The Speakeasy Blog
We sent out two action alerts on our email list yesterday. If you've not a subscriber, you can sign up here. (The page says "user account," for participating non-anonymously on our comment boards, but it also gets you subscribed to our list. Subscribing gets you action alerts as well as the email editions of the Chronicle.
As of the time of this writing, both alerts seem to still be current.
[Update: The Hudson SNAP drug testing amendment has passed the House, and the Farm Bill of which it's a part is expected to pass. Efforts to block it now move to the conference committee.]
[And another update: The hemp amendment PASSED! The full House of Representatives!]
I'm pasting them both below. One is about two amendments (one good, one bad) to the federal "Farm Bill" that are likely to be voted on by the House of Representatives sometime today. We have a Chronicle story online here. The other is an alert we sent out for the group Marijuana Majority that asks mayors to support a resolution at the US Conference of Mayors meeting calling on Congress and the administration to respect state marijuana law reforms. The mayors meeting is happening this week, so the resolution will also get voted on anytime. Both alerts target your own elected officials, e.g. the congressmen and mayors for whom you may have voted (US only). Here they are (farm bill first, mayors below):
I'm sorry for the double email today, but a lot is happening. We've just gotten word that there are two amendments coming to the floor of the US House of Representatives, possibly as soon as tonight and almost certainly this week. We really want one of the amendments to pass; we really don't want the other to pass. So we're asking you to CALL YOUR U.S. REPRESENTATIVE'S OFFICE ON THE PHONE AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS MESSAGE. Info for doing so is below.
Both amendments are being offered to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947). The good one, Amdt. #37 by Reps. Polis (D-CO), Blumenauer (D-OR) and Massie (R-KY), would allow industrial hemp growing for research or other academic purposes in states that allow it. One state that passed a hemp bill recently is California.
The bad one is Amdt. #22 by Reps. Hudson (R-NC), LaMalfa (R-CA) and Yoho (R-FL), which would allow states to require drug testing of all new applicants to the federal SNAP food assistance program. States that have tried this (before it being struck down on constitutional grounds) have found it cost far more than it saved, partly because welfare recipients don't use drugs at higher rates than the general population, as surveys have found. And of course when a low-income parent loses access to food stamps, the entire family is harmed.
Please call your US Representative's office as soon as you get this message, asking for a "Yes" vote on Amdt. #37 (hemp) and a "No" vote on Amdt. #22 (drug testing of food assistance applicants), both to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. You can reach your Rep (or find out who your Rep is) through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Or, you can look up information about your Rep, including the direct phone number for the office, in our online legislative center.
Dear StoptheDrugWar.org supporter:
Later this week, the US Conference of Mayors will vote on a historic resolution calling on Congress and the President to respect state marijuana laws. StoptheDrugWar.org is working with the group Marijuana Majority and others to encourage mayors to support the resolution.
Please visit http://marijuanamajority.com/mayors/?source=drcnet to send an email to the mayor or your town or city supporting this important resolution. When you're done, click on the "call your mayor" link to call your mayor's office on the phone and for talking points to use when you do, and use the share links to let others know about it too. The text of the resolution, and list of mayors already supporting it, are online here.
ATLANTA (AP) — Fewer U.S. adults are smoking, a new government report says.
Last year, about 18 percent of adults participating in a national health survey described themselves as current smokers.
The nation’s smoking rate generally has been falling for decades, but had seemed to stall at around 20 to 21 percent for about seven years. In 2011, the rate fell to 19 percent, but that might have been a statistical blip.
Health officials are analyzing the 2012 findings and have not yet concluded why the rate dropped, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC released its study Tuesday.
Of course, this was achieved without prohibition -- some regulation that has not been without controversy, but without prohibition. So what else could be achieved without prohibition?
