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Europe: Swiss to Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization, Heroin Prescription

Swiss voters will go to the polls November 30 to decide whether to approve marijuana decriminalization and the government's ongoing "four pillars" drug strategy, which includes the prescription of heroin to hard-core addicts. A Swiss Broadcasting Corporation poll late last month showed the decriminalization effort in a virtual dead heat, leading 45% to 42%, with 13% undecided, while the referendum on the broader strategy appears headed to easy victory, with 63% in favor, 20% opposed, and 17% undecided.

The referendum on marijuana policy envisages its legalization for personal use, with its cultivation and sale being regulated by the state. It comes a decade after Swiss voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal. An attempt to decriminalize through parliament failed in 2004.

While the vote on decriminalization looks to be close, the effort is supported by a 1999 government advisory committee report and the governing coalition, and it is picking up some unexpected allies. Regulation would protect young people, argued the Social Democrats. Somewhat surprisingly, the effort is also supported by the center-right or libertarian Radical Party and the respected daily Neue Zurcher Zeitung, which described both the decrim effort and the amended drug law as steps in the right direction.

"A policy which is only based on abstinence, bans and repression ultimately leads to more spending on welfare. It also is against the spirit of liberalism and leaves no room for people to take responsibility for themselves," the newspaper editorialized.

But not everyone is jumping on the decrim bandwagon. The rightist Swiss People's Party remains staunchly opposed. "Switzerland would become the drug Mecca of Europe," said People's Party parliamentarian Andrea Geissbühler.

The government's four-pillars drug strategy appears much less controversial, especially after a decade of pilot heroin prescription programs that have proven effective. Even the grassroots of the rightist parties approve, according to the poll.

"The number of drug-related deaths per year dropped from 400 at the beginning of the 1990s to 152 last year," said Felix Gutzwiller, a Zurich Radical Party senator, adding that each year some 200 addicts graduate from heroin maintenance to methadone maintenance. "It is telling that drugs issues are no longer top of the list of public concerns, unlike 20 years ago," he said.

Feature: Looking Forward -- The Prospects for Drug Reform in Obama's Washington

The political landscape in Washington, DC, is undergoing a dramatic shift as the Democratic tide rolls in, and, after eight years of drug war status quo under the Republicans, drug reformers are now hoping the change in administrations will lead to positive changes in federal drug policies. As with every other aspect of federal policy, groups interested in criminal justice and drug policy reform are coming out of the woodwork with their own recommendations for Obama and the Democratic Congress. This week, we will look at some of those proposals and attempt to assess the prospects for real change.

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The White House
One of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform proposals, of which drug-related reform is only a small part, comes from a nonpartisan consortium of organizations and individuals coordinated by the Constitution Project, including groups such as the Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and the Open Society Policy Center. The set of proposals, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, includes the following recommendations:

  • Mandatory Minimum Reforms:
    Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity
    Improve and expand the federal "safety valve"
    Create a sunset provision on existing and new mandatory minimums
    Clarify that the 924(c) recidivism provisions apply only to true repeat offenders
  • Alternatives to Incarceration:
    Expand alternatives to incarceration in federal sentencing guidelines
    Enact a deferred adjudication statute
    Support alternatives to incarceration through expansion of federal drug and other problem solving courts.
  • Incentives and Sentencing Management
    Expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
    Clarify good time credit
    Expand the amount of good time conduct credit prisoners may receive and ways they can receive it
    Enhance sentence reductions for extraordinary and compelling circumstances
    Expand elderly prisoners release program
    Revive executive clemency
  • Promoting Fairness and Addressing Disparity:
    Support racial impact statements as a means of reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities
    Support analysis of racial and ethnic disparity in the federal justice system
    Add a federal public defender as an ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also issued a set of recommendations, Actions for Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America Under Bush, which include some drug reform provisions:

  • Crack/Powder Sentencing: The attorney general should revise the US Attorneys' Manual to require that crack offenses are charged as "cocaine" and not "cocaine base," effectively resulting in elimination of the disparity.
  • Medical Marijuana: Halt the use of Justice Department funds to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users in states with current laws permitting access to physician-supervised medical marijuana. In particular, the US Attorney general should update the US Attorneys' Manual to de-prioritize the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana users in medical marijuana states. There is currently no regulation in place to be amended or repealed; there is, of course, a federal statutory scheme that prohibits marijuana use unless pursuant to approved research. But US Attorneys have broad charging discretion in determining what types of cases to prosecute, and with drugs, what threshold amounts that will trigger prosecution. The US Attorneys' Manual contains guidelines promulgated by the Attorney general and followed by US Attorneys and their assistants.
  • The DEA Administrator should grant Lyle Craker's application for a Schedule I license to produce research-grade medical marijuana for use in DEA- and FDA-approved studies. This would only require DEA to approve the current recommendation of its own Administrative Law Judge.
  • All relevant agencies should stop denying the existence of medical uses of marijuana -- as nearly one-third of states have done by enacting laws -- and therefore, under existing legal criteria, reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule V.
  • Issue an executive order stating that, "No veteran shall be denied care solely on the basis of using marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with state law." Although there are many known instances of veterans being denied care as a result of medical marijuana use, we have not been able to identify a specific regulation that mandates or authorizes this policy.
  • Federal Racial Profiling: Issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people for investigation and enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion. Include in the order a mandate that federal agencies collect data on hit rates for stops and searches, and that such data be disaggregated by group. DOJ should issue guidelines regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. The new guidelines should clarify that federal law enforcement officials may not use race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or sex to any degree, except that officers may rely on these factors in a specific suspect description as they would any noticeable characteristic of a subject.

