Colorado Amendment 64

RSS Feed for this category

The Rocky Mountain Road to Legal Marijuana Commerce [FEATURE]

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/rockies.jpg
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
When Colorado voters last November gave the thumbs up to marijuana legalization, the celebrations came quickly, with overjoyed pot smokers triumphantly lighting up, even though the pot laws had yet to officially change. Indeed, in following the will of the voters, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) within weeks announced that marijuana was no longer illegal in Colorado.

But that was only the beginning. Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization initiative approved by the voters, didn't just legalize marijuana -- it also called on the state to come up with a regulatory regime for legal marijuana commerce. That process is now well underway, with the state legislature currently considering implementation legislation.

The legislature is working on a framework crafted by a Hickenlooper-appointed Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, which in mid-March released its Final Report with 58 discrete recommendations for the legislature to consider. The highlights included:

  • The adult-use marijuana industry should be required to have common ownership from seed to sale. This vertical integration regulatory model means that cultivation, processing and manufacturing, and retail sales must be under common ownership.
  • During the first year of licensing, only entities with valid medical marijuana licenses should be able to obtain licenses to grow, process and sell adult-use cannabis.
  • A new Marijuana Enforcement Division in the Department of Revenue would be funded by General Fund revenue for the next five years and would provide the necessary regulatory oversight of all marijuana industries in Colorado.
  • Refer a ballot initiative to voters this November for a 15% excise tax, with the first $40 million of excise tax proceeds going to the state’s school construction fund as outlined in Amendment 64, and a "marijuana sales tax" to create funding sources to cover the costs of regulating the industry, implementing consumer safeguards and establishing youth prevention and treatment programs.
  • Only Colorado residents should be allowed to hold licenses to grow, process and sell adult-use cannabis. But sales to both residents and visitors to the state should be permitted, with stricter quantity limits for visitors.
  • All types of marijuana sold from adult use cannabis retail facilities should be in child-proof packaging and have warning labels that detail tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency and list all pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and solvents used in cultivation or processing.

Other recommendations included not allowing pot smoking in bars or other facilities impacted by the state's anti-smoking laws, barring "open containers" of marijuana in vehicles, and requiring people with children at home to keep their marijuana gardens secure.

"This is a very comprehensive report, developed in a rapid timeframe, that lays the groundwork for the establishment of a robust regulatory framework, with adequate funding for marijuana industry oversight and enforcement, consumer protection and prevention and treatment programs for young people," said Task Force co-chair and governor's legal counsel Jack Finlaw. "The Task Force recommendations will now need to be perfected through the legislative process and rulemakings by various state agencies."

While there is some quibbling over the various recommendations and some concerns about what the legislature might do, Amendment 64 proponent (and now Marijuana Policy Project communications director) Mason Tvert said things were going pretty much as expected.

"The goal is to establish regulated retail stores that provide marijuana to adults, and we are steadily moving toward that," he said. "There are obviously lots of details to be worked out, and lots of different opinions on those details, but overall, we're moving in the direction of accomplishing our goal. There is debate over vertical integration, whether sales should be restricted to non-residents, the levels of sales tax -- these are all important issues, but overall things are going well, and we're well on our way to having a system of regulated marijuana cultivation and sales in Colorado."

Now, the Task Force recommendations are before a joint legislative committee charged with turning them into regulatory legislation. The committee had hoped to be done by the end of March, but progress has been slow, and the new deadline date is next week. If the committee meets that deadline, that will give the legislature as a whole exactly one month to craft and pass enabling legislation before the session ends.

The politicians are doing what they are supposed to do, said Tvert. There have been no real attempts to sabotage the will of the voters, and legislators are trying with good faith to implement Amendment 64.

"Generally, elected officials have been responsive," he said. "There have been some proposals for restrictions, but overall, they are moving forward to pass this. There is really nothing else they can do. For most Coloradans, this is going exactly as planned. For people in the industry, for advocates, for elected officials, there are lots of details being debated and it can feel like there's a lot of drama, but overall, everything's happening as it's supposed to."

