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Pressure Mounts for Marijuana Reform in Bermuda

For Americans, mention "Bermuda" and "marijuana" and the first thing that comes to mind is a vision of vacationing cruise ship passengers arrested and fined in large amounts for carrying small quantities of the substance, like this Oakland medical marijuana patient last month or these two unfortunate tourists in April. But that could be about to change.

A mid-month meeting organized by the governing One Bermuda Alliance's youth wing, the Future Bermuda Alliance, to discuss marijuana reform drew nearly a hundred residents and supporters, including two government ministers, both of whom expressed general support for the notion.

"We're delighted with the initiative taken by the FBA and we're pleased that on a Sunday night, when there's a lot going on and people are getting ready to go to work, that there's a good turnout," said Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley, according to the Royal Gazette. "This is a very difficult subject to discuss because people seem to be either in one camp or the other. It's great that the FBA has put it on so that people can put their opinion out there."

The administration is paying attention, Dunkley told the crowd.

"This government made it very clear that we will look at this subject and so this type of discussion with a cross section of Bermuda's society helps us determine the position going forward. We're not afraid to tackle the difficult issues, we've shown that. And so I'm delighted to have the opportunity to come out and listen," he said.

"The people of Bermuda need to know that their government is prepared to hear them," said Education Minister Nalton Brangman, the Gazette reported. "As legislators it's important that we get the pulse, feel the pulse and appreciate how the people are feeling on every subject; this is a very good thing."

Among the panelists was yet another government figure, Junior Public Safety Minister Jeff Baron, the Rev. Dr. Ernest Peets, Chewstick Movement leader Najib Chentouf, and former Pennsylvania marijuana activist and now Bermuda's go-to man on marijuana policy, attorney Alan Gordon.

In addition to comments from the panelists, the event also provided a forum for public feedback on the marijuana laws, and the sense of the attendees was clear from comments that the Gazette reproted.

"Alcohol hasn't done us much justice, we need to give marijuana a chance, maintain it, regulate -- I fully support it," said Jason Stovall, 24.

The government should use "common sense and logic" on pot policy, said another man, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's a disgrace and it's a human rights atrocity for this drug war to be locking people in prison for a plant that is less harmful than the legal drugs available. What they should do is go over to KFC and stop people from eating greasy food or sitting in bars, which is ironic right now in itself," he said. "And it would be a sin to tax it once we free up the ganja to have the government benefit from it."

The meeting is a sign that Bermuda's marijuana policies could be changing soon, Gordon told the Chronicle after the event.

"The government is looking very seriously at making a change in cannabis policy and soon," he said, pointing not only to the presence of government ministers at the meeting, but also members of parliament and One Bermuda Alliance officials. "The government helped facilitate that panel to hear out citizens on their concerns on cannabis policy and where they want to see it go."

As for those cruise ship passengers, Gordon said the bad publicity generated by their Bermuda pot busts is forcing change there, as well. "People caught with non-trafficking amounts would only get a caution if compliant," he said. But he warned that judges will still be tough on people bringing large amounts, saying they "see importers as people whose activities bring crime and violence."

Things are bubbling in Bermuda. Stay tuned.

Bermuda

Chronicle Book Review: "Reefer Sanity"

Chronicle Book Review: Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana by Kevin Sabet (2013, Beaufort Books, 198 pp., $14.95 PB)

Kevin Sabet, or "Kevin Sabet, Ph.D.," as he likes to be known, is becoming the go-to guy for arguments against marijuana legalization. A former senior advisor in the drug czar's office, he, along with former Congressman (and recovered pain pill popper) Patrick Kennedy, are the men behind Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an organization created to stem the tide toward marijuana legalization. His op-ed pieces now pop up with some regularity, and earlier this month, he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as the lone witness to raise the alarm about looming legalization in Colorado, Washington, and beyond. (He was undoubtedly invited to testify at the behest of Chuck Grassley, the octogenarian Iowa Republican who appears to be the only Reefer Madness-style politician left on the committee.)

Now, Sabet has organized and expanded his arguments in book form, and people interested in changing the marijuana laws will be seriously remiss if they fail to read, understand, and address them. Not because they are necessarily correct, but because Sabet is this generation's gentler, kinder voice of marijuana prohibition. The arguments Sabet makes in Reefer Sanity are sure to be used as ammunition by the foes of reform; count on them being echoed across the land as the debate spreads from state to state.

