Decriminalization

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Canadian Police Chiefs Want Ticket Option for Marijuana Possession

Canada's police chiefs are ready to quit arresting people for marijuana possession. Meeting in Winnipeg over the weekend, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution recommending "an expansion of enforcement options" to deal with pot possession offenses.

The "enforcement option" they have in mind is issuing tickets instead of criminal charges. That sounds a whole lot like decriminalization, even though CACP denies it.

"The current process of sending all simple possession of cannabis cases under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act to criminal court is placing a significant burden on the entire Justice system from an economic and resource utilization perspective," said CACP President Chief Constable Jim Chu in a statement announcing the passage of the resolution.

"The CACP is not in support of decriminalization or legalization of cannabis in Canada," Chu continued. "It must be recognized, however, that under the current legislation the only enforcement option for police, when confronted with simple possession of cannabis, is either to turn a blind eye or lay charges. The latter ensues a lengthy and difficult process which, if proven guilty, results in a criminal conviction and criminal record."

More than 50,000 Canadians are arrested each year on marijuana charges, the vast majority for simple possession.

Canada's Liberals toyed with marijuana law reform when they held national power a decade ago, proposing a ticketing scheme similar to that now recommended by the top cops, but failed to push it through. The ruling Conservatives, on the other hand, have moved to toughen marijuana penalties.

Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has this year called for legalization. That puts him in line with the Canadian public, which consistently returns majorities for legalization in national polls.

Winnipeg
Canada

Norway Greens Call for State Marijuana Production

The Norwegian Green Party is calling for "state-controlled production and sale of cannabis," as well as the decriminalization of possession for all drugs. The call comes as the party releases its platform ahead of elections set for September.

Aker River, Oslo (wikimedia.org)
Norway's Greens are not a major political force in the Scandinavian country. While they have won some local elections, they hold no seats in parliament and have never gathered more than 0.5% of the popular vote in parliamentary elections. They have, however, been on the upswing since elections in 2011, when they won 17 local council seats and 1.3% of the popular vote. 

"Current policies are clearly not working," the party's spokesperson Hanna Marcussen, told Aftenposten newspaper. "Today marijuana is sold openly along the Aker River in Oslo without anyone managing to restrict access. It is time that someone takes on this difficult debate."

Marcussen also said the Greens do not view hard drug users as criminals and that decriminalizing drug possession would improve public health.

"We want to decriminalize the use of heavier drugs. This is a health problem," Marcussen said. "Compared with other countries, we have a particularly high number of fatal overdoses due to hard drugs."

The proposals resemble those of Copenhagen mayor Frank Jensen, who has long pushed for state-run cannabis production, and they come just a day after Uruguay's lower chamber of parliament approved a bill that would make the South American nation the first country in the world to legalize marijuana markets, also with state controls. That measure still awaits a vote in the country's upper chamber.

Oslo
Norway

Two Michigan Towns to Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization

The Michigan communities of Ferndale and Jackson will vote on local marijuana decriminalization initiatives, backers said this week as they handed in petitions full of registered voter signatures. Backers said they were certain they had enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

"There is no doubt we have enough signatures," said Tim Beck, chairman of the Coalition for a Safer Michigan, in remarks reported by the Detroit Free Press. "We have pre-verified every one of them, and our surveys of voters show this is going to pass."

Beck should know. He's been organizing electoral campaigns around marijuana for a dozen years in Michigan, and was a key player in getting decriminalization proposals passed in Kalamazoo in 2011 and Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Ypsilanti last year.

A similar petition drive is underway in Lansing, where supporters have until August 6 to submit 4,200 signatures. They have collected 4,020 so far, but need to have a cushion in case some are invalidated.

The Coalition for a Safer Michigan is using the passage of local decriminalization initiatives as a stepping stone toward passage of a statewide decriminalization bill (House Bill 4623) currently before the House Judiciary Committee, Beck said.

"We want to decriminalize it like they have already  done in Ohio and New York and more than a dozen other states so that it's the equivalent of a traffic ticket," he said. "If these three initiatives pass in Ferndale, Jackson and Lansing, I think it will be the tipping point for passage of the bill in the House."