Looking to the south, the Latin America Working Group, a coalition of nonprofit groups, has issued a petition urging Obama "to build a just policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean that unites us with our neighbors." Included in its proposals are:

  • Actively work for peace in Colombia. In a war that threatens to go on indefinitely, the immense suffering of the civilian population demands that the United States takes risks to achieve peace. If the United States is to actively support peace, it must stop endlessly bankrolling war and help bring an end to the hemisphere's worst humanitarian crisis.
  • Get serious -- and smart -- about drug policy. Our current drug policy isn't only expensive and ineffective, it's also inhumane. Instead of continuing a failed approach that brings soldiers into Latin America's streets and fields, we must invest in alternative development projects in the Andes and drug treatment and prevention here at home.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has some suggestions as well. As NORML's Paul Armentano wrote last week on Alternet:

  • President Obama must uphold his campaign promise to cease the federal arrest and prosecution of (state) law-abiding medical cannabis patients and dispensaries by appointing leaders at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Department of Justice, and the US Attorney General's office who will respect the will of the voters in the thirteen states that have legalized the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana.
  • President Obama should use the power of the bully pulpit to reframe the drug policy debate from one of criminal policy to one of public health. Obama can stimulate this change by appointing directors to the Office of National Drug Control Policy who possess professional backgrounds in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.
  • President Obama should follow up on statements he made earlier in his career in favor of marijuana decriminalization by establishing a bi-partisan presidential commission to review the budgetary, social, and health costs associated with federal marijuana prohibition, and to make progressive recommendations for future policy changes.

Clearly, the drug reform community and its allies see the change of administrations as an opportunity to advance the cause. The question is how receptive will the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress be to drug reform efforts.

"We've examined Obama's record and his statements, and 90% of it is good," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "But we don't know what he intends to do in office. There is an enormous amount of good he can do," Borden said, mentioning opening up funding for needle exchange programs, US Attorney appointments, and stopping DEA raids on medical marijuana providers. "Will Obama make some attempt to actualize the progressive drug reform positions he has taken? He has a lot on his plate, and drug policy reform has tended to be the first thing dropped by left-leaning politicians."

There will be some early indicators of administration interest in drug reform, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will be watching to see if he issues an executive order stopping the DEA raids; that would be a huge sign," he said. "He could also repeal the needle exchange funding ban. The congressional ban would still be in place, but that would show some great leadership. If they started taking on drug policy issues in the first 100 days, that would be a great sign, but I don't think people should expect that. There are many other issues, and it's going to take awhile just to clean up Bush's mess. I'm optimistic, but I don't expect big changes to come quickly."

"We are hoping to see a new direction," said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and criminal justice reform for the Open Society Policy Center. "We couldn't have a better scenario with the incoming vice president having sponsored the one-to-one crack/powder bill in the Senate and the incoming president being a sponsor. And we have a situation in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, where there is bipartisan interest in sentencing reform. Both sides of the aisle want some sort of movement on this, it's been studied and vetted, and now Congress needs to do the right thing. It's time to get smart on crime, and this is not a radical agenda. As far as I'm concerned, fixing the crack/powder disparity is the compromise, and elimination of mandatory minimums is what really needs to be on the agenda."

"With the Smart on Crime proposals, we tried to focus on what was feasible," said the Sentencing Project's Kara Gotsch. "These are items where we think we are likely to get support, where the community has demonstrated support, or where there has been legislation proposed to deal with these issues. It prioritizes the issues we think are most likely to move, and crack sentencing reform is on that list."

The marijuana reform groups are more narrowly focused, of course, but they, too are looking for positive change. "Obama has made it very clear on the campaign trail that he disagrees with the use of federal agencies to undo medical marijuana laws in states that have passed them," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "He has vowed to stop that. Obama seems to be someone who values facts and reasoned decision-making. If he applies that to marijuana policy, that could be a good thing".

While the list of possible drug reforms is long and varied, it is also notable for what has not been included. Only NORML even mentions marijuana decriminalization, and no one is talking about ending the drug war -- only making it a bit kinder and gentler. The L-word remains unutterable.

"While we're optimistic about reducing the harms of prohibition, legalization is not something that I think they will take on," said Piper. "But any movement toward drug reform is good. If we can begin to shift to a more health-oriented approach, that will change how Americans think about this issue and create a space where regulation can be discussed in a a rational manner. Now, because of our moralist criminal justice framework, it is difficult to have a sane discussion about legalization."

"We didn't talk that much about legalization," said Gotsch in reference to the Smart on Crime proposals. "A lot of organizations involved have more ambitious goals, but that wouldn't get the kind of reaction we want. There just isn't the political support yet for legalization, even of marijuana."