The important thing to know about Sabet is that he generally approaches marijuana policy from a public health perspective. For him, policy is about preventing marijuana use in the first place and then reducing the harms of its use (see below) when prevention fails. Yes, he still wants to arrest you, but only for the kinder, gentler reason of getting you into forced drug treatment.

But his focus on harms exposes a curious lacuna in his thinking: he never addresses the benefits of smoking marijuana, or drinking booze, or whatever other drug is in question. An argument that says only that X number of teen potheads will go schizophrenic or that X number of marijuana users will get in car wrecks or that marijuana use will cost X dollars in increased health care costs, but that fails to note that 1000X pot smokers will endure sweet moments of bliss, hilarity, and camaraderie is an argument with half the equation missing.

Yes, we have a certain number of alcoholics. We also have tens of millions of people who derive pleasure from sipping a fine California cabernet sauvignon with dinner or enjoying a cold, cold beer during a hot summer ball game. And even someone beginning his day with a cup of coffee and a cigarette (addictive substances both) derives some small pleasure from doing so. It's hard to put a dollar figure on such positives, and even harder when you don't even consider them.

Before getting into specifics, my other major problem with Sabet's approach is his willingness to use the coercive power of the state to make us conform to his vision of the public health. As Ethan Nadelmann is fond of putting it, "absent harm to others" the state should just butt out. Sabet doesn't want people thrown in prison or jail for marijuana; he wants them thrown in coerced treatment. He doesn't want people to suffer the life-long consequences of a marijuana arrest; he just wants to arrest them to "help" them. (Sabet would like to see marijuana possession arrest records disappear so as to not hurt one's future chances, but he still wants to arrest you for your own good.)

This is the danger when the nice-sound label "public health approach" gets stuck onto what is really still a criminal justice approach, with what is arguably a public health component tacked on. We trade cops, arrest, and imprisonment for cops, arrest, and treatment. But we still have the cops and we still have the arrests, and with the treatment component, we get extended surveillance and control by the state. There is a really human liberty interest here of which those, like Sabet, who can only conceive of drug use in terms of human slavery, are almost totally blind.

Sabet constructs his book around "Seven Great Myths About Marijuana." Here they are, with my briefest of responses. (I'm counting on the rest of you out there to do the detailed responding to his arguments; I'll limit myself to general comments here.)

Myth #1: Marijuana is Harmless and Non-Addictive. I don't know too many serious reformers who would make this argument, but they would say that its harms in most cases are minimal and that it's addictive in the same sense that a substance like coffee is addictive. And the dreaded withdrawal syndrome is about as horrendous as going off coffee. Not to mention that there are many people Sabet would qualify as "marijuana addicts" who nonetheless manage to lead happy, productive, creative lives.

Myth #2: Smoked or Eaten Marijuana is Medicine. What I find interesting about this section is the way it illuminates a growing divide between people who believe only in standardized, pharmaceuticalized Western medicine and people more inclined to accept naturalistic remedies. For Sabet, if it ain't a pill manufactured by a drug company, it ain't medicine. For medical marijuana supporters (and many others), however, the wonders of pills, with all their toxicities and other side effects, leave something to be desired. A nice hit of high-CBD weed or a cup of poppy tea work quite well, and they're not going to destroy your liver or make your hair fall out or cause impotence or any of those other litanies of side effects we're treated to in those drug company TV ads.

Myth #3: Countless People Are Behind Bars Simply for Smoking Marijuana. No responsible reformer believes that. It is an argument that I see frequently being made by well-intentioned but ill-informed people, but, as Sabet demonstrates, it just isn't so and the drug reform community has understood that for some time now. The collateral consequences of a pot arrest are a different story. Sabet would like to minimize arrest records to reduce those consequences, but he still wants to arrest you so the state can get its claws into you.

Myth #4: The Legality of Alcohol and Tobacco Strengthen the Case for Legal Marijuana. Here, Sabet argues that the costs of legal alcohol and tobacco far exceed the benefits, and that legalization of marijuana will increase use and its attendant harms. But he elides the qualitative differences in the harms of the three substances. Is more marijuana use going to cause more bar fights, domestic abuse, and drunken brawls? Not likely. Is more marijuana use going to cause more schizophrenia or lung cancer? Well, we've had nearly a half-century of pot-smoking cohorts and have yet to see associated increases in those illnesses. But bottom line, it's a matter of fundamental fairness: How can you justify criminalizing people for using a substance less harmful than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco?