The Ferndale and Jackson initiatives must still undergo the signature verification process. As noted above, proponents have expressed confidence about it. Stay tuned for the final word on the petitioning -- and the votes!

MI
United States

With Legalization Looming, Lessons from the Netherlands [FEATURE]

The US states of Colorado and Washington voted last year to legalize marijuana and are moving forward toward implementing legalization. Activists in several states are lining up to try to do the same next year, and an even bigger push will happen in 2016. With public opinion polls now consistently showing support for pot legalization at or above 50%, it appears that nearly a century of marijuana prohibition in the US is coming to an end.

A coffee shop in Amsterdam, where clients can sit and smoke. Why no on-premises consumption here? (wikimedia.org)
Exactly how it comes to an end and what will replace it are increasingly important questions as we move from dreaming of legalization to actually making it happen. The Netherlands, which for decades now has allowed open marijuana consumption and sales at its famous coffee shops, provides some salutary lessons -- if reformers, state officials, and politicians are willing to heed them.

To be clear, the Dutch have not legalized marijuana. The marijuana laws remain on the books, but are essentially overridden by the Dutch policy of "pragmatic tolerance," at least as far as possession and regulated sales are concerned. Cultivation is a different matter, and that has proven the Achilles Heel of Dutch pot policy. Holland's failure to allow for a system of legal supply for the coffee shops leaves shop owners to deal with illegal marijuana suppliers -- the "backdoor problem" -- and leaves the system open to charges it is facilitating criminality by buying product from criminal syndicates.

Still, even though the Dutch system is not legalization de jure and does not create a complete legal system of marijuana commerce, reformers and policymakers here can build on the lessons of the Dutch experience as we move toward making legal marijuana work in the US.

"Governments are looking to reform their drug policies in order to maximize resources, promote health and security while protecting people from damaging and unwarranted arrests," said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. "The Netherlands has been a leader in this respect. As other countries and local jurisdictions consider reforming their laws, it's possible that the Netherlands' past offers a guide for the future."

A new report from the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program lays out what Dutch policymakers have done and how they have fared. Authored by social scientists Jean-Paul Grund and Joost Breeksema of the Addiction Research Center in Utrecht, the report, Coffee Shops and Compromise: Separated Illicit Drug Markets in the Netherlands tells the history of the Dutch approach and describes the ongoing success of the country's drug policy.

This includes the separation of the more prevalent marijuana market from hard drug dealers. In the Netherlands, only 14% of cannabis users say they can get other drugs from their sources for cannabis. By contrast in Sweden, for example, 52% of cannabis users report that other drugs are available from cannabis dealers. That separation of hard and soft drug markets has limited Dutch exposure to drugs like heroin and crack cocaine and led to Holland having the lowest number of problem drug users in the European Union, the report found.

Pragmatic Dutch drug policies have not been limited to marijuana. The Netherlands has been a pioneer in harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges and safe consumption sites, has made drug treatment easy to access, and has decriminalized the possession of small quantities of all drugs. As a result, in addition to having the lowest number of problem drug users, Holland has virtually wiped out new HIV infections among injection drug users. And, because of decriminalization, Dutch citizens have been spared the burden of criminal records for low-level, nonviolent offenses.

The Dutch have, for example, virtually eliminated marijuana possession arrests. According to figures cited in the report, in a typical recent year, Dutch police arrested people for pot at a rate of 19 per 100,0000, while rates in the US and other European countries were 10 times that or more.

For veteran drug reform activist Joep Oomen of the European NGO Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), the report is welcome but not exactly "stop the presses" news.

"The conclusions of this report have been known for a long time," he told the Chronicle. "Already by the end of the 1990s, when European governments had to acknowledge that Dutch drug policies had proven more effective in reducing risks and harms than many other countries, the criticism that had been expressed earlier by mainly German and French heads of state was silenced. For instance, in the Netherlands the age of first heroin use is the highest of Europe, which is explained by the relative tolerance concerning cannabis use." [Ed: A high age of first use is considered good, because it means that fewer people are experimenting with a drug when they are young -- which in turn means fewer people ever trying it, and those who do being more likely to be capable of avoiding problematic use.]