According to Mike Gottlieb on SCOTUSblog:
It has been settled since... Apprendi v. New Jersey that any facts which increase a criminal defendant's maximum possible sentence... must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt... [I]f a statute makes it illegal to sell a drug and authorizes a ten-year maximum sentence for such an offense, but provides for a twenty-year maximum sentence for a sale of a larger quantity of the same drug, the jury rather than the judge must make a finding about the quantity before the twenty-year maximum may be imposed.
In 2002, the Court decided... that Apprendi did not apply to facts that would increase a defendant's mandatory minimum sentence, and therefore that a judge could constitutionally decide to apply a mandatory minimum sentence on the basis of facts not proven to a jury.
But not anymore. According to Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog:
[H]ere is the money quote from the majority opinion: "Because there is no basis in principle or logic to distinguish facts that raise the maximum from those that increase the minimum, Harris was inconsistent with Apprendi. It is, accordingly, overruled."
It's hard to tell how things will play out. Apprendi had a larger long-term effect by leading to another ruling, Booker, in which sentencing guideline systems became advisory rather than obligatory -- judges can now sentence below the guidelines that Congress and the Sentencing Commission established, if they offer good reasons, though prosecutors can appeal it. That's an enormous change to the guidelines half of federal sentencing, though underused by (one might say overly-deferential) judges. Now it applies to mandatory minimums as well.
Berman also offers some initial reactions as to what it could mean here. He's not predicting an overturning of mandatory minimum sentencing in the way mandatory guidelines were undone, but significant changes are possible -- changes that could help a lot of people.
Also of interest -- in Apprendi it was Justice Scalia who was pivotal for the majority; today it was Justice Thomas.
Actor Cameron Douglas was serving five years prison time for a drug law violation, when he was tested positive for drug use. The judge added 4.5 more years to his sentence, the heaviest penalty ever dealt out in that situation. He wrote an editorial, "Words Behind Walls," submitted by his girlfriend on his behalf to the Huffington Post.
"Words Behind Walls" is not mainly about his own story -- although he goes into being kept in solitary confinement for 11 months -- but mostly about the tragedy and injustice of half a million nonviolent drug offenders in the prisons and jails, many simply in a cycle of addiction and relapse like he is.
His piece, linked above, is worth reading -- but not before I remark on the incomprehensible cruelty shown by the judge in this case. That judge must be some kind of lost soul himself. At least that is how it looks from here.
Two reports came out today about the federal government's attacks on medical marijuana providers. First, California NORML surveyed court records connected with medical marijuana cases, finding nearly 500 person years of incarceration for medical marijuana defendants. Second, Americans for Safe Access has estimated $300 million spent by the Obama administration on anti-medical marijuana enforcement, after $200 million spent in two terms of the Bush administration -- half a billion total.
Some people argue that these people knowingly took a risk, violating federal law, and even if one disagrees with a law, it's the law and prosecutors are bound to uphold it. But that misses a basic ethical point, and a practical one. In practical terms, police and prosecutors have discretion to focus their resources on the cases of most importance to them. They also can choose not to prosecute, or make deals to let people out of prison time, no abuse of discretion being thereby committed. In many cases that's what happened.
And so in a situation such as this one -- states passing pro-medical marijuana laws, now even legalization laws, the Obama administration effectively encouraging people further by promising a more-or-less hands off approach to the issue, that clearly would have been the right approach for officials to take. If they felt (rightly or wrongly) that they had to shut down certain operations, the ethical approach, given all that came before, would have been to tell the people things have changed, they have to stop doing what they're doing or face prosecution, but giving them that chance. (The same idea applies to Marc Emery, whose business was accepted by authorities for nine years until they hit him with the years he's serving.)
Instead of doing that, in the many cases CANORML has highlighted, they instead let the parties go about their business for years, until they had the evidence compiled they would need to get the extremely harsh sentences they wanted. If these outlets were really harming the public, shouldn't they have moved to close them down as soon as they could instead? I thought the point of our laws was to protect the public, not to destroy the individuals targeted by the law.
Those are a few of the reasons it's an angry afternoon for me.
