The Speakeasy Blog
[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.
The 20th Annual Hemp Industries Association Conference will convene in Washington, DC this Sunday and Monday, Sunday and Monday, November 17-18, 2013, featuring expert speakers, a luncheon, hemp exhibits & sales, a silent auction, and an organized lobby day.
Visit http://thehia.org/2013conference.html for information or to register.
Uruguay's House of Representatives passed a marijuana legalization bill, we reported last summer, with the Senate vote expected to be easier due to the wider majority held there by President Mujica's governing party. The Senate vote has been predicted to be around the middle of November, which means it could happen any day now. Stay tuned.
An article about it on infobae (in Spanish), the most recent news article I've seen about the imminent vote, has some disappointing quotes from Mexican and Brazilian officials about it. But perhaps these governments are just covering their backs in the diplomatic fray. Brazil's former president, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, is an outspoken advocate on this issue, and recently joined the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform via Skype as part of acceptance remarks for an award given on the last night of the event to the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
The Uruguay legislation, assuming it goes the right way as expected, will directly challenge the international drug treaties -- more so even than Washington and Colorado, because we still have federal law in force in those states, despite the changes to the state laws. It opens up the possibility for interesting new dynamics as the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs approaches, and the 2014 preparatory drug session.
Also click here for one of the (many) reasons this is important.
The Washington state Liquor Control Board announced last week that it was extending the deadline for public comment on proposed changes to the state's existing medical marijuana program until this Wednesday, November 13. The proposed rules would remove patients' ability to grow their own, reduce the amount of medicine they could have on hand, and most likely result in the forced closing of numerous existing dispensaries.
"We have extended the deadline to submit public comment for the draft recommendations regarding medical marijuana," the board announced. "The new deadline for public comment is November 13, 2013, which coincides with the public hearing/special meeting on the subject." Submit public comment by email at email@example.com, by fax at 360-664-9689 or by mailing them directly to:
Liquor Control Board
P.O. Box 43080
Olympia, WA 98504-3080
It's probably too late to mail or Fedex a comment unless you overnight it, but the email and phone are still available.
Now is the time to speak up.
Mexico poet and human rights activist Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace (Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity) will be in the nation's capital Tuesday and Wednesday. Sicilia will address both Congress and the Organization of American States. The events are open to the public. This press release has more details.
Some attendees at last week's conference signed up for a tour looking inside Colorado's legal cannabis industry, led by River Rock Wellness general counsel Norton Arbelaez. Video by Drug Truth Network's Dean Becker:
Based on existing empirical evidence, we expect that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington will lead to increased marijuana consumption coupled with decreased alcohol consumption. As a consequence, these states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use.
The article discusses alcohol's relationship to traffic fatalities and violent crime, including domestic abuse, predicting that marijuana legalization will reduce those problems, with youth use of marijuana remaining stable.
The substitution question has been raised repeatedly at academic fora on marijuana legalization since the Colorado and Washington initiatives passed last year. In our movement we have tended to assume that they are substitutes, but not all academics are sure. At a one-day conference held by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, at their Washington office, one of the guest presenters said the evidence they've seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana is a complement for alcohol use, e.g. increased availability of marijuana could have the effect of increasing alcohol use and is at least correlated with it. Another one of the guest presenters immediate chimed in to say that the evidence his team has seen "clearly" indicates that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.
DPRC co-director Beau Kilmer often notes that a change in the amount of alcohol use, up or down, could dwarf any increase in marijuana use in terms of its public health ramifications, because alcohol is more harmful than marijuana. But he's cited evidence pointing in both directions, sometimes in different directions for different groups of people. Hopefully the JPAM study's findings will be born out by further research.
September 11, 2013
NOTICE OF COMMITTEE HEARING
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a hearing entitled "Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences" for Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
By order of the Chairman.
Hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
"Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences"
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226
The Honorable Rand Paul
United States Senator
State of Kentucky
The Honorable Brett Tolman
Ray Quinney & Nebeker
Salt Lake City, UT
Right on Crime Initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
An interesting hearing on federal marijuana policy in the face of medical marijuana in 20 states and legal marijuana in two states was supposed to start a few minutes ago.
It hasn't yet, though.
You can watch the hearings in real time here.
I'll be popping back in periodically to update this blog post as warranted, and will be writing a feature article on it for later today.
Update: 2:50 PM EST the hearing has started. Leahy is speaking.
Update: Leahy: "I don’t think federal prosecutors should be pursuing low level users of marijuana complying with the laws of their states."
Update: 3:00 PM EST Grassley: "Marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug....we could see a Starbucks of marijuana..."
Update: 3:20 PM EST In response to a question from Leahy, Deputy AG Cole said that a preemption lawsuit wasn't a good choice because if the federal government prevailed, marijuana would still be legal in Colorado and Washington, but there wouldn't be any regulation.