While the Dutch can point to solid indications of success with their pragmatic drug policies, it is not all rosy skies. The "back door problem" alluded to above continues unresolved, and the relative laxness of Dutch marijuana policy has led to an influx of "drug tourists," especially from neighboring countries, such as France and Germany. Both of those irritants have provided fodder for conservative parties and administrations that have sought to roll back the reforms.

"There seems to be more admiration for Dutch drug policy outside the Netherlands than inside," Oomen observed. "Right-wing governments that have dominated the Dutch political climate since 2002 have slowly dismantled acceptance-oriented drug policy. Lately the establishment of the Weedpass in the southern part of the country [which excludes non-Dutch from access to the coffee shops] and new measures against grow shops and coffee shops are definitely threatening to undermine the coffee shop model," he said.

"Instead of completing the regulation of this model by solving the coffee shops' back door problem, the government seems to apply a policy of slow elimination by making the conditions worse in which the shops have to operate," Oomen continued. "And the Dutch press follows blindly, often referring to coffee shops as a link in a criminal chain, which is unavoidable since the ban on cultivation forces shop owners to deal with criminals, but without questioning the measures that reinforce the criminal aspect."

While the national government may now be hostile to pragmatic marijuana policies, it is facing considerable resistance from elected officials. The Weedpass program now appears to be largely a dead letter, thanks to opposition from the likes of Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, and other local elected officials are moving to address the back door problem.

"Several Dutch mayors have plans for municipal cannabis farms to supply the coffee shops and take crime out of the industry," said Grund, research director at the Addiction Research Center. "But if Dutch drug policy offers one lesson to foreign policymakers, it is that change should be comprehensive, regulating sale to consumers, wholesale supply and cultivation."

Grund is watching the American experience with legalization in Colorado and Washington and had some observations he shared with the Chronicle.

"As far as I can judge," he said, "these are both pretty solid proposals, although quite different in detail and approach -- e.g., a vertically integrated chain of supply in Colorado and separate licensing for producers, processors, and retailer in Washington. Clearly in both states legislators have done their best. Interesting then, that they end up with rather different plans, which is actually fine, as it provides us with the opportunity to evaluate different models. For more than 25 years, there was just about only the Dutch experience with cannabis decriminalization and coffee shops; now we see different models of cannabis reform and distribution being implemented across continents. Comparing these experiences as they evolve should allow us to develop more effective drug policies."

Policymakers and regulators should try to avoid rigidity and be ready to deal with unintended responses and consequences, the Dutch social scientist said.

"The point is to approach these flexibly and pragmatically; adjust when necessary, while keeping your eyes on the ball: cutting the link between cannabis on the one hand, and criminal records, mafia and more, on the other," Grund advised, noting that the 1976 Dutch law separating hard and soft drugs did not anticipate the arrival of the coffee shop phenomenon. "As Dr. Eddy Engelsman, former chief drug policy maker at the ministry of health -- and known as the architect of Dutch drug policy -- said when we interviewed him, 'coffee shops just emerged.' The policymakers deemed that these fit their overall policy objectives and allowed for them to ply their trade openly," he recalled.

Grund also weighed in on personal cultivation -- Colorado allows it; Washington does not -- and public use, which it appears will remain forbidden in both states.

"I think Washington presents more of a business and revenue raising strategy, while Colorado feels more like grassroots meets civil libertarian meets amenable regulator," he opined. "The more social, homegrown orientation of the Colorado proposal – allowing for home growing, bartering between friends -- could perhaps engender a less market driven distribution structure, where friends compete in growing the most pleasant marijuana, not the most profitable. Something like the Spanish cannabis clubs," he suggested.

Public, convivial pot smoking in designated areas should be allowed, Grund said, because it has benefits.