"We should be talking about legalization, yes," said StoptheDrugWar.org's Borden, "but should we be talking about it in communications to the new president who has shown no sign of supporting it? Not necessarily. We must push the envelope, but if we push it too far in lobbying communications to national leadership, we risk losing their attention."

"I do think it would be a mistake to blend that kind of caution into ideological caution over what we are willing to talk about at all," Borden continued. "I think we should be talking about legalization, it's just a question of when and where," he argued.

Talking legalization is premature, said Eric Sterling, formerly counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee and now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "What we are not yet doing as a movement is building upon our successes," he said. "We just saw medical marijuana win overwhelmingly in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts, but the nation's commentariat has not picked up on it, and our movement has not been sufficiently aggressive in getting those votes translated into the political discourse. We haven't broken out of the making fun phase of marijuana policy yet."

Sterling pointed in particular to the medical marijuana issue. "Everyone recognizes that the state-federal conflict on medical marijuana is a major impediment, and we have 26 senators representing medical marijuana states, but not a single senator has introduced a medical marijuana bill," he said. "It's an obvious area for legislative activity in the Senate, but it hasn't happened. This suggests that we as a movement still lack the political muscle even on something as uncontroversial as the medical use of marijuana."

Even the apparent obvious targets for reform, such as the crack/powder sentencing disparity, are going to require a lot of work, said Sterling. "It will continue to be a struggle," he said. "The best crack bill was Biden's, cosponsored by Obama and Clinton, but I'm not sure who is going to pick that up this year. The sentencing reform community continues to struggle to frame the issue as effective law enforcement, and I think it's only on those terms that we can win."

Reformers also face the reality that the politics of crime continues to be a sensitive issue for the majority Democrats, Sterling said. "Crime is an issue members are frightened about, and it's an area where Republicans traditionally feel they have the upper ground. The Democrats are going to be reluctant to open themselves up to attack in areas where there is not a strong political upside. On many issues, Congress acts when there is a clear universe of allies who will benefit and who are pushing for action. I don't know if we are there yet."

Change is the mantra of the Obama administration, and change is what the drug reform community is hoping for. Now, the community must act to ensure that change happens, and that the right changes happen.

Feature: Looking Forward -- Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

If there is one man who symbolizes and epitomizes the federal war on drugs, it is the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the drug czar's office. For the last eight years, that man has been John Walters, a protege of conservative moralist Bill Bennett, the first ONDCP drug czar. With his anti-marijuana media campaigns, his innumerable press releases, and his interference in various state-level initiatives, Walters has been drug reform's bête noire.

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Walters parody from 2004 Common Sense for Drug Policy ad (csdp.org/publicservice/potency04.htm)
Now, Walters and his boss, President Bush, are preparing to exit stage right, and the Obama administration will have to choose his successor. Given the foreign wars and failing economy facing the incoming administration, filling the drug czar position doesn't appear to be a high priority for the new resident at the White House. Only one name has been publicly mentioned, Los Angeles police chief William Bratton, and he has said he's not interested. A US News & World Report list of potential White House appointments doesn't even list any names for consideration as drug czar.

But for people interested in undoing some of the harms of the Bush era drug war, ONDCP is very important. As ONDCP explains on its home page:

"The principal purpose of ONDCP is to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation's drug control program. The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences. To achieve these goals, the Director of ONDCP is charged with producing the National Drug Control Strategy. The Strategy directs the Nation's anti-drug efforts and establishes a program, a budget, and guidelines for cooperation among Federal, State, and local entities.

"By law, the director of ONDCP also evaluates, coordinates, and oversees both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies and ensures that such efforts sustain and complement State and local anti-drug activities. The Director advises the President regarding changes in the organization, management, budgeting, and personnel of Federal Agencies that could affect the Nation's anti-drug efforts; and regarding Federal agency compliance with their obligations under the Strategy."

So, who is it going to be? Drug reformers and others consulted this week by the Chronicle had few actual suggestions -- some worried that anyone suggested or supported by the reform movement would be doomed -- but plenty of ideas about what type of person should replace Walters. And some even speculated about the possibility of just doing away with the drug czar's office altogether.

"The reform community needs to be looking at someone who has a comprehensive public health orientation or who has an evidence-based focus," said Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee and currently president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "This would be someone who says goal number one is treatment of people with hard-core addiction problems and number two is to make sure our prevention programs are effective and well-grounded."

Sterling mentioned a couple of possibilities. "I don't think it's realistic to think we can get a reform sympathizer in there. It's not going to be Ethan Nadelmann. It needs to be someone who has administrative experience in some capacity. One possibility would be Chris Fichtner, the former head of mental health for the state of Illinois," Sterling suggested.

Fichtner is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago who has worked with drug reformers in Illinois. He testified in favor of medical marijuana bills in Illinois and Wisconsin.

"Another possibility, someone I know the reform community had a lot of respect for before he went into government is Westley Clark, head of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Services," Sterling continued. "He's African-American, been at the federal level for a long time, has experience managing a federal agency, and a lot of experience in the field."