Myth #5: Legal Marijuana Will Solve the Government's Budgetary Problems. Sabet suggests that tax revenues from legal weed will be lesser than expected because of tax evasion and falling prices and that legalization will bring its own costs, such as paying for a regulatory framework. How true this is remains to be seen, but like many of his other "myths," this is in large part a straw man argument. I hear serious reformers saying marijuana tax revenues will help, not that they will be a panacea.

Myth #6: Portugal and Holland Provide Successful Models of Legalization. Sabet points out, accurately enough, that neither Portugal nor Holland have actually legalized marijuana; Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs, and Holland tolerates controlled sales and possession of small amounts. He points to mixed results from Portugal and to recent moves from conservative Dutch governments to try to rein in the cannabis coffee shops, but fails to note the strong resistance in Holland. He also points to increasing Dutch teen marijuana use, but fails to note that it is well within European norms. He also fails to note the consistent finding from social scientists that the link between drug policies and drug use rates is quite weak.

Myth #7: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment are Doomed to Fail -- So Why Try? Prevention efforts can reduce use rates and some forms of drug treatment show more promise than others. Okay. I'm all for treatment for people who want and need it. But Sabet seems to assume that anyone who smokes marijuana needs treatment, and he's willing to see you arrested, sent to drug court or its equivalent, and placed under extended surveillance by the state to get his druthers. Also, typically, he points to high numbers of marijuana users in treatment without noting that a majority of them are sent there by the courts, the schools, or other authority figures after getting busted -- not because they are "marijuana addicts."

Get familiar with these arguments and how to respond to them. Pull apart those straw men. Find those fallacies. Examine those underlying assumptions. You're going to be hearing a lot of arguments just like these in the months and years to come. Part of how effectively we move forward on ending the drug war depends on how effectively we rebut its slickest proponents. And Kevin Sabet is among the slickest with his kinder, gentler public health neo-prohibitionism.

Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in DC

A bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21 and set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce was introduced in the District of Columbia city council Tuesday. Filed by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), the bill would give regulatory authority to the DC Alcoholic Beverages Regulation Administration.

The bill comes on the heels of a decriminalization bill introduced in July by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward Six). That bill would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of weed by adults and replace them with a maximum $100 fine.

The proposals appear to reflect public opinion in the nation's capital. An April Public Policy Polling survey that found 75% of District voters support decriminalization and more than 60% would support a tax, regulate, and legalize initiative similar to those that passed in Colorado and Washington last year. The same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.

The release in June of an American Civil Liberties Union report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests has only upped the pressure. That report found that DC residents are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than the residents of any state and that black DC residents are arrested at a rate far higher than white ones.

Councilmembers are looking over their shoulders as they move on marijuana law reform. DC activists emboldened by the local polling numbers as well as broader national trends are contemplating an initiative next year if the council fails to act.

"Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately criminalized black and brown people and wasted scarce law enforcement resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "Following the introduction of marijuana decriminalization legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells, Councilmember David Grosso's proposal to tax and regulate marijuana will enhance efforts to provide District residents with relief from prohibitionist policies that have failed to curb the availability of marijuana to young people. Our nation's Capital would be wise to follow Colorado and Washington," said Smith.

Smith also pushed elected officials to not stop with ending marijuana prohibition.

"As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents," he said. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that a person should not be criminalized for possession of any drug in DC."

Washington, DC
United States

Majority Supports Marijuana Reform in Michigan

A poll released Friday finds a majority of Michiganders in favor of reforming the state's marijuana laws, and nearly half in favor of legalizing and regulating the herb. The poll, conducted by pollsters Epic-MRA for Michigan NORML, comes as the state's activists attempt to lay the groundwork for moving a decriminalization bill in the legislature or a possible legalization initiative.

Crosstabs for the poll are not yet available. Epic-MRA told the Chronicle Monday that while Michigan NORML had made some poll results available to the media, it had not yet given the pollster permission to post full results. The poll surveyed 600 likely voters last week and has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

The poll found near majority support (47%) for legalizing marijuana by taxing and regulating it like alcohol, with another 16% saying the favored decriminalization and 4% saying they wanted all criminal penalties for marijuana offenses repealed. Taken together, that's more than two-thirds (67%) of Michiganders in favor of relaxing the pot laws. Only one out of four respondents (26%) favored the pot prohibition status quo.

The results show a continuing shift in public sentiment toward legalizing the drug, said Bernie Porn, president of Epic-MRA.

"I think that people are changing their opinions about marijuana," Porn said. "There is a receptivity to legalization and the realization that you don't need to have law enforcement spending the kind of time that they devote to the crimes that people are convicted of because of current marijuana laws," he said.