Here are the Initial Draft Rules promulgated by the state Liquor Control Board. Today is the last day to submit comments before the board begins the process of crafting the official draft rules. That process will include public hearings.
An assessment of the initial draft rules by the Henry Wykowski law firm is available here.
I'll be interviewing various interested parties for a feature article later this week. In the meantime, the two links above provide a start.
Some bizarre news today:
An Idaho man charged with attempting to assassinate President Barack Obama by shooting at the White House practiced with his weapon for six months and may have been upset about the country's marijuana policy, prosecutors said in a newly filed court document.
Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez is currently awaiting trial for the 2011 shooting, which didn't injure anyone but left more than five bullet marks on the executive mansion.
Assuming it's true, no thank you to Mr. Ortega -- not the kind of help we need.
It was not the kind of day those three people or their friends had planned, and that's the most important thing to keep in mind. It was also not the kind of day that thousands attending including many who traveled from afar had planned either. It's lucky there were no trampling injuries, at least no serious ones, apparently.
Without forgetting what's most important -- the people most directly affected -- it's also worth noting that this is obviously not the kind of headline that legalization advocates wanted. The story had the top spot on Google News for a time last night, and continues to hold front page placement as I write this. That's an unfortunate accomplishment, particularly after the grim and violent week we just lived through. But does it hurt the cause?
After looking through news reports, I don't think so. The only criticism of the idea of the rally was from a Colorado anti-marijuana group, appearing well toward the end of the article. Most of it was sympathetic reporting about the victims, about organizers cooperating with police, police looking for information on the suspects, who the musical acts were, how police even before Amendment 64 passed had focused on crowd safety rather than marijuana enforcement during Denver's 420 events. I have not yet seen any quotes suggesting that marijuana use had any connection to the violence, though I've not done an exhaustive search.
Of course there's an opportunity cost from this unfortunate story replacing the story we'd hoped for of legal marijuana becoming a mainstream, accepted reality. And it's hard to know whether the coverage reflects maturation on the part of the media's treatment of the marijuana issue, vs. the violence forcing things into perspective. But I lean toward the former, and there's some comfort from seeing marijuana reformers and public safety personnel so clearly on the same side. At least that's how it looks from a distance. Our movement is part of larger society, and we are vulnerable to all the same dangers.
Let's hope the victims' injuries are no worse than reported, and for their swift recovery.
That may be a less bold prediction than in the past -- with the highest-ranking Republican senator supporting hemp now, Mitch McConnell, it should be more likely -- but it's still a fairly bold prediction, when one thinks about just how long Congress has refused to do anything for this utterly no-brainer of an issue. One of Blumenauer's reasons was that a House bill to legalize hemp growing, H.R. 525, also is being sponsored by a Kentucky Republican, Thomas Massie.
You heard it here first. (Unless you also watched the Brookings forum.)
Illinois going for medical marijuana could be what gets Sen. Durbin involved. Durbin is the second highest ranking Democratic senator, and so it could be a big advance. Durbin supports medical marijuana, and was a cosponsor in 2004 of "Truth in Trials" legislation to allow it in states that allow it. But 2004 was a long time ago, and the Senate has seen little in the way of medical marijuana legislation to advance.
Phil will be doing a feature story on the bill tomorrow, but not in time for tomorrow morning's email editions, so be sure to check Drug War Chronicle this week. (If you don't get the Chronicle by email, you can sign up here.)
"NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests Over Last Decade"
Many of those hours involved overtime pay too. It really sums up the stupidity of it all, in a pretty special way. (The injustices were addressed last week.)
Also, there's a lawsuit, and a judge told NYPD to stop "stop and frisk" arrests in the meanwhile. (But have they?) And Gov. Cuomo continues to push for full decrim to plug the "open view" loophole officers have abused to make all these arrests.
Phil is working on a story for the Chronicle, but there are some links in the meanwhile.