The clock is ticking in Colorado. The voters have already voted to legalize marijuana. Either the legislature passes regulations to implement it -- and quite possibly puts anticipated taxes on the ballot, as required by state law for any new taxes -- and Colorado has legal, taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, or it simply has legal marijuana possession with no taxes and no regulations. The threat of the latter should be enough to ensure the success of the former.

CO
United States

More Overreaching Arguments Against Marijuana Legalization by DEA Chiefs and the UN

Colorado billboard, 2012
The International Narcotics Control Board, a UN agency, and eight former DEA administrators came out swinging this week against marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. The INCB says the state laws violate UN treaties. The DEA chiefs want the Obama administration to sue to block the laws.

Both of those positions may be overreaches. It's true that federal marijuana legalization would require revision of the drug treaties, if the US is not to be in violation of them (or for the US to do what Bolivia did by withdrawing and then rejoining "with reservations"). Legalization by Congress even just within states that have enacted it is also a likely treaty issue. But Colorado and Washington aren't parties to the treaties, and federal law remains in force within those states. The states have simply ceased to contribute their own resources to a part of the prohibition program. Under our federal system they very probably have the legal right to do so.

And that is why the DEA chiefs have overreached as well. When one says that federal law is supreme in this area, it means that federal agents can use the powers they have to bring criminal or civil actions against marijuana users or sellers, despite the passage of state laws -- the Raich case decided that for medical marijuana, for reasons that would seem to apply to fully legalized marijuana too. But that doesn't mean the states have to help them. We have a federal system. As I've pointed out previously, no federal prosecutor in 16 years of state medical marijuana laws has ever argued in court that the states can't have those laws on their books. Clearly they've had incentive to do so, if they thought they could win that way.

I don't argue that we know for sure how these points will come out if they are adjudicated -- it is new legal territory. But most legal scholars seem to think a preemption ruling would be a long shot outcome. So that is how it looks to me.

[If you haven't already, please order the two recent reports, from the Cato Institute and the London School of Economics, addressing these two very issues -- available in harcopy on our web site for a small donation.]

Federal Marijuana Reform Bills Introduced [FEATURE]

Two Democratic congressmen announced Tuesday that they are introducing legislation to reform federal marijuana policy. In a joint press conference that also included representatives of drug reform groups, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO) announced two separate bills aimed at addressing the looming clash between intransigent federal marijuana policies and states that have or likely will legalize marijuana. And more bills are pending, they said.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/blumenauer-polis-275px.jpg
Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis
Blumenauer and Polis also released a report entitled "The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy," which outlines their perspective on marijuana policy and provides some background on regulation and opportunities for action. The congressmen have also established the Sensible Drug Policy Working Group, which will provide a forum for members of Congress who are working on related issues and hope to advance legislation.

Polis's Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would remove the DEA's authority over marijuana, end federal marijuana prohibition, and leave it to the states to decide whether to prohibit marijuana or not. Blumenauer's Marijuana Tax Equity Act, House Bill 501, would create a federal excise tax on marijuana similar to those imposed on alcohol and tobacco. Taken together, the two bills would provide for a system of marijuana regulation and taxation in states where it is legal.

More specifically, Polis's bill would:

  • Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act;
  • Transfer the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to regulate marijuana to a newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, which will be tasked with regulating marijuana as it currently does alcohol;
  • Require marijuana producers to purchase a permit, as commercial alcohol producers do, of which the proceeds would offset the cost of federal oversight; and
  • Ensure federal law distinguishes between individuals who grow marijuana for personal use and those involved in commercial sale and distribution.

Blumenauer's bill would:

  • Impose a 50% excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, from the producer to the next stage of production, usually the processor;
  • Impose an occupational tax similar to those in the tobacco and alcohol industries on those operating in marijuana, with producers, importers and manufacturers facing an occupation tax of $1,000 per year and any other person engaged in the business facing an annual tax of $500 per year;
  • Impose civil penalties for failure to comply with taxing duties. Criminal penalties will be assessed for intentional efforts to defraud the taxing authorities; and
  • Require the IRS to produce a study of the industry after two years, and every five years after that, and to issue recommendations to Congress to continue improving the administration of the tax.

