The Speakeasy Blog

Marijuana Legalization in Uruguay???

Movida Cannabica Florida Uruguay display at the Legislative Palace (facebook.com/movida.floridauruguay)
The Uruguayan government's proposal to legalize marijuana was "fiercely debated" in the House today, according to The Washington Post about an hour ago. President Mujica's party, The Broad Front (Frente Amplio en español) has a wider majority in the Senate, so the House is seen as legalization opponents' best chance to stop it. Stay tuned.

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.

Location: 
Montevideo
Uruguay

DC Finally Selling Medical Marijuana

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Capital City Care, one of DC's new medical marijuana dispensaries, made its first sale this week.
DC has seen its first legal marijuana sale under the city's medical marijuana law, enacted in 1998 by voters but blocked by Congress for most of that time. According to The Washington Post, an HIV positive patient (identified only by his middle name, Alonzo), who suffers from insomnia and occasionally from difficulty swallowing or digesting, side-effects of his powerful antiviral medications, visited Capital City Care at 7:00pm yesterday evening.

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.

Two More Reasons Why Ray Kelly Is Full of It and Shouldn't Head DHS

Kally with outgoing DHS secretary Janet Napolitano
Criticisms have swirled around NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly''s record on the "stop and frisk" practice, particularly since Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggested him for Homeland Security secretary last week and Pres. Obama spoke supportively. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic penned "Prominent Democrats Are Now Comfortable With Racial and Ethnic Profiling," asking "How else can one interpret President Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer saying that the NYPD's Ray Kelly would make a good secretary of Homeland Security?" In Reason's July issue (published before the president's comment), Jacob Sullum makes a case that the stop and frisk program constitutes harassment and is unconstitutional. An interview by Jennifer Gonnerman with the admittedly disgruntled ex-NYPD officer Pedro Serrano published last May in New York magazine paints a picture of New York stop and frisks as corrupt or even criminal.

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.

chart from the Zimring article
One question I've not seen asked directly is, what does academic research say about stop and frisk? A look online shows that the leading scholar researching New York City's crime drop is UC-Berkeley professor Frank Zimring. Zimring is the author of a 2001 book, "The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control." In August of that year he published a Scientific American article highlighting his findings. (It's behind a paywall for subscribers, the note about becoming a Facebook fan of Sciam notwithstanding.) An earlier version of the article can be found on Scribd, and I believe that despite its academic nature is spectacular for what it implies about the current debate.

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.

Obama Discusses Race and Justice System in Trayvon Martin Remarks

Pres. Obama's remarks on the Trayvon Martin case dealt extensively with issues of racial bias in the criminal justice system (starting at about 4:30). Drug laws are briefly touched on (4:38). Obama discusses his work in Illinois's legislature passing racial profiling legislation (9:30).
 
Media have focused on Obama's past involvement in the racial profiling issue in recent days. An Associated Press article yesterday detailed his efforts in the the Illinois legislature to address the issue. In a piece on Salon.com this morning, Edward McClelland posted audio of an interview with the president last year, including a recording Obama played of a 2000 campaign ad highlighting racial profiling (at about 40:20).
 
Video of the speech and interview follow:
 
 
 

Will Mexico Cartel Leader's Capture Reduce Violence or Drug Abuse?

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.
 

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/miguel-angel-trevino-morales.jpg
Trevino Morales (state.gov)
The US State Dept. had offered up to $5 million for help in capturing him.

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.

Michael Douglas Tribute to Mike Gray

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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.

Documentary: How to Make Money Selling Drugs

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A new documentary from Tribeca Films has hit the wires. How to Make Money Selling Drugs was produced by Adrian Grenier ("Entourage") and Bert Marcus, and directed by Matthew Cooke. It features interviews with celebrities Russell Simmons, Susan Sarandon, David Simon (creator of "The Wire"), and Arianna Huffington. Some of my colleagues also figure in the movie, including Neill Franklin, Eric Sterling and Howard Wooldridge, among others.

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.

Grassley Immigration Bill Amendment Affects Real and Imagined Drug Offenders

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US Capitol, Senate side
An amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) would affect real and imagined drug offenders. SA 1570, amendment to S. 744 (and the same as Grassley's SA 1299 calls for deportation of immigrant gang members and barring them from become legalized immigrants. Among the types of crimes included are felony drug offenses. But according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), the amendment doesn't require proof, it creates guilt by association, and there's no process for challenging evidence used under the amendment in a proceeding.

The ILRC alert includes some examples of people caught up in the Kafkaesque situation these kinds of laws have created:

Ronny (not his real name), a 35-year old green card holder, was brought to the United States at the age of 2. Ruben's parents are US citizens and he is engaged to a US citizen. In 2003, Ronny was arrested for marijuana sale in Illinois. He pled guilty to this sentence and received a sentence to 18 days in jail and 2 years of probation, which he successfully completed. This was Ronny's last criminal offense. In July of 2012, immigration officers, in a joint operation with local authorities in DuPage County, Illinois, arrived at Ronny's home to arrest him and put him in deportation proceedings. Ronny discovered he was on a gang list, compiled by DuPage law enforcement. Ronny has never been in a gang, nor engaged in any gang-related activities, though he did grow up in a neighborhood where gang activity was prevalent and had friends who were associated with gangs. Ronny could be considered a gang member and a danger to society.
 

Julia (not her real name) lives in California. She has applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Although Julia has never been involved with a gang, she has friends who were gang members and was arrested twice as a juvenile for offenses that were dismissed by the Prosecutor. It is likely that Julia would be considered to be an active gang member and a danger to the community.