Prof. Kleiman has responded to concerns raised over his remarks during the Prop 19 campaign in California, predicting that Prop 19 would cause prices to plummet and that the feds would have had to intervene in ways going beyond how they've dealt with the medical marijuana trade. He doesn't see that happening in Washington State; he thinks it may well happen in Colorado. He called it a "fair question."
I'm not making anything out of the fact that Kleiman hasn't addressed that point, by the way -- I don't know that he's read my post yet, and that particular point did not appear in the mainstream media articles he surely did read. Nor do I think that much should be made of it in 2013. But that's how I see that particular point, and therefore how I view that two and a half year old editorial.
I'm still cautiously optimistic, after reading the response, maybe even a little "excited" (I confess) as Kleiman wrote that he and his colleagues are feeling. Some of my colleagues have commented, and I tend to agree, that a cautious approach to implementing the Washington initiative is what will have the best chance of threading the federal needle and moving legalization forward -- especially in Washington, where the law allows for fewer licensed sales outlets and doesn't have home growing as Colorado does. And Washington or parts of it may provide our best shot at getting something resembling meaningful federal cooperation.
Some of my colleagues probably disagree with me, and many undoubtedly feel we should be wary. As a practical matter, I agree that we should be wary -- it's our responsibility as advocates to be wary, whoever the state decides to bring in. But it's also not like we get to decide who does the work on this -- our direct power to influence this ended on election day -- and I wasn't really expecting it to be someone from the all-out legalization camp.
As I wrote last night, time will tell -- about Kleiman et al's work, and about the future of I-502 and marijuana legalization in Washington State.
Prominent policy analyst and UCLA professor Mark Kleiman has won Washington State's consulting contract on I-502 implementation. According to Northwest Public Radio, "Washington's Liquor Control Board wants consulting help in four areas: marijuana industry knowledge, plant quality and testing, regulation, and to the extent possible, projecting how many people will use pot now that it's legal."
A quote that caused some consternation among reformers is one he gave to the LA Times during California's 2010 Prop 19 campaign:
"There's one problem with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis at the state level: It can't be done. The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can't legalize a federal felony. Therefore, any grower or seller paying California taxes on marijuana sales or filing pot-related California regulatory paperwork would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes. And that won't happen."
I think the quote deserves some criticism. Medical marijuana provision is also a federal felony, under the same law Kleiman cited with regard to legalization of marijuana. Kleiman's arguments in the piece -- that the feds can afford to largely ignore the medical marijuana industry only because prices remain high, and because regulation of medicine is traditionally a state matter -- are unpersuasive to me. Administrations in power during the medical marijuana years have not suggested that medical marijuana is a state matter; even Obama's inconsistently-respected "not a priority" position about going after businesses operating in compliance with state law, made clear that they can go after any medical marijuana business if they think it's in the federal interest to do so. And Kleiman or his coauthors during book talks and related fora I've attended have argued that we don't know what will happen to marijuana prices following state legalization in the face of continuing federal prohibition. One reason they've argued it might not is that federal prohibition makes it too risky to set up the very large scale growing and distribution infrastructures that are needed to bring down prices in the way that we'd predict from legalization at all governmental levels.
Still, I count myself among the optimistic when it comes to Kleiman's work for Washington State. Kleiman prefers a very non-commercial form of legalization to any big sales model. But he's also suggested the federal government allow the Washington and Colorado experiments with legalization to take place. And whatever quotes I might take issue with from time to time, Kleiman is a very serious academic who's written extensively about the issue; and he's not a drug warrior, even if his support for legalization, even of just marijuana, tends toward the tepid. I expect he'll do the best job he can on this very high profile assignment -- that assignment being to advise on the implementation of legalization, not on whether it's a good idea. (I also saw Kleiman wearing a Students for Sensible Drug Policy t-shirt at the Takoma Park Folk Festival one year. :-)) I can think of plenty of people who might have been in the running for the job, who would make me a lot more nervous than Kleiman. But time will tell.