The time has come for marijuana law reform at the federal level, the two congressmen said.

"There has been an enormous evolution of American opinion on marijuana. Americans are sick and tired of the costs of marijuana prohibition, whether it’s the financial costs or the human costs. Americans are saying enough is enough, let's try a new policy. We need to address drug use as a public health issue, not a criminal justice one," said Polis.

"My bill doesn't affect the legal status of marijuana where it is currently illegal," the Colorado congressman explained, "but it does allow states that have created either a legalized and regulated scheme for sales or that have medical marijuana laws to operate, without the constant fear that the federal government and the DEA and the other agencies will prosecute patients or businesses that are fully legal under state law. This is an idea whose time has come."

"Forty years ago, as a freshman member of the Oregon legislature, I was able to vote to make Oregon the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana," said Blumenauer. "Since then, 14 states have joined Oregon, and after California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, we now have 19 jurisdictions that have authorized it, and we now have the first two states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use."

The Oregon congressman added that he and Polis are working with a bipartisan group of representatives and that up to eight or 10 marijuana reform bills could be introduced this session.

"We're looking at antiquated and sometimes nonsensical federal laws and policies to try to get us on a path that is less expensive, more productive, more fair, and more in tune with where America is going," Blumenauer said. "We arrested two-thirds of a million people in 2011 for a substance most people think should be legal. The president said he has bigger fish to fry, but there are still people further down the federal food chain frying those fish."

"This is a very exciting day," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Last November, voters in Colorado and Washington made history, and the polling shows that a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. There is no doubt more states will legalize in the years to come. This is the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition."

"We were a primary backer of Amendment 64 in Colorado, which directed the state to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol," said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "That's how we believe it should be treated, and we look forward to working with Reps. Polis and Blumenauer to see that this legislation is eventually passed by Congress."

If not this year, then soon, the congressmen said.

"There is growing support for this bill," Polis argued. "There has really been a sea change; we saw test votes in the last Congress for defunding the DEA and other things, and saw very strong support, and that will only increase over time. Congress is frequently a lagging indicator for public opinion; it’s a question of Congress catching up."

"This is the beginning, not the end," said Blumenauer. "My bill is a first step and we anticipate some give and take, but this will be gaining momentum.  We've got legislation here today to get the ball rolling, but there will be more that you will be hearing about in the days ahead."

"It's clear that we've reached a tipping point," said Piper. "Major changes are going to happen and are happening now. The American people are demanding reform, and members of Congress are starting to give it to them."

Washington, DC
United States

First Private Marijuana Clubs Open in Colorado

At least two members-only recreational marijuana clubs opened in Colorado Monday, one in Denver and one in the small southern Colorado town of Del Norte, according to the Associated Press. The club openings come less than a month after Gov. John Hickenlooper certified the results of the November vote on Amendment 64, which legalized for adults 21 and over the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to six pot plants.

BYOB
Amendment 64 also requires the state government to come up with rules and regulations for a legal marijuana commerce within a matter of months. The clubs avoid the regulatory tangle by not actually selling marijuana. Instead, they charge a fee for membership, and paid members can bring their own marijuana and smoke it convivially at the club.

In Denver, Club 64 opened Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after organizers announced they would create it. It already had 200 members, who had shelled out $29.99 each for the privilege of joining. The club, which will meet monthly at different locations, will charge the same fee each month.

"It's just a place for adults to exercise their constitutional rights together," Denver marijuana attorney Rob Corry told the AP. "We're not selling pot here."

As reggae blasted from speakers below a glittering disco ball and "The Big Lebowski" played on a wall screen, club members shared puffs and hugs as they gathered to celebrate the new year and the new era.

"Look at this!" club organizer Chloe Villano excitedly told the AP. "We were so scared because we didn't want it to be crazy. But this is crazy! People want this."

Not every marijuana reformer in Colorado is on board, according to a CNN report published New Year's Day. "Much of our success with Amendment 64 was making the soccer moms comfortable," an advocate told CNN, adding, "This is not the fight we want to have right now." The advocate spoke anonymously, in order to avoid creating a rift in the community, according to the CNN report.