Update: 3:35 PM EST Sen. Whitehouse asks for clarity regarding not prosecuting financial institutions and others receiving funds. Cole says only if the eight federal enforcement priorities are implicated. Earlier, he suggested that the DEA wasn't going to be pressuring armored car companies to not work with dispensaries.
Update: 3:45 PM EST Cole is done. Now up are the King County, WA, sheriff, a rep of Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper, and neo-prohibitionist Kevin Sabet.
Update: 3:50 PM EST King County Sheriff Urquhart: "My experience shows me the drug war has been a failure. We've incarcerated a generation of citizens, but not stopped demand. We in the government have failed the people, and the people decided to try something else. I support I-502."
Update: 4:00 PM EST Kevin Sabet finds Deputy AG Cole's recent guidance "disturbing" and argues that the administration can take steps now to destroy the looming creation of Big Marijuana. Why open the floodgates and hope for the best?
Update: 4:15 PM EST The issue of access to banking services has been raised throughout the hearing, both by senators and by witnesses. I was a bit surprised, but I guess business is business.
I'm signing off on this post now unless someone says something really surprising in the remaining minutes. Look for our feature article on the hearing later today.
One of them is that current marijuana use by adults (past 30 days) has increased from 5.8% of the population in 2007 to 7.3% in 2012, or 18.9 million current users. However, current marijuana use among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased slightly from 2011 to 2012, 7.9% down to 7.2%, although it's up slightly from 2006 and 2007 (6.7% in both years), but in turn down from 2002 (8.2%). It doesn't look like teen marijuana use is going up generally, and it may be going down, but data like this is usually complicated.
Another is that heroin use has been going up, 373,000 past-year users in 2007 vs. 669,000 in 2012. But cocaine and methamphetamine use have dropped significantly during the same timeframe, while nonmedical use of prescription drugs has stayed about constant.
The other major annual drug use survey, Monitoring the Future, has a category that I believe is useful, "Illicit Drugs Other Than Marijuana." NSDUH doesn't seem to provide a breakdown on that. MTF has found that while use of any given illicit drug besides marijuana varies, the percentage using some illicit drug besides marijuana is roughly constant over time.
Also, drug use by older people (the "baby boomers") is way up relative to a decade ago, though still only about 7%.
How did the mainstream media do? Mixed. A number of outlets highlighted the increase in drug use by older persons, and I certainly agree that's a key finding. But most major outlets focused on the increase in marijuana use overall, while failing to note the decrease in teen marijuana use, including Time, CNN, US News and World Report, USA Today and Fox News. In the (quick and incomplete) look at Google News links that I took, only ABC noted that youth illicit drug use had dropped even as overall illicit use had increased.
I think it's a significant "fail" that most major media did not note that, given the importance place that youth drug use naturally holds in these concerns. Overall, though, the media did not "freak out" over the drug use stats, and that's a good thing.
I've only taken a fairly quick look at the new numbers. We'd welcome any insights readers have on this topic -- even if you think I'm wrong -- post to the comments below, or email us your thoughts or links to your own analyses.
Though it refers to regulatory legalization, as is happening in Colorado and Washington, the memo indicates that the guidance is for "all states." It additionally includes "civil enforcement," which would seem to go beyond criminal prosecutions and investigations to include problems like forfeiture threats directed at landlords and so forth. As a DOJ memo it would not constrain IRS audits of dispensaries.
There is plenty of wriggle room for prosecutors to target people, if that's what Cole and Holder and Obama intend. But at a first glance at least, it looks to me like the memo is seeking to allow Colorado and Washington to proceed with marijuana legalization, and that it may help ease things up in the medical marijuana states as well.
Phil will be posting a Chronicle story momentarily.
One option that may get discussed is the idea for the federal government to sign contracts with states agreeing to permit their legal systems to move forward if the states commit to moving against illegal growers who are exporting outside their states. Mark Kleiman, who is consulting on I-502's implementation for Washington State, suggested it in an article published last wee in the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, according to The Seattle Times (hat tip Center for Legal Cannabis). The idea was floated by Stuart Taylor at a forum I attended at the Brookings Institution last April, "Marijuana Legalization: Are There Alternatives to State-Federal Conflict?" Taylor published a paper on it for Brookings last spring, who points to a provision of the Controlled Substances Act that makes it possible for the government to do without congressional action.
Also of relevance: state officials in Washington and Colorado believe the Dept. of Justice has given "tacit approval" for their legalization systems moving forward, according to a report by Talking Points Memo.
Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ruling, claiming that the stop and frisk practice works and makes the city safer. But as I pointed out in a recent post, while there is research suggesting NYC police have done a lot of good innovating, so far at least the research has not borne out stop and frisk as being one of them.
