have voted for George, and without you this huge success would not have been possible."
The campaign led by People United for Medical Marijuana still must overcome one more hurdle before the initiative can appear on the ballot. The state Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to the initiative from state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R), and will decide by April 1 whether her objections are valid.
If the initiative makes the ballot and passes, that will open up a huge fissure in what had previously been the solidly anti-medical marijuana South.
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.