In Del Norte, the Whitehorse Inn opened Monday afternoon, becoming the first private marijuana club in the state. But according to the Denver Post, publicity surrounding the opening resulting in owner Paul Lovato losing his lease. While Lovato had the keys to the property, his lease didn't actually start until Tuesday, and when the landlord saw the publicity, he canceled the lease before it went into effect.

"By opening early I kind of screwed myself out of my building," Lovato said Tuesday.

He had planned to open at midnight Monday, just after New Year's Eve ticked over to New Year's Day, but moved up his opening by a few hours after hearing about Club 64. Lovato wanted to be first.

"It was really unexpected," he said of the lease cancelation. "I got caught up in the whole 'I want to be the first to open' thing. And I did that. I was the first... I'm pretty proud of that."

If Lovato has lost his location, he hasn't lost his club. He said he was expecting visitors from nearby New Mexico to show up Tuesday.

"We're doing the White Horse Inn at my house today," he said.

America now has its first legal marijuana dens.

CO
United States

The Top Ten Drug Policy Stories of 2012 [FEATURE]

In some ways, 2012 has been a year of dramatic, exciting change in drug policy, as the edifice of global drug prohibition appears to crumble before our eyes. In other ways it is still business as usual in the drug war. Marijuana prohibition is now mortally wounded, but there were still three-quarters of a million pot arrests last year. The American incarceration mania appears to be running its course, but drug arrests continue to outnumber any other category of criminal offense. There is a rising international clamor for a new drug paradigm, but up until now, it's just talk.

The drug prohibition paradigm is trembling, but it hasn't collapsed yet -- we are on the cusp of even more interesting times. Below, we look at the biggest drug policy stories of 2012 and peer a bit into the future:

1. Colorado and Washington Legalize Marijuana!

Voters in Colorado and Washington punched an enormous and historic hole in the wall of marijuana prohibition in November. While Alaska has for some years allowed limited legal possession in the privacy of one's home, thanks to the privacy provisions of the state constitution, the November elections marked the first time voters in any state have chosen to legalize marijuana. This is an event that has made headlines around the world, and for good reason -- it marks the repudiation of pot prohibition in the very belly of the beast.

And it isn't going away. The federal government may or may not be able to snarl efforts by the two states to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce, but few observers think it can force them to recriminalize marijuana possession. It's now legal to possess up to an ounce in both states and to grow up to six plants in Colorado and -- barring a sudden reversal of political will in Washington or another constitutional amendment in Colorado -- it's going to stay that way. The votes in Colorado and Washington mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition.

2. Nationally, Support for Marijuana Legalization Hits the Tipping Point

If Colorado and Washington are the harbingers of change, the country taken as a whole is not far behind, at least when it comes to public opinion. All year, public opinion polls have showed support for marijuana legalization hovering right around 50%, in line with last fall's Gallup poll that showed steadily climbing support for legalization and support at 50% for the first time. A Gallup poll this month showed a 2% drop in support, down to 48%, but that's within the margin of error for the poll, and it's now a downside outlier.

Four other polls released this month
demonstrate a post-election bump for legalization sentiment. Support for legalization came in at 47%, 51%, 54%, and 57%, including solid majority support in the West and Northeast. The polls also consistently find opposition to legalization strongest among older voters, while younger voters are more inclined to free the weed.

As Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown put it after his survey came up with 51% support for legalization, "This is the first time Quinnipiac University asked this question in its national poll so there is no comparison from earlier years. It seems likely, however, that given the better than 2-1 majority among younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time."

Caravan for Peace vigil, Brownsville, Texas, August 2012
3. Global Rejection of the Drug War

International calls for alternatives to drug prohibition continued to grow ever louder this year. Building on the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the voices for reform took to the stage at global venues such as the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April, the International AIDS Conference in Washington in July, and at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

While calls for a new paradigm came from across the globe, including commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, this was the year of the Latin American dissidents. With first-hand experience with the high costs of enforcing drug prohibition, regional leaders including Colombian President Santos, Guatemalan President Perez Molina, Costa Rican President Chinchilla, and even then-Mexican President Calderon all called this spring for serious discussion of alternatives to the drug war, if not outright legalization. No longer was the critique limited to former presidents.