That is to say, there are other things police do in New York, besides stop and frisk, that have produced a larger than average crime drop than other cities. And they also do stop and frisk, which research hasn't found to help with that.
One more note for now is that we have also written, and more extensively, about NYC as the world's marijuana arrest capital. This is different from the stop and frisk practice, but stop and frisk undoubtedly fuels it.
The move should bolster momentum for the Justice Safety Valve Act, sponsored by Sens. Leahy (D-VT) and Paul (R-KY), as well as the Durbin-Lee Smarter Sentencing Act, the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections and other efforts. In a sign of changing times, the conservative ALEC legislators and business leaders network has called for passage of the Leahy-Paul bill.
Phil will be posting a feature report in the Chronicle after the speech is done.
Reading... papers [about medical marijuana] five years ago, it was hard to make a case for [it]... I... wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled "Why I would Vote No on Pot."
... I didn't look hard enough.. I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis...
I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof... Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."
They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works...
We have been terribly and systematically misled [about marijuana] for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.
Gupta's documentary "WEED" will run on CNN this Sunday at 8:00pm EST.
For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Tony Newman sent out a press release for Drug Policy Alliance this week.
See some of our prior Uruguay stories here and here. Also, former Uruguayan Senator Margarita Percovich speaking at our 2003 conference, here. (Ms. Percovich was in parliament at the time, and became a senator later. I believe she is doing human rights work now.)
This will be huge and historic news if it happens -- the first time a country has legalized marijuana outright, anywhere in the world -- a direct break with the international drug control treaties.
With just nine patients qualified to date, according to DC's Dept. of Health, things are still moving slowly. But they are moving. Having lived in this area since 1995, having worked in this issue since before then, and also having helped out on the polls on that election day 15 years ago, I'm pretty happy to see this finally happen, and proud of my friends who are part of it.
The Post has a photo gallery here.
Kelly for his part has doubled down, claiming in a Wall Street Journal editorial that the stop and frisk practice is part of good policing, a reason for New York City's dropping crime rate which has saved "7,383 lives," most of them young men of color. But Alex Pareene has provided a point-by-point rebuttal to the Kelly piece in Salon.com. And MSNBC "Morning Joe" co host Mika Brzezinski pushed back on the claim in an interview with Kelly yesterday, pointing out "... the numbers... show that the people who are stopped and frisked are primarily minorities and primarily end up to be found doing nothing wrong. So one of the arguments would be that going up to people who are doing nothing wrong is not stopping crime -- it's breeding resentment and playing a dangerous game of profiling that could explode at some point." (Quote via Mediaite and Mike Riggs.) A "room for debate" collection in The New York Times yesterday offers opinions on both sides of the Kelly question.
Briefly, Zimring is a big fan of the innovations that New York City police have made in recent decades, which he credits with gaining a drop in crime going significantly beyond that seen by other cities during the same time period. Zimring is careful, however, to note that just because the NYPD tried new tactics during the time that that happened, doesn't mean that every one of those tactics was necessarily successful. There are two programs he believes were clearly effective, according to a chart on page 29 -- the targeting of "hot spots" and the destruction of public drug markets. (Though Zimring notes that drug sales did not decrease as a result of shutting down the markets -- they just shifted into less visible forms that produce less crime.)
There are three tactics Zimring believes probably were effective, according to the chart -- increased manpower, COMPSTAT management and mapping, and gun programs.
And there is one tactic Zimring points out for which it is "not known" whether it was effective or not. Care to guess which one that was? You guessed right -- it's "aggressive arrests and stops" -- the very practice for which Kelly is now loudly proclaiming success, despite the heavy criticisms that have been heaped upon it.
Which means one of two things: Either Kelly knows that stop and frisk has not been proven to be successful, but is trying to put one over on the rest of us; or he believes it works, but without evidence, and has made key decisions about policing policy and civil liberties with insufficient basis.
Whatever one thinks about stop and frisk, and whatever further research ultimately may determine about it, there's another reason to object to Kelly's proposed DHS appointment. While conducting numerous stops and searches of New Yorkers, police have gone on to arrest many of them for minor offenses -- including marijuana possession, and at sky-high rates. This is actually a pattern common to cities large and small around the country -- police frequent certain neighborhoods, do lots of searches while they're there, and then arrest people for any small thing they find, not just for the serious crimes they' (sincerely or ostensibly) go to the neighborhoods to fight. The result is gaping-wide disparities in who gets arrested for crimes like possession -- people use drugs as much if not more in the nice parts of town, but police don't go there as much or stop many people who live there when they do. This combination of otherwise defensible targeting of high-crime neighborhoods for police presence, but combined with the strict arrest policies that have become common the last few decades, is one of the major driving forces of racial disparity in the criminal justice system, perhaps the leading one.