Call (888) 891-3271 for the Congressional Switchboard and ask to speak to each of your two Senators in turn. Also, tweet your Senator with #NOonGrassley1570. Visit http://www.govsm.com/w/Senate to find Twitter information for US Senators.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Action Alerts: Farm Bill Hemp and Drug Testing, Mayors Marijuana Resolution

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):

 


 

 

Dear reformer,

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.

You Don't Need Prohibition to Help People

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CDC headquarters, Atlanta
A new Centers for Disease Control study has found the US rate of tobacco usage dropping again:

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?

Big Sentencing Ruling Today from the Supreme Court

There was a big Supreme Court ruling today. In Alleyne v. United States, a 5-4 majority extended an important sentencing reform that had begun with in the 2000 case Apprendi v. New Jersey.

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.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Cameron Douglas Writes from Behind Bars

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.

Angry Afternoon (The Human and Fiscal Cost of the Medical Marijuana Wars)

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.

Dale Schafer and Mollie Fry (canorml.org)
Among the cases highlighted are those of people like Richard Flor, Montana medical marijuana provider who died in federal prison. They include the husband and wife defendants Dale Schafer (a hemophiliac) and Dr. Mollie Fry (a cancer patient). Not highlighted in the release, but on the list, is my friend Bryan Epis, California's second medical marijuana defendant and the first to be convicted. Bryan is getting out soon, but he's spent too many years behind bars. There are many more, of course.

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.

Harm Reduction 2013

Our friends at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union attended the international harm reduction conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, this week, and have brought some of it to the rest of us through a new video:

 
Among the highlights are the former presidents of Switzerland and Poland.
Location: 
Vilnius
Lithuania

What will legal marijuana look like in Washington?

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.

No Thank You

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.

[AP]

Assuming it's true, no thank you to Mr. Ortega -- not the kind of help we need.

Perspectives on the Denver "420" Disruption

Denver 420 rally, while it lasted (facebook.com/pages/420-Rally/104447806260934)
Yesterday's historic "420" rally in Denver, the first since Colorado voted to legalize marijuana last fall, was marred and cut short by violence. Two unidentified gunmen shot and wounded three people -- two attendees were shot in the leg and were rushed to a nearby hospital with "non-life-threatening-injuries," and a teen was grazed by a bullet and walked there, according to the Denver Post. Attendees fled the scene, and the remainder of the event as well a smaller one planned for today were canceled.

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.

Congressman Predicts Current Congress Will Legalize Hemp

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Earl Blumenauer at Brookings marijuana legalization forum, April 2013
I attended a forum on marijuana legalization at The Brookings Institution Monday, where Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of a handful of Congressional champions of marijuana law reform, was one of the speakers. Along with his general optimism for where the issue is going, Blumenauer predicted that the current Congress -- #113, in office this year and next -- will legalize hemp growing.

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 House of Representatives Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

Illinois State House
Word just came out that the Illinois House has passed medical marijuana legislation, after several tries. Now it has to go to the Senate. Phil wrote about this and other medical marijuana news in his weekly update.

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.

Location: 
Springfield, IL
United States

Sens. Leahy and Paul Introduce Bill to Undo Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Pat Leahy & Rand Paul
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have introduced S. 619, the bipartisan "Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013," allowing judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences when they deem appropriate. It expands on legislation passed in 1994 that allows judges to waive five- and ten-year sentences for certain drug crimes. (We advocated for the original safety valve, during our first year as an organization.) The Leahy-Paul bill does this for all federal crimes.

Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has a press release. So does FAMM.

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 Marijuana Arrests Scandal Blows Up Again

March 2012 protest of NYC stop and frisk violations
A front page story on The Huffington Post reported on another New York marijuana arrests report by our friend Prof. Harry Levine, this one with Loren Siegel (formerly of ACLU) and DPA's Gabriel Sayegh. It's the best one yet, or at a minimum the title is the best one yet:

"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.

Location: 
New York City, NY
United States

Kleiman Addresses His Prop 19 Editorial

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."

Seattle skyline
Kleiman did not address the argument I raised in my post last night for why I doubt his analysis. I reasoned that continuing federal prohibition would have prevented Prop 19 from causing the kind of price drop from occurring in California, in the same way that the extensive medical marijuana industry hasn't seen price drops -- because it's too risky to create the industrial level grows and distribution systems that would be needed to achieve that kind of price drop -- a point raised by his coauthors during recent talks and fora.

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.

Location: 
WA
United States

Mark Kleiman Wins Washington Marijuana Legalization Implementation Contract

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."

Mark Kleiman (ncjrs.org via Wikipedia)
Reformers have had a "love/hate" relationship with Kleiman over the years. He supports some of our issues, like marijuana legalization -- sort of. He acknowledges the impact of prohibition in increasing the harmfulness of addictive drugs to their users, but states as nearly a fact the assumption that overall harm would go up with legalization nonetheless -- while admonishing the rest of us not to make assumptions about the positive effects of even just marijuana legalization. He does pretty clearly want to make criminal justice less punishing, and wrote a book about that. Another book Kleiman's co-authored, which we've promoted on this web site and which Phil complimented in a book review, is "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know." (You can order a complimentary copy from us if making a donation of $35 or more.)

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.

Is the International Narcotics Control Board Ignoring Human Rights?

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.

photo from the 2011 HRW report on Vietnam's so-called drug rehabilitation centers
The issue is not a new one, having been raised by Human Rights Watch in September 2011. HRW detailed forced labor, worker pay getting taken by the centers or staffs, inmates getting beaten, even bones broken, if they didn't comply with instructions.

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.
 

and

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.]

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