That forced US President Obama to address the topic at the Summit of the Americas and at least acknowledge that "it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good in certain places" before dismissing legalization as a policy option. But the clamor hasn't gone away -- instead, it has only grown louder -- both at the UN in the fall and especially since two US states legalized marijuana in November.

While not involved in the regional calls for an alternative paradigm, Uruguayan President Mujica made waves with his announcement of plans to legalize the marijuana commerce there (possession was never criminalized). That effort appears at this writing to have hit a bump in the road, but the proposal and the reaction to it only added to the clamor for change.

4. Mexico's Drug War: The Poster Child for Drug Legalization

Mexico's orgy of prohibition-related violence continues unabated with its monstrous death toll somewhere north of 50,000 and perhaps as high as 100,000 during the Calderon sexenio, which ended this month. Despite all the killings, despite Calderon's strategy of targeting cartel capos, despite the massive deployment of the military, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid for the military campaign, the flow of drugs north and guns and money south continues largely unimpeded and Mexico -- and now parts of Central America, as well -- remain in the grip of armed criminals who vie for power with the state itself.

With casualty figures now in the range of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars and public safety and security in tatters, Calderon's misbegotten drug war has become a lightning rod for critics of drug prohibition, both at home and around the world. In the international discussion of alternatives to the status quo -- and why we need them -- Mexico is exhibit #1.

And there's no sign things are going to get better any time soon. While Calderon's drug war may well have cost him and his party the presidency (and stunningly returned it to the old ruling party, the PRI, only two elections after it was driven out of office in disgrace), neither incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto nor the Obama administration are showing many signs they are willing to take the bold, decisive actions -- like ending drug prohibition -- that many serious observers on all sides of the spectrum say will be necessary to tame the cartels.

The Mexican drug wars have also sparked a vibrant and dynamic civil society movement, the Caravan for Peace and Justice, led by poet and grieving father Javier Sicilia. After crisscrossing Mexico last year, Sicilia and his fellow Mexican activists crossed the border this summer for a three-week trek across the US, where their presence drew even more attention to the terrible goings on south of the border.

5. Medical Marijuana Continues to Spread, Though the Feds Fight Back

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and while there was only one new one this year, this has been a year of back-filling. Medical marijuana dispensaries have either opened or are about to open in a number of states where it has been legal for years but delayed by slow or obstinate elected officials (Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, DC) or in states that more recently legalized it (Massachusetts).

None of the newer medical marijuana states are as wide open as California, Colorado, or Montana (until virtual repeal last year), as with each new state, the restrictions seem to grow tighter and the regulation and oversight more onerous and constricting. Perhaps that will protect them from the tender mercies of the Justice Department, which, after two years of benign neglect, changed course last year, undertaking concerted attacks on dispensaries and growers in all three states. That offensive was ongoing throughout 2012, marked by federal prosecutions and medical marijuana providers heading to federal prison in Montana. While federal prosecutions have been less resorted to in California and Colorado, federal raids and asset forfeiture threat campaigns have continued, resulting in the shuttering of dozens of dispensaries in Colorado and hundreds in California. There is no sign of a change of heart at the Justice Department, either.

6. The Number of Drug War Prisoners is Decreasing

The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced recently that the number of people in America's state and federal prisons had declined for the second year in a row at year's end 2011. The number and percentage of drug war prisoners is declining, too. A decade ago, the US had nearly half a million people behind bars on drug charges; now that number has declined to a still horrific 330,000 (not including people doing local jail time). And while a decade ago, the percentage of people imprisoned for drug charges was somewhere between 20% and 25% of all prisoners, that percentage has now dropped to 17%.

That decline is mostly attributable to sentencing reforms in the states, which, unlike the federal government, actually have to balance their budgets. Especially as economic hard times kicked in in 2008, spending scarce taxpayer resources on imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders became fiscally and politically less tenable. The passage of the Proposition 36 "three strikes" sentencing reform in California in November, which will keep people from being sentenced to up to life in prison for trivial third offenses, including drug possession, is but the latest example of the trend away from mass incarceration for drug offenses.