But the bigger problem here for Kelly is that in New York State it is illegal for police to make most of these marijuana arrests -- because marijuana is decriminalized in New York State unless the possessor has it in public view. What researchers like Harry Levine have documented is that police in New York City have a practice of ordering people to remove any marijuana from their pockets where it was hidden, and then arresting them for having it in public view -- even though it only came into public view because a police officer coerced the defendant into displaying it!
These are illegal arrests, and they happen tens of thousands of times every year in New York City. In September of 2011 Kelly acknowledged the problem by sending a memo to NYPD officers instructing them not to do that any more. Kelly was appointed commissioner in 2002, for the second time, nine years before sending the memo . He only took action to stop this widely-known, very widespread lawbreaking by his officers, that directly violates the rights of New Yorkers, after it was repeatedly publicized in the media and taken up by legislators. And since the memo went out, NYPD officers have continued to engage in the practice about 80% as often as they did before. It's better that Kelly sent the memo compared with if he never did anything about the issue. But "too little, too late" is an understatement, and now he's aggressively defending the root stop and frisk practice that sustains the illegal arrest campaign.
Kelly may be a skillful commissioner whose work has done good in some ways for the city; I'm willing to believe that. But his unconcern for rule of law and civil rights, his apparently complete insensitivity to issues of inappropriate profiling, and his willing to propagandize in the media, make him a poor choice for Homeland Security, an area of government in which all those concerns take on special weight due to its nature. I hope that Sen. Schumer and Pres. Obama will heed the warnings. It's good to talk about race and the justice system, but if you really care about it then your actions -- whom you appoint, and for what -- are what count.
The leader of Mexico's brutal Zetas organization has been captured in northern Mexico, authorities announced. According to the Associated Press:
Trevino Morales, 40, was captured by Mexican Marines who intercepted a pickup truck with $2 million in cash on a dirt road in the countryside outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, which has long served as the Zetas' base of operations. The truck was halted by a Marine helicopter and Trevino Morales was taken into custody along with a bodyguard and an accountant and eight guns, government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told reporters.
The report is mainly about the facts of the capture, and of Morales and the Zetas. There's one expert quote, about Morales:
"He is the most sadistic drug capo in Mexico," said George Grayson, a professor of Latin American politics at the College of William and Mary and an expert on the Zetas cartel. "He delights in inflicting torture and pain. He deserves to be in the lowest rungs of hell."
Grayson's take on Morales is easy to accept, if one has read any articles about the Mexican drug wars of the past several years. In fact there are reports I wish I'd never read. That said, I wish the reporter had sought some expert quotes about whether capturing a kingpin like Morales is likely to reduce drug trafficking or availability or abuse; and whether it could reduce the violence.
The answer to the first question is decidedly "no." The Zetas will continue doing business and/or will splinter into rival factions doing business and/or other drug trafficking organizations will get the business. This is what has always happened previously.
Looking at the second question, the backdrop is that illegal drug trafficking exists because of prohibition. Absent drug prohibition laws, the trade and the vast revenues it currently generates would mostly reside in the licit economy, not encouraging violence in the trade. All that would be left in the underground is a sliver from "gray market" activity, smuggling to evade taxation and so forth.
Mexico's drug wars have reached the height of violence they have in recent years, in part because of the escalation of anti-cartel activity -- such as the capture of cartel leaders like Morales. It's had the effect of producing many localized drug trafficking groups, fighting many more wars than was the case before. The current weakness of the government in terms of keeping a lid of crime is also a factor. The aggressive escalation of anti-cartel activity undertook by the administration of former Pres. Enrique Calderon came at a time when the government was least able to minimize the unintended consequences of such a program, which made it even worse.
Does that mean that Morales's capture will necessarily provoke yet more violence? It might, but that depends on which way Mexico goes. One of the truisms of prohibition is that tolerating the prohibited activity can sometimes reduce the violence associated with the prohibited activity. One cartel can be replaced by a less violent one, if the government quietly allows that to happen.
So Mexico has some choices to make. But it would be better to expand the set of choices by considering international legalization systems, as Latin American leadership is currently pressing for a discussion of.
Actor Michael Douglas gave a tribute to our friend Mike Gray at the memorial service in Los Angeles this week. He talked about first working with Mike on the movie The China Syndrome, and about MIke's work on drug policy reform and how the drug war has affected him and his family. You can listen to it on the Drug Truth Network here.
It was recorded by Doug McVay, who attended the memorial with Common Sense for Drug Policy. Mike was the board chair of CSDP, and Doug and I are both board members.
It is opening in select theaters in some cities (see the web site for info), and is available through iTunes and OnDemand. There's also an iPhone app, Tug of War on Drugs.