"If we had our druthers," said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre, "it would be somebody like Ethan Nadelmann, with a comprehensive understanding of drugs, but that's a wet dream." Instead, he said, one name being kicked around was Mark Kleiman, a professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs who has written extensively on drug policy and whose innovative ideas sometimes raise as many hackles in the reform community as they do among drug warriors.

St. Pierre mentioned one other possible candidate. "Another name we're hearing is Bud Schuster, a former head of NIDA in the 1980s," he said. "That would be someone coming at it at least from a NIDA point of view, and we need someone like that, not someone just coming at it from a criminal justice perspective."

"I'd almost be happy with any drug czar who doesn't constantly say stupid things," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "We would like to see someone who will approach it from a public health standpoint, who will work to contain the criminal justice system in ways that protect the public health objectives of drug policy."

Borden pointed to a trio of what he called "moderate academics" as possibilities. "People like Kleiman or Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun [coauthors of 'Drug War Heresies'] are not drug war hawks and they are thinking people. We need some logical thought at the White House drug office."

"We're as anxious to see what names pop up as anybody," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We think John Walters set the bar pretty low. If there has to be a drug czar, we want to see someone who bases policy on facts and science, not ideology."

"Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke once said we need a surgeon general, not a military general, and I think that's a good starting point," said Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper. "At a minimum, we want someone coming from public health or medicine, as opposed to law enforcement or the conservative punditry. Drug reformers and harm reductionists and treatment providers have been in the wilderness for 20 years; now it's time for someone who understands addiction and supports evidence-based programs."

"If we're going to have a drug czar, we need one who insists on accuracy, honesty, transparency, and who is is willing to consider alternatives to the drug war including harm reduction approaches as well as modifications of the drug war such as increased funding for treatment and prevention," said Matthew Robinson, professor of criminal justice at Appalachian State University and co-author of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

But, said Robinson, we don't really need a drug czar. "We don't need an ONDCP or a drug war, so therefore we don't need a drug czar," he argued. "Yet, we do need an accurate, honest, transparent agency to evaluate drug abuse control policy (just like with other government policies). It can be ONDCP or some other agency, but if it is ONDCP, it must be removed from the White House since there it is merely a political office whose aim is to further drug war ideology."

Former ONDCP Public Affairs Director (during the Clinton years) Robert Weiner was as critical of Walters and the Bush administration as anybody, but for different reasons. Weiner complained of the systematic weakening of the office in the Bush years.

"This administration has been a disaster in shrinking the power of the drug czar," Weiner said. "They dropped the drug czar's budget certification authority from $19 billion to $13 billion, they took away oversight power over some programs, they've cut the media program, they tried to move out the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program and the Justice Department community grants program. I've shed many tears as I watched the power of the drug czar deflate by his own lack of initiative."

It didn't have to be that way, Weiner said. "When Bush was selecting a drug czar, there were eight or 10 treatment honchos they were looking at, but he chose a partisan hack. It was as if there were no drug czar. His job was to press the drug issue as a national security and domestic health issue, and he didn't do enough of it."

Weiner is less concerned with the field from which the next drug czar emerges than his ability to advance the office's charge. "The most important thing is that he be a forceful, aggressive, forceful advocate," he said. "No matter what side of the fence you're on, everyone is in favor of drug treatment, and drug court is very good. We need someone who will push the concept of treatment not imprisonment for nonviolent offenders," he said.

But while Weiner would like to see a strengthened drug czar, many drug reformers would be glad to see no drug czar at all. "Patients Out of Time sent a letter to Obama transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett on the 9th," reported the group's Al Byrne. "We recommended the drug czar position be abandoned but... if that was somehow not politically feasible then the position be staffed by a health care professional, specifically a MD or RN who is not an academic/political professional."

"Ideally, ONDCP should be sunsetted," said St. Pierre. "I think many reformers could agree with that, but it doesn't appear to be on the table. If we're going to be burdened with a drug czar's office, we need a break from the two principal models -- the political hacks, like Walters and Bennett, and the law enforcement/military types, like McCaffrey and Lee Brown. If we're going to have a drug czar, make him an MD or someone in the public health realm."

"The nation and the government don't need a drug czar," said Sterling. "One of the important warnings of the 1973 Shafer Commission was about the institutionalization of the anti-drug effort, the creation of self-sustaining bureaucracies. The ONDCP is the prime example of that problem. Because of its prominence, it has the greatest capacity for mischief and gets the most attention for its falsehoods and PR-driven policies," he said.

The federal drug apparatus could be reorganized, he argued. "It may be the case that a reorganization of federal drug agencies is called for, probably with coordination under the Department of Health and Human Services," he posited. "There doesn't need to be a DEA with its SWAT mentality, and the effective management of a drug control program doesn't require White House supervision, either."

The agency comes up for reauthorization in 2010. That could prove an opportunity to try to kill it or, more likely, to try to restructure it. While going for the kill would be sweet, that appears unlikely to happen at this point.

It is "not realistic" to think an effort to sunset ONDCP in 2010 will bear immediate fruit, said Sterling. "The effective drug control movement has not developed a campaign and a political imperative, a drug control organizational paradigm that is a clear alternative to the existing one," he pointed out. "Therefore, there is no campaign in the Congress or in the news media."