The federal government is the exception. While state prison populations declined last year (again), the federal prison population actually increased by 3.1%. With nearly 95,000 drug offenders doing federal time, the feds alone account for almost one-third of all drug war prisoners.

President Obama could exercise his pardon power by granting clemency to drug war prisoners, but it is so far a power he has been loathe to exercise. An excellent first candidate for presidential clemency would be Clarence Aaron, the now middle-aged black man who has spent the past two decades behind bars for his peripheral role in a cocaine deal, but activists in California and elsewhere are also calling for Obama to free some of the medical marijuana providers now languishing in federal prisons. The next few days would be the time for him to act, if he is going to act this year.

7. But the Drug War Juggernaut Keeps On Rolling, Even if Slightly Out of Breath

NYC "stop and frisk" protest of mass marijuana arrests
According to annual arrest data released this summer by the FBI, more than 1.53 million people were arrested on drug charges last year, nearly nine out of ten of them for simple possession, and nearly half of them on marijuana charges. The good news is that is a decline in drug arrests from 2010. That year, 1.64 million people were arrested on drug charges, meaning the number of overall drug arrests declined by about 110,000 last year. The number of marijuana arrests is also down, from about 850,000 in 2010 to about 750,000 last year.

But that still comes out to a drug arrest every 21 seconds and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, and no other single crime category generated as many arrests as drug law violations. The closest challengers were larceny (1.24 million arrests), non-aggravated assaults (1.21 million), and DWIs (1.21 million). All violent crime arrests combined totaled 535,000, or slightly more than one-third the number of drug arrests.

The war on drugs remains big business for law enforcement and prosecutors.

8. And So Does the Call to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients

Oblivious to constitutional considerations or cost-benefit analyses, legislators (almost always Republican) in as many as 30 states introduced bills that would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients, people receiving unemployment benefits, or, in a few cases, anyone receiving any public benefit, including Medicaid recipients. Most would have called for suspicionless drug testing, which runs into problems with that pesky Fourth Amendment requirement for a search warrant or probable cause to undertake a search, while some attempted to get around that obstacle by only requiring drug testing upon suspicion. But that suspicion could be as little as a prior drug record or admitting to drug use during intake screening.

Still, when all the dust had settled, only three states -- Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee -- actually passed drug testing bills, and only Georgia's called for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. Bill sponsors may have been oblivious, but other legislators and stakeholders were not. And the Georgia bill is on hold, while the state waits to see whether the federal courts will strike down the Florida welfare drug testing bill on which it is modeled. That law is currently blocked by a federal judge's temporary injunction.

It wasn't just Republicans. In West Virginia, Democratic Gov. Roy Tomblin used an executive order to impose drug testing on applicants to the state's worker training program. (This week came reports that only five of more than 500 worker tests came back positive.) And the Democratic leadership in the Congress bowed before Republican pressures and okayed giving states the right to impose drug testing requirements on some unemployment recipients in return for getting an extension of unemployment benefits.

This issue isn't going away. Legislators in several states, including Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have already signaled they will introduce similar bills next year, and that number is likely to increase as solons around the country return to work.

9. The US Bans New Synthetic Drugs

In July, President Obama signed a bill banning the synthetic drugs known popularly as "bath salts" and "fake weed." The bill targeted 31 specific synthetic stimulant, cannabinoid, and hallucinogenic compounds. Marketed under brand names like K2 and Spice for synthetic cannabinoids and under names like Ivory Wave, among others, for synthetic stimulants, the drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years. The drugs had previously been banned under emergency action by the DEA.

The federal ban came after more than half the states moved against the new synthetics, which have been linked to a number of side effects ranging from the inconvenient (panic attacks) to the life-threatening. States and localities continue to move against the new drugs, too.

While the federal ban demonstrates that the prohibitionist reflex is still strong, what is significant is the difficulty sponsors had in getting the bill passed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) put a personal hold on the bill until mandatory minimum sentencing requirements were removed and also argued that such efforts were the proper purview of the states, not Washington. And for the first time, there were a substantial number of Congress members voting "no" on a bill to create a new drug ban.