"Dedicated places of consumption -- such as the coffee shops in the Netherlands or shisha parlors -- offer an opportunity to promote responsible behavior around cannabis consumption," he argued. "Smoking cannabis in a safe, hospitable and stress free environment engenders different use patterns from quickly getting high in a service ally behind a bar or in a car parked in a quiet place. Coffee shops offer a moderating environment where self regulation is supported by social learning and control."

While Grund was looking forward to the future in the US, Oomen was thinking of the unfinished business in the Netherlands, but his musing also provide food for thought for American reformers, especially those contemplating decriminalization measures.

"The lesson here is that decriminalization or depenalization are useful concepts for a transition period, but real progress can only be obtained and assured with legal regulation of the entire chain from producer to consumer," the ENCOD leader noted. "The Dutch case shows that politicians will always use the smallest margin they have to maintain to a repressive model, provoking criminal activities which they can use to justify their policies publically. This is the drug policy perpetual motion machine."

Colorado and Washington are already well down their particular paths to marijuana legalization. But there is still time for the next wave of legalization states to learn and apply those lessons, not just from Denver and Olympia, but from the Dutch pioneers as well.

Netherlands

Chronicle Book Review: Cannabis Nation and Marijuanamerica

Cannabis Nation: Control and Consumption in Britain, 1928-2008, by James Mills (2013, Oxford University Press, 292 pp., $65.00 HB)

Marijuanamerica: One Man's Quest to Understand America's Dysfunctional Love Affair with Weed, by Alfred Ryan Nerz (2013, Abrams Image, 271 pp., $19.95 HB)

The United States and the United Kingdom seem to be in two quite different places when it comes to marijuana and marijuana policy. On this side of the Atlantic, two states have legalized the weed, and in all likelihood, more will follow in 2014 and more yet in 2016. Meanwhile, medical marijuana continues to expand, and states that aren't quite ready for legalization are moving toward decriminalization.

National polls here are consistently showing that support for marijuana legalization has crossed the threshold into majority territory, weed-smoking is now the stuff of casual comment instead of horrified gasps, and, in what could the clearest sign of marijuana's growing acceptance, profit-minded entrepreneurs are beginning to line up for a chance to grab the grass ring. It's almost, but not quite, as if we have already won, and all that's left is clearing the last holdouts of pot prohibition.

On the other side of the Atlantic, things seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Heeding the advice of its drug experts (an increasingly rare thing there), Britain in effect decriminalized marijuana in 2004, but backtracked four years later, pushing it a notch back up its dangerous drug schedules. The British press is full of reports of raids on "cannabis factories," or what we would call indoor gardens, and replete with the sort of Reefer Madness nonsense that would make Harry Anslinger blush.

Fertilizer becomes "poison cannabis chemicals," the deadly "skunk" turns kids into homicidal "feral youths," and anti-cannabis crusade victims regularly appear before the courts to go through the self-abasing ritual of explaining that they should have mercy because their cannabis addiction ruined their lives. They know what they're supposed to say. When it comes to marijuana, in feels like 1963 in Britain instead of 2013.

Cannabis Nation and Marijuanamerica certainly reflect those differences in style as well as substance, even if they don't explain them. (And why should they? Neither makes a pretense at being a comparative study.) The former is a stately academic review of British pot policy in the last century, relying heavily on governmental files, diplomatic archives, commission reports, and police arrest records, while the latter is an impressionistic journey through American weed's Wild West, relying heavily on interviews, first-person reporting, some participatory journalism, and copious amounts of the chronic itself.

Despite their differences in tone and subject matter, both are worthwhile contributions to the rapidly increasing literature around marijuana and marijuana law reform. Cannabis Nation is authored by respected British drug historian James Mills and is the sequel to his 2003 Cannabis Britannica, which traced Britain's involvement with the herb from 1800 into the beginning of the 20th Century. In this second volume, Mills not only tracks the emergence of marijuana consumption in the metropole, but also the impact of Britain's legacy as a colonial power on its encounter with the weed.