Nor is there any evidence that the Obama administration is eyeing ONDCP for the axe. "The only way there would be any drive in the administration to do away with ONDCP would be if there is an analysis from the new cabinet secretaries deciding collectively that ONDCP is a big enough problem that they would want to abolish it," said Sterling.

Another obstacle is that incoming vice-president Joe Biden crafted the legislation that created ONDCP 20 years ago. "Any proposal to do away with the drug czar would get into that history with Biden. It would have to reject Biden's approach, or he would have to change his mind. If Biden were to say ONDCP was now unneeded, that would be one thing, but I haven't seen any sign of that."

With the prospect of killing ONDCP apparently off the table for now, some reformers are concentrating on making the best ONDCP possible. That may be the best to hope for in the near- and medium-term.

"If we could change this office so its responsibility is reducing the harms of both substance abuse and drug prohibition, then it would be very useful," said Piper. "There are very clearly problems with both drug abuse and the war on drugs. Even if the drug war ended tomorrow, there would still be a drug problem and a need for national leadership around harm reduction and treatment, including alcohol and tobacco. Reauthorization in 2010 is a real chance to change what ONDCP is all about. If that's possible it's worth keeping the agency."

Now the waiting game begins. Given the Obama administration's priorities and the full plate of problems it faces, we could be waiting awhile for a new drug czar.

420 Drug News 11/10/08

Drug Truth Network Update: 4:20 Drug War NEWS from 90.1 FM in Houston and dozens of radio affiliates in the US, Canada and Australis & on the web at www.kpft.org. We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US, Canada and Australia. 4:20 Drug War NEWS 11/10/08 to 11/16/08 now online (3:00 ea:) Select online at www.drugtruth.net Sun - Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project reports on marijuana laws passed this election Sat - Sanho Tree reports on Plan Colombia, courtesy BBC Fri - If it quacks, it must be drug czar Walters 2/2 Thu - Australian Federal Police commissioner seeks better way in drug war, courtesy ABC Australia Wed - Adam Assenberg of KRFP radio interview Dean Becker of Drug Truth Network Tue - Terry Nelson reports for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Mon - John Walters, US Drug Czar 1/2 Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed (Now With Transcripts): - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: Rev. Eddy Lepp & Carl Olson: sacramental Marijuana - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT, 9:30 AM PT: Cele Castillo, Iran/Contra whistle blower Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, and www.audioport.org Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net

Feature: Big Day for Pot -- Decriminalization Wins in Massachusetts, Medical Marijuana in Michigan, All Local Initiatives Win, Too!

Barack Obama wasn't the only big winner in Tuesday elections; marijuana polled just as well, if not better. A medical marijuana initiative in Michigan -- the first in the Midwest -- and a decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts both won by convincing margins, and scattered local initiatives on various aspects of marijuana policy reform all won, too.

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marijuana plants
In both the statewide initiatives, reform forces overcame organized opposition on their way to victory, mostly from the usual suspects in law enforcement and the political establishment. Michigan enjoyed the dubious distinction of a visit from John Walters, the drug czar himself, who popped in to rail against medical marijuana as "an abomination."

"We could be seeing a sea change in more ways than one in this election," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backed both state initiatives. "These are not just wins, but huge wins. In two very blue states, marijuana reform outpolled Barack Obama. At this point, we can look members of Congress in the eye and ask them why exactly they think marijuana reform is controversial."

The results are also an indicator of the decreasing influence of the drug czar's office, said Mirken. "A clear public mandate has emerged, and it's particularly noteworthy coming as it does after eight years of the most intense anti-marijuana campaign from the feds since the days of Reefer Madness," he said. "Despite all the press releases and press conferences, despite all the appearances and campaigning Walters has done to try to convince Americans that marijuana is some sort of scourge, the voters just said no."

In Michigan, the medical marijuana initiative organized by the local Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care and backed in a big way by MPP won a resounding 63% of the vote. Michigan's new medical marijuana law will go into effect quickly -- ten days after the elections are certified, with the Department of Community Health having 120 additional days to come up with regulations for a registry.

The law will allow patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and other conditions to obtain a doctors' recommendation to cultivate, grow, and possess marijuana without fear of prosecution under state law. Registered patients may possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and have up to 12 plants in a secure indoor facility, or they may designate a caregiver to grow it for them.

"Michigan voters have clearly signaled in no uncertain terms their support for a compassionate medical marijuana law," the committee said in a victory statement Tuesday night. "Our opposition threw the kitchen sink at us, hoping one of their false claims and outright lies would cost enough votes to tank this effort. But Michigan voters saw through the deception, and soon numerous seriously ill patients across the state will no longer need to live in fear for taking their doctor-recommended medicine."

Tuesday's win makes Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state, and, more importantly, the first one in the Midwest. The Michigan victory means planned or ongoing efforts in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois just got a little easier.

In Massachusetts, Question 2, the marijuana decriminalization initiative, overcame the opposition of every district attorney in the state to win a resounding 65% of the vote. Now, instead of an arrest and possible six months in jail, people in the Bay State caught with less than an ounce of marijuana will face a simple $100 fine. Equally importantly, small-time possession offenders will not be saddled with a Criminal Record Information Report (CORI), a state arrest report that lingers long after the offense and can impede an offender's ability to obtain jobs, housing, and school loans.