Neil Yashinsky, executive director of Michigan NORML's Oakland County chapter, told the Detroit Free Press he was encouraged by the survey results.

"Eventually, the politicians will catch up with the people. They will reflect the values of their constituents" and pass a decriminalization effort, he said.

If they don't, there is always the initiative process. Voters in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, and Ypsilanti last November approved decriminalization or deprioritization initiatives. Similar local initiatives will be on the ballot this year in Ferndale and Lansing.

MI
United States

Legal Marijuana States Move Forward With Rules

Colorado this week became the first legal marijuana state to set its final rules for pot commerce, but Washington state isn't far behind. Voters in the two states last November approved marijuana legalization, and the actuality of it now looms.

On Monday, the Colorado Department of Revenue released 136 pages of final rules designed to provide clear guidance for marijuana entrepreneurs and police alike. The rules require pot businesses to track inventory from seed to sale, as well as setting numerous conditions and restrictions on everything from packaging to advertising to hours of operation.

Now that the rules process is finalized, applications and licensing can get under way. The first marijuana retail establishments are expected to open around New Year's Day.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, which is charged with implementing legalization in the Evergreen State, last week issued its latest revised proposed rules. They aren't the last word. The Board will hold several public hearings in the coming weeks, but is on track to finalize the rules and begin issuing licenses for marijuana businesses around the same time those first pot shops are opening in Colorado.

The Washington marijuana commerce rules now contemplate 334 marijuana retail stores operating in the state and cap production at 87,500 pounds per year based on estimated demand. The Board estimates that legally produced marijuana could be available for sale by June.

Senate Holds Hearing on State Marijuana Legalization [FEATURE]

The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon held a hearing on marijuana legalization and conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws. Led by committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the hearing featured testimony from the deputy attorney general who has set Justice Department policy, two officials in states that have legalized marijuana and one critic of marijuana legalization.

The hearing marked the first time Congress has grappled with the issue of responding to state-level marijuana legalization and was notable for its emphasis on making legalization work in states where it is legal. It was also notable in that of all the senators present, only one, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), bothered to dredge up the sort of anti-marijuana rhetoric that had in years and decades past been so typical on Capitol Hill.

"Marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug," said Grassley, who turns 80 next week. "It's illegal under international law as well, and the treaty requires us to restrict its use to scientific and medical uses. These [legalization] laws flatly contradict our federal law. Some experts fear a Big Marijuana, a Starbucks of marijuana," he lamented.

Grassley's lonely stand reflects changing political realities around marijuana policy. The other senators who spoke up during the hearing -- Democrats Leahy, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island -- all represent states where voters have already expressed support for medical marijuana and a region where support for outright legalization is high. They were all more interested in removing obstacles to a workable legalization than in turning back the clock.

"Last November, the people of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, and these new laws are just the latest example of the growing tension between state and federal marijuana laws and the uncertainty about how such conflicts are resolved," Leahy said as he opened the hearing. "Marijuana use in this country is nothing new, but the way in which individual states deal with it continues to evolve. We all agree on the necessity of preventing distribution to minors, on preventing criminal enterprises from profiting, and on drugged driving. But I hope that there might also be agreement that we can't be satisfied with the status quo."

The first witness was Deputy Attorney General James Cole, author of last month's policy directive notifying state governments that the Justice Department would not seek to preempt their marijuana laws and instructing all federal prosecutors to leave legal marijuana alone -- with a number of exceptions. Sales to minors, the use of guns or violence, profiting by criminal groups, a marked increase in public health consequences like drugged driving, and distribution of marijuana into non-legal states are all among the factors that could excite a federal response, Cole's directive noted.

On Tuesday, Cole reiterated and went over the policy directive for senators, but the most striking part of his testimony was his admission that the federal government could not effectively put the genie back in the bottle.

"It would be very challenging to preempt decriminalization," Cole conceded in response to a question from Leahy. "We might have an easier time preempting the regulatory scheme, but then what do you have? Legal marijuana and no enforcement mechanism, which is probably not a good situation. You would also have money going to organized criminal enterprises instead of state coffers."

The three Democratic senators all prodded Cole and the Justice Department to do something about the legal marijuana (and medical marijuana) industry's problems with banks and financial services. Because of federal pressure, such institutions have refused to deal with marijuana, leaving those businesses drowning in cash. The senators also questioned reports that the DEA had been telling armored car companies not to do business with marijuana businesses.