There are parallels with the American experience, but also differences. In both countries, marijuana was the province of outsiders. Here, it was Mexicans and black jazz musicians who were the original consumers; in Britain, as Mills shows, it was South Asian, Caribbean, and Arab colonial subjects who brought pot-smoking to Albion. And before the aftermath of World War II, when Commonwealth citizens flooded into Britain, marijuana use was rare indeed. Mills shows the pre-war pot arrests were almost nonexistent, counted in the dozens annually, and almost entirely of merchant seamen of Arab or Indian descent enjoying their shore leave.

It was only in the post-war era that British marijuana consumption began to spread rapidly, first among the Commonwealth emigrants, for whom its use was long-engrained in their home cultures, and then among working- and middle-class Anglo-Saxon youth. By the 1960s, the issue of marijuana exploded with the arrest and jailing of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard and subsequent campaigns for liberalization led by the Beatles and other counter-cultural figures. But Mills downplays the importance of the counter-culture rebellion, arguing that for many young British consumers, marijuana was no more (and no less) than something to get intoxicated with, not a token of cultural revolt.

In fact, the British marijuana reform movement gets relatively short shrift, as Mills concentrates on the doings of the politicians, ministries and constabularies. It is worth noting that, thanks to the drug diplomacy in the era of the League of Nations, Britain not only got a broad understanding of the plant's widespread use (British India lobbied hard for a relaxed approach, while British Egypt lobbied equally hard for a tough prohibition), but British police were mobilized to police marijuana early -- before there was any consumption to speak of.

One of Mills' key points is that nearly a century later, the police continue to play the key role in British pot policy. In the wake of the 1960s' pot controversies, politicians adopted the "British compromise," maintaining existing marijuana prohibition, but leaving the level and intensity of enforcement up to the police. As he shows, with politicians treating marijuana as a political football, that's still the case. Such a stratagem may work for the police, less so for marijuana growers and consumers, but it raises the question of whether law enforcers should be de facto policy-makers.

Overall, Cannabis Nation is a key contribution to the history of British pot politics, an academic treatise that is also quite readable and provocative, and one that disentangles the political and social forces behind marijuana use and reform in Britain. Given its $65 cover price, though, you're probably going to want to read it at your university library, or else hope that an affordable paperback edition appears.

Alfred Nerz inhabits a different world from James Mills. His Marijuanamerica is only among the most recent of dozens of popular accounts of the reefer revolution sweeping the US, and he traverses lots of familiar territory: He attends Oaksterdam University, interviews Richard Lee and Harborside Health Center's Steve DeAngelo, then heads for Humboldt County to smell the revolution for himself.

Amidst his travels, Nerz takes detours to address the issues around marijuana use -- is it helpful or harmful? What are its physical effects? Is it addictive? And should I quit smoking so much? -- and does so with verve, wit, and an engaging way with the science.

But what makes Marijuanamerica stand out in an increasingly crowded field is Nerz's own story of getting involved with California marijuana "outlaws." The book opens with him cruising eastbound down Interstate 80 just outside of Omaha with 100 pounds of weed in the trunk and a Nebraska State Patrol trooper on his tail. For someone carrying a personal pot stash down the nation's interstates, such an encounter is frightening; for someone carrying several felonies worth, it is absolutely terrifying.  You'll have to buy the book to discover how that experience turned out.

In Northern California, a mightily stoned Nerz managed to hook up with a marijuana grower and distributor nicknamed Buddha Cheese, spend time at some of his grow sites scattered throughout the Emerald Triangle and the Sierra, and get a very close-up look at outlaw marijuana production without even the pretense of it being destined for the medical marijuana market. It's a sketchy, criminal scene, with lots of riff-raff and shady characters, just as one would expect in an underground criminal economy. It's a load of Buddha Cheese's product Nerz is driving to the East Coast, hoping to pocket $200 a pound for his troubles, a nifty $20,000 for toting his hundred-pound load. (Given the pot glut and dropping prices on the West Coast, getting the weed to the other coast can be the difference between $2,000 a pound at home and $6,000 a pound in New York or Philadelphia.)

