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.
As before, see our Twitter page for some of the on-site reports.
Good news -- more hopefully to come soon.
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.
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.