Anyway, along with some articles linked here, CNN has pitched an interview with "Washington State's New Pot Czar" on "Erin Burnett OutFront" tomorrow (Tuesday) night. Perhaps the interview will provide some indicators of where Kleiman might go with this.
A recent report by the UN special rapporteur on torture charged that compulsory drug treatment centers in some countries, particularly Vietnam and Thailand, constitute "forced labor" camps that engage in "torture." Long-time addiction writer Maia Szalavitz wrote about this in Time last week, and Phil did in our newsletter last Monday. The report is online here.
Nevertheless, in its 2011 annual report, published five months after HRW's, the International Narcotics Control Board had only this to say in relation to Vietnam's treatment centers:
In September 2010, the Government of Viet Nam issued a decree on the strengthening of family-based and community-based drug treatment and rehabilitation services. In March 2011, the Ministry of Public Security of Viet Nam adopted measures to improve the collection and analysis of drug-related data. In June 2011, the Government of Viet Nam adopted the national strategy on drug control and prevention for the period ending in 2020. Based on that strategic document, the national target programme for the period 2011-2015 was developed to address drug-related issues in the country.
The Board welcomes the steps taken in Viet Nam to improve the treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers and the efforts made in participating in different projects sponsored by [the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC] in that area. The Board encourages the Government to reinforce and support existing facilities as well as to undertake capacity-building in the field of treatment for drug abusers.
The 2012 INCB report, released last week -- more than a month after the special rapporteur's report was released -- offers just this:
The Government of Viet Nam launched its new national drug control and crime prevention strategies in July 2012. The strategies highlight the need for a comprehensive national response that combines effective law enforcement, drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation measures that allow for better integration of former drug dependent persons into society and the active participation of communities in crime prevention.
I understand that any system involving confinement has the potential for abuse, in the best of times and places, and that any one report on a subject can miss the mark. But we have allegations from a respected organization, and now from the UN itself, of systemic abuses, of a degree of seriousness that would seem to invalidate the entire project. Presumably international funding is in the mix at well. So why not even a word about it, from the self-described "quasi-judicial body" overseeing the international drug control regime?
Open Society Foundation's Joanne Csete noted comments by the late Hamid Ghodse, then INCB chairman, at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs last year, disclaiming any role for human rights concerns in the drug treaties or his agency. But that is not the stated position of the other main UN drug agency, UNODC.
So do we have a scandal in the making -- or better yet, an opportunity to reform the international drug control regime?
[By the way, Csete's afore-linked essay is part of the LSE IDEAS report included in our current membership offers.]
I am presenting at a symposium sponsored by the Cardozo Public Law, Policy and Ethics Journal, "The War on Drugs: Working Toward a Ceasefire," this Wednesday 3/13 at Cardozo Law School in NYC. The event includes a screening of the Eugene Jarecki documentary "The House I Live In," at 10:00am. My panel starts at noon, there's a second afternoon panel, and a keynote address by Judge John Gleeson on federal mandatory mandatory minimum sentencing. It is open to the public, but RSVPs are required in order to gain entry to the building -- email the Journal or use the Paperless Post invitation to sign up.
Both of those positions may be overreaches. It's true that federal marijuana legalization would require revision of the drug treaties, if the US is not to be in violation of them (or for the US to do what Bolivia did by withdrawing and then rejoining "with reservations"). Legalization by Congress even just within states that have enacted it is also a likely treaty issue. But Colorado and Washington aren't parties to the treaties, and federal law remains in force within those states. The states have simply ceased to contribute their own resources to a part of the prohibition program. Under our federal system they very probably have the legal right to do so.
And that is why the DEA chiefs have overreached as well. When one says that federal law is supreme in this area, it means that federal agents can use the powers they have to bring criminal or civil actions against marijuana users or sellers, despite the passage of state laws -- the Raich case decided that for medical marijuana, for reasons that would seem to apply to fully legalized marijuana too. But that doesn't mean the states have to help them. We have a federal system. As I've pointed out previously, no federal prosecutor in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws has ever argued in court that the states can't have those laws on their books. Clearly they've had incentive to do so, if they thought they could win that way.