Nerz's sojourn with the outlaws is eye-opening and somewhat disturbing, but also refreshing. There have been an awful lot of words written about medical marijuana, with its noble purveyors working to alleviate human suffering. And most of them are true. But California also produces one hell of a lot more pot than even its wide-open medical marijuana market can absorb, and so do growers in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and other medical marijuana states. It's the All-American combination of enthusiasm for a wonderful plant that gets you nicely high, the desire to stick it to "the man," and the impulse to get rich quick. That's been part of America's pot culture for the past half-century at least, and it's nice to get past the sanctimony of medical marijuana and back to the outlaws.

You will want to read Cannabis Nation if you have a serious interest in the history, politics, and diplomacy of marijuana in England, and you'll have fun doing so. You don't need to be nearly as serious with Marijuanamerica, and you'll most likely have more fun, especially hanging out with those shady pot outlaws and Nerz himself. But both would make nice additions to your drug literature bookshelf.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in DC

District of Columbia Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) filed a marijuana decriminalization bill for the nation's capital Wednesday. Wells is chairman of the council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, with the maximum penalty being a $100 fine. Minors would have to complete a drug awareness program in addition to the fine, with failure to do so resulting in a $200 fine and court-ordered community service.

Pressure is mounting for marijuana law reform in the District. If the council doesn't act, DC-based activists are contemplating an initiative next year. Reform supporters have been emboldened by a recent 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. That same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.

The release last month 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.

"The introduction of this legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells is a positive step toward putting an end to marijuana possession arrests that cause irreversible harm to people's lives, disproportionately impact communities of color, and waste public resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "While this legislation is an important step in the right direction, Councilmembers should consider following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legally regulating marijuana," said Smith.

"The District's current policy of arresting and prosecuting thousands of adults for marijuana possession each year is doing far more harm than good," said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "Nobody should face life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and law enforcement officials' time and attention would be better spent addressing serious crimes. It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation's capital, and that is what Councilman Wells has proposed," Fox said.

"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," said Smith. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that possession of any drug in DC should not be criminalized," said Smith.

Washington, DC
United States

Oregon Bills Easing Marijuana Penalties Become Law

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) Monday signed into law two measures that will reduce the punishments for certain marijuana-related offenses. The changes go into effect immediately.

The first, Senate Bill 40, lowers the penalties for possession of more than an ounce of pot. Under the old laws, possession of more than four ounces was a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Now, it becomes a Class B felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Similarly, possession of between one and four ounces was a Class B felony; now, it becomes a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months.

SB 40 also reduces the penalties for marijuana cultivation. Unlawful manufacture was a Class A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison; now, it becomes a Class B felony dropping the maximum sentence by half.

Possession of less than an ounce of pot is decriminalized in Oregon, but people cited for possession also faced a mandatory suspension of driving privileges unless there were "compelling circumstances" not do. Senate Bill 82 eliminates that suspension. It does not, however, lift the mandatory suspension of driving privileges for people caught with more than an ounce.

Oregon is likely to be one of the next states to attempt to legalize marijuana outright. An underfunded initiative there in 2012 got 47% of the vote, and efforts to get a new initiative (or initiatives) on the ballot for 2014 have already been announced.

Salem, OR
United States

Malaysia Minister Talks Drug Decriminalization

A Malaysian government minister said Sunday the Southeast Asian nation is moving toward decriminalizing drug possession, but her remarks also suggested that drug users would be exchanging jail cells for treatment beds. Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri said the government's policy was moving from prosecuting drug users to treating them.

Nancy Shukri (frim.gov.my)
Her remarks came at the end of a High Level Meeting on Drug Policy and Public Health sponsored by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The meeting was held in conjunction with the 2013 International Aids Conference held over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.

Shukri also said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) goal of a drug-free region by 2015 was not realistic, but that smarter approaches by authorities could reduce drug dependence.

"There is no such thing as drug-free but we can control it by changing or shifting our policy," Shukri said. "Instead of looking at drug dependents as criminals, we should actually look at them as patients. Instead of bringing them to jail, we bring them to the clinic," she told a press gaggle after the AIDS conference ended.