"What about the banking industry?" asked Leahy. "A cash only business is a prescription for problems. We're hearing that DEA agents are instructing armored car companies to stop providing services to medical marijuana companies. It's almost as if they're saying 'let's see if we can have some robberies.' What is the department going to do to address those concerns?"

"The governors of Colorado and Washington raised this same issue," Cole acknowledged. "There is a public safety concern when businesses have a lot of cash sitting around; there are guns associated with that. We're talking with FinCEN and bank regulators to find ways to deal with this in accordance with laws on the books today."

"There should be specific guidance to the financial services industry," a not-quite-mollified Leahy replied.

The committee then heard from King County (Seattle), Washington, Sheriff John Urquhart. "The war on drugs has been a failure," the sheriff said bluntly. "We have not reduced demand, but instead incarcerated a generation of individuals. The citizens decided to try something new. We, the government, failed the people, and they decided to try something new."

Urquhart saw no great tension between the federal government and legal marijuana states, and he, too, brought up the issue of banking services.

"The reality is we do have complementary goals and values," Urquhart said. "We all agree we don't want our children using marijuana. We all agree we don't want impaired drivers. We all agree we don't want to continue enriching criminals. I am simply asking that the federal government allow banks to work with legitimate marijuana businesses who are licensed under this new state law."

The committee also heard from Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana), the voice of 21st Century neo-prohibitionism.

"In states like Colorado," he said, "we've seen medical marijuana cards handed out like candy, we've seen mass advertising. At the marijuana festival in Seattle we saw 50,000 people smoking marijuana publicly; it's the public use of marijuana that worries me. I don't see the evidence of trying to implement something robust, especially in the face of an industry that will be pushing back against every single provision. In a country with a First Amendment and alcohol and tobacco industries that profit off addiction, I worry that, inevitably, American-style legalization is commercialization, no matter the interests of state officials and regulators."

But nobody except Grassley seemed to be listening.

Marijuana legalization advocates and drug law reformers liked what they heard Tuesday.

"It feels like there's a paradigm shift underway in the Justice Department's interpretation of federal drug control law," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "They seem to recognize that drug control should be first and foremost about protecting public health and safety, and that smart statewide regulatory systems of the sort that Colorado and Washington are proposing may advance those objectives better than knee-jerk enforcement of federal prohibitions."

"For years, the legalization movement has been gaining traction as people learn this is neither a fringe issue nor a partisan one, but one responsible for deep inequities in our justice system, the expansion of criminal gangs and the increase in unsolved violent crimes," said Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) board member and former Denver cop Tony Ryan. "There's a long road ahead, and this hearing leaves many questions unanswered, but this historic discussion means we are on our way to a more rational and effective drug policy."

"The Department of Justice is finally taking seriously the dangers that a lack of access to simple banking services poses to consumers, employees and business owners," said Aaron Smith, director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. "We are encouraged that the growing consensus among essentially all stakeholders is that banking access must be available to legal businesses. It portends a quick reform to this dangerous and unnecessary situation."

"The era of robust state-based regulation is here," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Legalizing marijuana and shrinking the number of people behind bars in the US is an issue the left and right can join together on. Like the repeal of alcohol prohibition, the repeal of marijuana prohibition will save taxpayer money, put organized crime syndicates out of business, and protect the safety of young people."

But at a time when marijuana prohibition remains the federal law of the land, perhaps former Seattle police chief and LEAP member Norm Stamper had the most down-to-earth take.

"While I would have liked to have seen a substantive change in policy, what we were really listening to in that hearing was the sound of a changing political climate," said Stamper. "People who can't agree on any other political issue are coming together over this one, and politicians on both sides of the aisle ignore that at their own peril."

Washington, DC
United States

Senate Marijuana Hearing Starting Right Now

Louisianians Favor Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds

A poll released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana found a slim majority favoring marijuana legalization. The Public Policy Polling survey had support for taxed and regulated marijuana legalization at 53% and support for medical marijuana at 65%.

The poll also found little support for the state's current harsh marijuana laws, some of the most draconian in the nation. Under current Louisiana law, someone convicted of a marijuana offense can be sentenced to life without parole if he has a prior felony and prison terms can be up to 20 years for repeat marijuana possession offenders.

But only 22% of respondents favored life without parole for felons busted for pot, and only 32% favored the long prison sentences for simple possession, even for repeat offenders. Yet oddly enough, only 47% supported making a six month jail sentence and a fine the maximum sentence for repeat possession offenders.