Again backed by MPP, the Bay State's Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) took the organizing lead in Massachusetts this year. Building on nearly a decade's worth of winning local questions on marijuana policy reform by groups like the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and the state NORML affiliate, MassCann/NORML, the committee was able to go over the top statewide with decrim this year.

"It's great to see the people of Massachusetts were able to see what a sensible, modest proposal Question 2 is," said CSMP head Whitney Taylor. "It's going to end the creation of thousands of new people being involved in the criminal justice system each year and refocus law enforcement resources on violent crime."

While some prosecutors are already whining about having to implement the will of the voters, there appears little chance that legislators will attempt to step in and overturn the vote, as they could do under Massachusetts law. A spokesman for House Speaker Sal DiMasi told local WBZ-TV as much Wednesday afternoon.

"Question 2 now has the force of law and the Speaker sees no reason to consider a repeal or amendment at this time," said David Guarino, DiMasi's deputy chief of staff.

Statewide decrim wasn't the only marijuana-related issue on the ballot for some Massachusetts voters. Continuing the tradition of placing questions on representative district ballots, voters in four districts were asked: "Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow seriously ill patients, with their doctor's written recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal medical use?"

As with past medical marijuana questions, the question passed overwhelmingly in all four districts.

The question passed with 74% In the 1st Middlesex Representative District (R – Robert S. Hargraves), 71% in the 21st Middlesex Representative District (D – Charles A. Murphy), 73% in the 13th Norfolk Representative District (D – Lida E. Harkins), and 71% in the 6th Plymouth Representative District (R – Daniel K. Webster).

Meanwhile, in other local marijuana-related initiatives:

  • Berkeley, California's, Measure JJ, essentially a zoning initiative that would allow dispensaries operating in the city to expand into more non-residential districts, won with 62% of the vote. The campaign was organized by Citizens for Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation.
  • In Hawaii County, Hawaii (the Big Island), a lowest law enforcement priority initiative for adult marijuana possession won with 66% of the vote. The campaign organized by Project Peaceful Skies was an outgrowth of the movement to end intrusive marijuana eradication raids.
  • In Fayetteville, Arkansas, another lowest priority initiative passed. Some 62% of voters in the Northwest Arkansas college town agreed with Sensible Fayetteville and its director, Ryan Denham, that police had better things to do than bust pot smokers. Sensible Fayetteville itself is an umbrella organization including the Alliance for Drug Reform Policy in Arkansas, The Omni Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, the Green Party of Washington County, University of Arkansas NORML and the Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas Inc.

"We think these election results send an extremely important message," Denham told the Northwest Arkansas Times Wednesday. "I'm not surprised since national statistics say that 70% of Americans feel that misdemeanor marijuana offenses should be a low priority. It clogs courts and jails and puts a burden on taxpayer resources."

Election day was a good day for marijuana reform. Let's hope that activists and politicians alike are now prepared to press for more in the near future.

Drug Truth 11/06/08

The Unvarnished Truth About the Drug War From the Drug Truth Network: (To downlad these 29:00 files, click on links below. To simply listen, go to www.drugtruth.net and select the arrow below the shows description.) Cultural Baggage for 11/05/08 Drug Czar John Walters gives a speech at James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies at Rice University + Terry Nelson reports for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition MP3 LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/2121/FDBCB_110508.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: (Friday) Century of Lies for 11/04/08 Bruce Mirken of Marijuana Policy Project discusses election day progress in the drug war, Adam Assenberg broadcaster, Poppygate Report with Glenn Greenway, Reports from Australia: ABC - "federal police commissioner Mick Keelty says Australia needs to find a better way than arresting drug users" + Nimbin Australia report on efforts to shut down hemp bar and museum MP3 LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/2122/COL_110408.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: (Friday) PLEASE NOTE: We now have transcripts, potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed. Listen LIVE online at www.kpft.org , on Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston. - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: Rev. Eddy Lepp - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: Former DEA Agent Cele Castillo Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, and www.audioport.org We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US, Canada, Australia & New Zealand!!! Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston. www.kpft.org Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: More than 55 Drug Policy Videos online. Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net

Drug Truth 10/30/08

The Unvarnished Truth About the Drug War From the Drug Truth Network: (To downlad these 29:00 files, click on links below. To simply listen, go to www.drugtruth.net and select the arrow below the shows description.) Cultural Baggage for 10/29/08 Lady Niedpath, Amanda Fielding, the Director of the Beckley Foundation in the UK regarding their recent Cannabis Commission report, their report on the relative dangers of drugs and a discussion on the legitimate use of LSD and MDMA for medical purposes + Terry Nelson reports for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition MP3 LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/2112/FDBCB_102908.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: (Friday) Century of Lies for 10/28/08 Mikki Norris of Cannabis Consumers Campaign, Jeff Jones of Oaksterdam University & Glenn Greenway with the Poppygate Report MP3 LINK: http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/?q=audio/download/2113/COL_102808.mp3 TRANSCRIPT: (NA) PLEASE NOTE: We now have transcripts, potcasts, searchability, CMS, XML, sorts by guest name and by organization. Next - Century of Lies on Tues, Cutural Baggage on Wed. Listen LIVE online at www.kpft.org , on Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston. - Cultural Baggage 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: Drug Czar Walters Lies through his teeth! - Century of Lies 12:30 PM ET, 11:30 AM CT, 10:30 AM MT & 9:30 AM PT: TBD Hundreds of our programs are available online at www.drugtruth.net, and www.audioport.org We provide the "unvarnished truth about the drug war" to scores of broadcast affiliates in the US, Canada, Australia & New Zealand!!! Programs produced at Pacifica Radio Station KPFT in Houston. www.kpft.org Check out our latest videos via www.youtube.com/fdbecker: More than 55 Drug Policy Videos online) Please become part of the solution, visit our website: www.endprohibition.org for links to the best of reform. "Prohibition is evil." - Reverend Dean Becker, Drug Truth Network Producer Dean Becker 713-849-6869 www.drugtruth.net