I don't argue that we know for sure how these points will come out if they are adjudicated -- it is new legal territory. But most legal scholars seem to think a preemption ruling would be a long shot outcome. So that is how it looks to me.
[If you haven't already, please order the two recent reports, from the Cato Institute and the London School of Economics, addressing these two very issues -- available in harcopy on our web site for a small donation.]
"[D]ecriminalizing possession is not in the EU strategy, but if you take the EU strategy as a whole, the clear conclusion is that all-out prohibition is ineffective, expensive and not supported by any evidence base."The EU can't enact decriminalization itself, but through the thrust of its strategy they provide political ammunition to policymakers who would like to move their national policies in that direction -- in countries that are EU members as well as countries applying for EU membership.
This is what he had to say about the United States on drug policy:
"With the US, we tend to disagree on a lot of things -- we've had the US against us in Vienna [where the UN drug agency is headquartered] for quite a few years. The US is allergic to a lot of the European evidence-based approach and appears to be far more interested in supply reduction then in harm reduction. And it's not very fussy about human rights."
Relatedly, there are some very enlightening articles on both of those topics in a recent London School of Economics IDEAS special report, Governing the Global Drug Wars. (This is one of the two reports whose hardcopies we're providing as part of our latest membership offer.) Another big of StoptheDrugWar.org promotion: check out speeches by (now former) Member of the European Parliament Marco Cappato at our 2003 conference in Mexico, "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century."
I am participating on a HuffPost Live panel starting at 11:30am EST this morning: Is Mexico's Security Policy Failing?
Update: The archive is already online, embedded below. The link from the live broadcast is also the permalink.
The panel was hosted by commentator Alicia Menendez, and I shared the panel with Alejandro Hope of the Instituto Mexicano para la Competividad, Prof. John Ackerman of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and former ONDCP official Paul Chabot.
Harborside is in the news again today. Two weeks ago we noted the premiere (and largest) dispensary had won a battle in state court. Facing threats by federal authorities over Harborside's marijuana distribution, their landlord attempted to evict them, only to be rebuffed by a judge because she had authorized Harborside to engage in exactly that business there in the lease.
"We invited (U.S. Attorney) Melinda Haag to come to Harborside to tour to take a look at the way we do things," Harborside Executive Director Steve DeAngelo said Thursday outside court [according to NBC]. "Because I think the federal government should be studying Harborside not trying to close us down. We've developed a great model for responsible and legitimate distribution of cannabis."
According to the LA Times, the city's lawsuit "contends that federal prosecutors missed a five-year statute of limitations to seize Harborside's properties and misled Oakland officials with a 'pattern of false promises' that they would not go after dispensaries that were complying with state and local laws." The feds in turn say they've always reserved the right to go after any dispensary, and dismissed attorneys' arguments about the needs of patients who will be driven to the illicit market.
Those issues will in all likelihood be decided based on the technical legal merits, and we've known all along we faced tough prospects in the courts, especially since the Raich ruling. Still, the city's arguments, whether legally persuasive or not, are accurate. Obama administration officials did mislead the city -- the country -- about their intentions with regard to state medical marijuana laws. Whether they did so deliberately or through mere inconsistency is irrelevant. When Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked the attorney general to make the administration's intentions toward marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado known, the unspoken corollary is how inappropriately they've handled communications about medical marijuana. That's bad enough when a business or city gets harmed. But some of the victims are in prison or dead.
Haag must see that she is on the losing side of history by now. The question is how much carnage she and her cohorts will inflict by holding out. It would be better to have some reason from the feds sooner rather than later -- some reason and some decency.