"People understand that criminalizing marijuana has wasted public funds, has not made anyone safer, and that marijuana is not the danger it was thought to be," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Despite last session's failure to pass a bill to reform marijuana sentencing (House Bill 103), marijuana law reform is coming to Louisiana. Voters in this state are in agreement with the rest of America that marijuana should be taxed and regulated," Esman said.

HB 103 would have reduced sentences for simple marijuana possession from 20 years in prison to two years for a third offense conviction, and no more than five years for a subsequent offense. It was watered down in the House before going to the Senate, where it was killed.

"This new poll also shows that a majority of Louisiana voters think it's time to change the state's outdated and overly harsh marijuana sentencing laws," said Esman. "The ACLU stands with the 59% of Louisianans who oppose long prison sentences, and 64% who oppose a sentence of life without parole for a marijuana offense."

LA
United States

Sen. McCain: "Maybe We Should Legalize" Marijuana

At a town hall meeting in Tucson Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R) signaled that he could be receptive to legalizing marijuana. His comments came just a week after the Obama administration said it would not interfere with taxed and regulated marijuana distribution in Colorado and Washington, whose voters legalized it last November.

"Maybe we should legalize," McCain said, according to a tweet from Arizona Star columnist Tim Steller. "We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people."

The will of the people in Arizona certainly appears to be in favor of marijuana law reform. A May Behavior Research Center poll found that 56% favored legalization "of small amounts for personal use," with only 37% opposed. While strong majorities of independents (72%) and Democrats (61%) favored decriminalization, so did a sizeable minority (41%) of McCain's fellow Republicans.

That same poll also showed majority support for gay marriage, leading the Behavior Research Center to comment on the vagaries of shifting public opinion.

"It is perhaps ironic that as support for same-sex marriage and defelonization of marijuana have long been albatrosses which conservative candidates could hang around the necks of some of their moderate or liberal challengers, it now appears that hard opposition to gay marriage and perhaps even to marijuana liberalization could become issues moderates and liberals can use against their conservative opponents," the polling firm said.

And plans are afoot to put the issue before voters next year. Activists organized as Safer Arizona in June filed a constitutional amendment initiative with the secretary of state's office. Signature-gathering is underway, and organizers must come up with 259,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, 2014 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

A smart politician who wants to get reelected listens to the will of the people. Whatever one thinks of John McCain's views on various issues, the senator is no dummy.

Tucson, AZ
United States

Cops Cry Foul Over Holder Marijuana Policy Move

Organized law enforcement has some problems with Attorney General Holder's announcement last week that the Justice Department would not seek to block Colorado and Washington from implementing their marijuana legalization laws. In a joint letter last Friday, the leaders of seven major law enforcement groups expressed "extreme disappointment" with the move.

Those law enforcement groups are the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriff's Association, the National Sheriff's Association, the Major Cities Chief's Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the National Narcotics Officers' Associations Coalition, and the Police Executive Review Foundation.

While law enforcement has long argued that its role is to enforce the law, not set policy, the police associations clearly felt they should have had input in the Justice Department's decision-making process.

"It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations -- whose members will be directly impacted -- for meaningful input ahead of this important decision," the cops wrote. "Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department's conclusion on this matter. Simply 'checking the box' by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion."

Beyond their issues with process, the law enforcement groups made it clear that they did not agree with the policy decision. The sky would fall if people could buy and smoke pot legally, the cops warned.

"The decision by the Department ignores the connections between marijuana use and violent crime, the potential trafficking problems that could be created across state and local boundaries as a result of legalization, and the potential economic and social costs that could be incurred," they wrote. "Communities have been crippled by drug abuse and addiction, stifling economic productivity. Specifically, marijuana's harmful effects can include episodes of depression, suicidal thoughts, attention deficit issues, and marijuana has also been documented as a gateway to other drugs of abuse."

As if that were not enough, the cops also warned of "grave unintended consequences, including a reversal of the declining crime rates" of the past decades. But they didn't explain how allowing for legal marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington would cause crime to increase.

For the cops, though, the bottom line was not enforcing the law, but setting policy.

"Marijuana is illegal under Federal law and should remain that way," they wrote. "While we certainly understand that discretion plays a role in decisions to prosecute individual cases, the failure of the Department of Justice to challenge state policies that clearly contradict Federal law is both unacceptable and unprecedented. The failure of the Federal government to act in this matter is an open invitation to other states to legalize marijuana in defiance of federal law."

Maybe law enforcement should just go back to enforcing the laws, not trying to write them.

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