Latin America: Mexico City to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?

While the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón has signaled that it wants to decriminalize drug possession, legislators in Mexico City aren't waiting for the government to act. The left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) has introduced legislation that would decriminalize marijuana possession in Mexico City and provide for the opening of establishments that would sell up to five grams per person, the same limit as Holland's famous marijuana coffee shops.

The legislation was presented by PRD Deputy and Federal District Legislative Assembly President Víctor Hugo Círigo on October 14. It includes a provision limiting the amount of pot one could possess without penalty to 30 grams, or slightly more than one ounce. Círigo said the legislation also envisions allowing people to grow up to five plants in their homes.

Under current law, marijuana is illegal, and the importation of seeds or other products derived from marijuana is also illegal. In Mexico City, people caught smoking marijuana are typically fined 21 to 30 days minimum salary (a common way of computing fines in Latin America) or jailed for 24 to 36 hours.

Círigo told a press conference he was proposing the legislation because of the therapeutic uses of the herb. He also cited its potential impact on Mexico's drug trafficking organizations. Nearly 4,000 people have been killed so far this year in prohibition-related violence as the various so-called cartels, Mexican state, local, and federal police forces, and the Mexican military engage in a multi-sided war over the illicit drug trade.

"In Italy and Canada they utilize it for therapeutic uses, and in other countries like Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal it is decriminalized," said Círigo.

Círigo said organized crime is making $13 billion a year off the drug trade. More than half of that -- $8 billion -- is derived from the marijuana business, he said.

"We are going to hit the drug traffickers where it hurts most, which is decriminalizing marijuana," he said.

If the measure were to pass in the local legislative assembly, it would then be sent to the federal congress, which could then amend federal health laws to allow for decriminalization. President Calderón called recently for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of all drugs, including up to two grams of marijuana, but Círigo called Calderón's proposal "weak and timid."

In response to a question during the press conference, Círigo said he had smoked pot as a youth, but no longer did so. "I smoked in my youth in the '70s," he said. "I was class of 1978, and of course I know what it is to smoke marijuana."

Latin America: US Drug Czar Supports Mexico Drug Decriminalization

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has been vocal in its condemnation of various moves to decriminalize marijuana possession in the US, but it is now singing a different tune when it comes to a similar proposal in Mexico. Drug czar John Walters told the New York Times last Friday that he supported Mexican President Felipe Calderon's recent call to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all illicit drugs.

Under Calderon's proposal, people caught possessing drugs could avoid criminal sanctions if they agree to submit themselves for evaluation and treatment of their "drug problem." Calderon is touting the measure as a means of concentrating Mexican law enforcement efforts on the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations rather than wasting time and resources picking on drug users.

"I don't think that's legalization," said Walters, who supports Calderon's tough approach to the drug trade and lobbied vigorously for the multi-year, multi-billion dollar anti-drug aid package for Mexico approved by Congress earlier this year.

That prompted the Marijuana Policy Project to issue a press release headed "Hell Freezes Over." "I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but John Walters is right," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "We heartily second his support for eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana users in Mexico, and look forward to working with him to end such penalties in the US as well," Kampia said.

"It's fantastic that John Walters has recognized the massive destruction the drug war has inflicted on Mexico and is now calling for reforms there, but he's a rank hypocrite if he continues opposing similar reforms in the US," Kampia continued. "The Mexican proposal is far more sweeping than MPP's proposals to decriminalize marijuana or make marijuana medically available, both of which John Walters and his henchmen rail against."

Not everyone was so excited. Writing for Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog, Jacob Sullum agreed with Walters that Calderon's proposal is not legalization. "In fact, it's a stretch even to call Calderon's proposal 'decriminalization,'" he wrote. "It is surely an improvement if illegal drug users don't go to prison, even if the alternative is a treatment program that may be inappropriate, ineffective, or both. Yet under Calderon's plan the threat of jail still hangs over anyone who violates the government's pharmacological taboos and is not prepared to undergo re-education, which entails identifying himself as an addict, even if he isn't, and playing the role of the drug dealer's helpless victim. Walters correctly sees that such compelled affirmation of drug war dogma, which he likens to the treatment-or-jail option offered in American 'drug courts,' poses little threat to current policy."