Shukri said that Malaysia had been taking steps toward a more effective and humane drug policy, but that those initiatives were not widely known. She cited ongoing needle exchange programs for injection drug users. The sharing of needles is a known vector for the transmission of the AIDS virus, and the program had resulted in a reduction in new HIV/AIDS infections, she said.

"Others include the harm reduction program and upgrading of the rehabilitation centers into Cure & Care Clinics," Shukri said. "We are already there (decriminalizing drugs) but we are not making it loud enough for the people to understand that we have this policy. Our policy has not been established in a formal way."

That could be coming, though. Shukri said the government is currently reviewing the country's drug laws, including the Drug Dependents (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act of 1983.

"The Law Reform Committee is now in the process of discussing to amend that particular provision [Section 4(1)(b) of the Act which allows the detention of a suspected drug dependent for up to 14 days for a test to be conducted]," she said.

Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia

Vermont Decriminalizes Marijuana Starting Monday

As of Monday, Vermont will be the 17th state to decriminalize marijuana possession. A bill passed earlier this year goes into effect then.

The measure, House Bill 200, was sponsored by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington), with a tripartisan group of 38 cosponsors. It ends criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish and replaces them with fines of $200 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense, and $500 for subsequent offenses. Possession of more than an ounce remains a criminal offense, as does cultivation of any number of plants.

People under 21 caught with decriminalized amounts of marijuana or hash will have to undergo substance abuse screening.

"This is a much-needed step forward toward a more sensible marijuana policy," said Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which lobbied in support of the legislation. "Nobody should be subjected to life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol."

The bill passed with the support of State Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, both of whom testified in support of it. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed it into law June 6.

The advent of decriminalization in Vermont leaves New Hampshire as the only New England that has failed to do so. In the region, marijuana possession is decriminalized in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.

Now that the state has embraced decriminalization, it's on to the next phase, said MPP's Simon.

"There is still work to be done and support is growing for more comprehensive marijuana policy reform," he said. "Until marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, sales will remain uncontrolled and profits will benefit illegal actors instead of legitimate, taxpaying businesses. Marijuana prohibition is a failed policy, and it is time for Vermont to explore the possibility of adopting a new approach," Simon said.

VT
United States

New Jerseyans Ready to Decriminalize Marijuana, Poll Finds

As New Jersey legislators consider a marijuana decriminalization bill, a new poll suggests strong public support for such a move -- and more. The poll of likely voters conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Drug Policy Alliance found that 61% favored decriminalization and nearly as many (59%) agreed with taxing, regulating, and legalizing marijuana.

"New Jersey voters are ready for aggressive and immediate change of state marijuana laws, with strong majorities supporting decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana," said Daniel Gotoff, a partner at Lake Research. "Support for this reform is remarkably broad, including majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans, as well as voters from every major region in the state."

The poll comes as the legislature is considering Senate Bill 1977, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 50 grams (slightly less than two ounces) of marijuana and make possession a civil violation carrying a fine similar to a traffic ticket. The bill sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The release of the poll could be designed to prod the legislature to act on marijuana reform. SB 1977 was filed more than a year ago and still has not been scheduled for a committee hearing. Another measure, Assembly Bill 1465, which would decriminalize up to 15 grams, actually passed the Assembly last June, only to languish in the Senate Judiciary Committee ever since.

Under current New Jersey law, simple marijuana possession is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Conviction on a pot possession charges also creates a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years.

Once an individual is convicted of even a minor possession offense, he or she is subject to a system of legal discrimination that makes it difficult or impossible to secure housing, employment, public assistance, federal student aid for higher education, and even a basic driver's license.

Marijuana possession prosecutions also disproportionately target the Garden State's black population. African-Americans are arrested for pot possession at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

"More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million dollars," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "New Jerseyans understand that current penalties for marijuana are unfair and wasteful. These laws should be changed now. "

If legislators heed the popular will and pass the decriminalization bill, New Jersey will join 15 other states that have decriminalized pot possession in amounts ranging from half an ounce to three ounces.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School