P.S. Watch why Scott Morgan considers Harborside The Best Place in the World to Buy Marijuana:
Oregon's Measure 80 is an interesting case. While it was reported as losing 45-55, the pro total actually crept up to 46.3% when all the returns were finally counted. This was with virtually no funding, though perhaps benefiting from discussion of the issue in neighboring Washington, and with language that was far more radical in most respects than either Washington's or Colorado's measures. With a better-written initiative and the funding that would likely attract, and with legalization happening next door as Dickinson pointed out, Oregon could be a winner soon -- if not 2014 and the expected more conservative turnout expected in an off year election, then in 2016.
Also interesting about Oregon, is that I thought the loss there while two other states passed would settle the debate over how to write an initiative -- whether to poll and do focus groups and write one that the research says can pass, or to just go for broke with the language you like -- the two initiatives that did the former won, the one that did the latter lost. But given how well Measure 80 did despite having no funding has some activists including a number of friends of mine saying that we don't have to compromise, or compromise as much, in order to win. If the funds come on board, the money and the real campaign it would enable could make up those 3.7 percentage points, is the reasoning.
I don't believe the money would make up those percentage points. I believe it is more likely that there is a swath of voters who agree with legalization in principle, but are picky about what kind of initiative they would approve, and that initiatives written the right way for them (or for the opinion leaders they take seriously like the former law enforcement and others who supported Washington's I-502) probably swung a significant percentage of voters. I think that Oregon was a special case, because of what was happening at the same time in Washington. And I think that a real campaign in Oregon, would have resulted in a greater amount of discussion about the details of the Oregon initiative (especially if polls suggested it had a chance), increasing the negative impact that certain aspects of it would have had on the aforementioned picky legalization supporters.
But do I know that for sure? No. Oregon's vote should certainly be studied to see what can be learned. So should Colorado's, a system that is pretty different from and a lot more open than Washington's. (At a Cato forum last week, former DEA chief Asa Hutchinson scarcely even mentioned Washington.)
One way or another, it is very likely that a page of history turned last month. Whether as many as seven states will go for legalization in the next few years, or whether Rolling Stone has called all the right ones, only time can tell. But the optimism is certainly appropriate -- time is on the side of marijuana legalization, and I hope for overall drug reform as well.
I have criticized the ease with which some media outlets and even some reformers have accepted the argument made by prohibitionist advocates that courts are certain to overturn the Washington and Colorado marijuana legalization initiatives, or their regulatory systems at least, based on federal supremacy. Most legal scholars in the news have expressed skepticism that a preemption challenge of the laws, as it's called, would succeed, though we can't know for sure until and unless that goes through the courts.
How easy would this to be address? Pretty easy. Bolivia did it this year. That nation has had problems with the treaty ban on coca growing, even for traditional purposes (purposes other than cocaine) as has been done in Bolivia for thousands of years. Attempts to enforce the ban through US-backed eradication programs have fomented civil instability, ultimately leading to a backlash in which a coca grower and indigenous leader, Evo Morales, won the presidency in 2006. (Shameless promotional fact: Morales's vice-president, Álvaro García Linera, spoke at our 2003 conference.)
What happened is that the Morales administration sought a modification to the Single Convention to address the coca issue, but was rebuffed. So late last year, they withdrew from it. Then they announced they would rejoin the treaty on January 1, but with "reservations" stating their non-participation with respect to the coca provision. If one third of member nations object to Bolivia's readmission to the treaty -- by the end of this year, if I'm not mistaken -- they can be prevented from rejoining it, and potentially have problems in some regulatory areas. But other countries would suffer problems from that as well, and it is unlikely.
The US could do that too. Or, and better, we could seek the revision of the treaties to permit legalization. The US would be powerful enough to pull that off, and the rest of the world is mostly concerned with their own interests and are not clamoring for the continuation of marijuana prohibition in the US in any case.
One way or another, it will be pretty easy to handle the drug treaties, once the political will exists here to enact legalization under our own laws. The treaties are a valid issue, but not a difficult one to surmount.