Sullum also noted that Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, had supported a 2006 bill that would have lifted criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of drugs before he pulled it in the face of pressure from the Americans. At that time, a US embassy spokeswoman said the Mexican government should "ensure that all persons found in possession of any quantity of illegal drugs be prosecuted or be sent into mandatory drug treatment programs." As Sullum noted: "The Calderon proposal satisfies that criterion and differs little from current practice in many American jurisdictions, so it's not surprising Walters is on board."

Feature: Signature Gathering for 2010 Oregon Cannabis Tax Act Initiative Suspended, Poor Poll Results Cited

An initiative that would have provided for the nation's first legal, regulated sale of marijuana for personal use is on hold. The organizers of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) announced last weekend that they were suspending signature gathering for the proposed 2010 initiative after it did poorly in initial polling.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/octalogo.jpg
OCTA campaign logo
But while the OCTA is down, it may not be out. Organizers are suggesting they may be back with a rewrite in time to still make the 2010 ballot.

"We have suspended the OCTA campaign after completing our polling," Oregon NORML head Madeline Martinez confirmed to the Chronicle. "Although the numbers were not too bad, not far from a win."

Martinez and Oregon NORML had joined forces with D. Paul Stanford's The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation (THC Foundation) and its political action committee, the Committee for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH) to promote the initiative. Stanford was traveling and unavailable for comment this week.

The OCTA would have been groundbreaking. It provides for the state liquor commission (to be renamed the Oregon Cannabis and Liquor Control Commission) to license the cultivation of marijuana for sale in state liquor stores and its purchase by adults. It authorizes hemp growing, which would be outside the purview of the commission. It allows for the non-commercial personal growing of marijuana. It provides for the sale at cost to pharmacies and medical research facilities of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But OCTA as written wasn't selling itself to potential voters, said Dr. Rick Bayer, chief petitioner for the 1998 OMMA. The initial polling results proved as much, he said. Neither the ballot title nor the summary of the initiative won majorities.

The ballot title and summary, written by the state attorney general, are as follows:

Ballot Title: Permits State-Licensed Cultivation of Marijuana, Sale of Marijuana to Adults Through State Liquor Stores

Results Of "Yes" Vote: "Yes" vote permits state-licensed cultivation of marijuana and sale to adults through state liquor stores; ninety percent of net proceeds to state general fund.

Results Of "No" Vote: "No" vote retains all existing prohibitions against the cultivation, manufacture, possession, and delivery of marijuana; retains current statues that permit regulated use of marijuana.

Summary: Current law prohibits cultivation, manufacture, possession, and delivery of marijuana, but permits regulated medical use of marijuana. Proposed measure replaces state, local marijuana laws exept driving under the influence laws. Directs renamed Oregon Cannabis and Liquor Control Commission to license marijuana cultivation by qualified persons and to purchase entire crop. Commission sells marijuana at cost to pharmacies and medical research facilities for medical purposes, and to qualified adults for profit through state liquor stores. Ninety percent of net proceeds goes to state general fund; smaller percentages for education, drug abuse treatment, promotion of hemp products. Bans sales to, and possession by, minors. Bans public consumption except where signs permit and minors barred. Commission to regulate illicit use, set price, other duties. Provides penalties. Other provisions.

"The OCTA ballot title, saying nothing about hemp, was politically unattractive," said Bayer, who had access to detailed polling results. "The ballot title alone polled 30%. Reading the summary, a far better -- but longer -- description of the OCTA, raised supporters to 39%. Telling people about the hemp part and re-polling the ballot title raised supporters to 42%."

That's not good enough, said Bayer. "Tax & Regulate polling at 42% if it had a good ballot title is the best I can make it. Even though 42% is good compared to the national average for tax & regulate, it won't win. These stats had a 95% confidence level or +/- 5%, so the results seem pretty reliable. Even to the most statistically challenged, it was clear that OCTA was not going to win."

But that doesn't mean OCTA is going away, said Martinez. "We know we can easily improve the language and poll very well during this economic crisis and refile in plenty of time for 2010," she reported. "We are very busy now rewriting, re-polling and refiling."

Of course, OCTA isn't the only game in town when it comes to Oregon and marijuana. Recent legislative sessions have featured battles over efforts to gut the OMMA, with more set to come next year. And at least one other group is looking at a medical marijuana initiative for 2010.

"I think it is a reasonable decision after they got polling results that showed it would be a difficult political environment to pass in 2010," said Anthony Johnson, political director for Voter Power, the group that directed the successful OMMA initiative campaign a decade ago and which is now gathering signatures to put a dispensary initiative, Initiative 28, on the 2010 ballot. "This may possibly free up resources and energy to help us get I-28 on the ballot for 2010."

Voter Power is currently trying to get the money together to do similar polling on its initiative, especially in the face of criticism that it could somehow threaten the OMMA. But that hasn't happened yet.

Both OCTA and Voter Power's dispensary initiative have their supporters and detractors in the state's fractious marijuana movement. In addition to tensions between medical marijuana activists and patients and full-out legalizers, the medical marijuana community itself is rife with factionalism and sniping. But it isn't just the marijuana community or the medical marijuana community that needs to be sold on either OCTA or the dispensary initiative -- it's the Oregon electorate.

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