10. Harm Reduction Advances by Fits and Starts, At Home and Abroad

Harm reduction practices -- needle exchanges, safer injection sites, and the like -- continued to expand, albeit fitfully, in both the US and around the globe. Faced with a rising number of prescription pain pill overdoses in the US -- they now outnumber auto accident fatalities -- lawmakers in a number of states have embraced "911 Good Samaritan" laws granting immunity from prosecution. Since New Mexico passed the first such law in 2007, nine others have followed. Sadly, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the New Jersey bill this year.

Similarly, the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone, which can reverse overdoses and restore normal breathing in minutes, also expanded this year. A CDC report this year that estimated it had saved 10,000 lives will only help spread the word.

There has been movement internationally as well this year, including in some unlikely places. Kenya announced in June that it was handing out 50,000 syringes to injection drug users in a bid to reduce the spread of AIDS, and Colombia announced in the fall plans to open safe consumption rooms for cocaine users in Bogota. That's still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs unanimously supported a resolution calling on the World Health Organization and other international bodies to promote measures to reduce overdose deaths, including the expanded use of naloxone; Greece announced it was embracing harm reduction measures, including handing out needles and condoms, to fight AIDS; long-awaited Canadian research called for an expansion of safe injection sites to Toronto and Ottawa; and Denmark first okayed safe injection sites in June, then announced it is proposing that heroin in pill form be made available to addicts. Denmark is one of a handful of European countries that provide maintenance doses of heroin to addicts, but to this point, the drug was only available for injection. France, too, announced it was going ahead with safe injection sites, which could be open by the time you read this.  

This has been another year of slogging through the mire, with some inspiring victories and some oh-so-hard-fought battles, not all of which we won. But after a century of global drug prohibition, the tide appears to be turning, not least here in the US, prohibition's most powerful proponent. There is a long way to go, but activists and advocates can be forgiven if they feel like they've turned a corner. Now, we can put 2012 to bed and turn our eyes to the year ahead.

The Next Seven States to Legalize Marijuana?

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/rolling-stone-marijuana-states-map-200px.jpg
The Rolling Stone map marks medical marijuana states with a leaf/red cross icon, medical marijuana states they judge as likely to legalize with a smaller icon and green check mark, and Washington and Colorado with a leaf and smiley face.
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson continues his coverage of marijuana legalization with a not unjustifiably optimistic article, "The Next Seven States to Legalize Pot." Dickinson's predictions: Oregon, California, Nevada, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, and Alaska. Some of the states are more intuitively obvious than others, such as California, and even Oregon despite the loss. But Dickinson offers reasonable reasons to be hopeful about the others.

Oregon's Measure 80 is an interesting case. While it was reported as losing 45-55, the pro total actually crept up to 46.3% when all the returns were finally counted. This was with virtually no funding, though perhaps benefiting from discussion of the issue in neighboring Washington, and with language that was far more radical in most respects than either Washington's or Colorado's measures. With a better-written initiative and the funding that would likely attract, and with legalization happening next door as Dickinson pointed out, Oregon could be a winner soon -- if not 2014 and the expected more conservative turnout expected in an off year election, then in 2016.

Also interesting about Oregon, is that I thought the loss there while two other states passed would settle the debate over how to write an initiative -- whether to poll and do focus groups and write one that the research says can pass, or to just go for broke with the language you like -- the two initiatives that did the former won, the one that did the latter lost. But given how well Measure 80 did despite having no funding has some activists including a number of friends of mine saying that we don't have to compromise, or compromise as much, in order to win. If the funds come on board, the money and the real campaign it would enable could make up those 3.7 percentage points, is the reasoning.

I don't believe the money would make up those percentage points. I believe it is more likely that there is a swath of voters who agree with legalization in principle, but are picky about what kind of initiative they would approve, and that initiatives written the right way for them (or for the opinion leaders they take seriously like the former law enforcement and others who supported Washington's I-502) probably swung a significant percentage of voters. I think that Oregon was a special case, because of what was happening at the same time in Washington. And I think that a real campaign in Oregon, would have resulted in a greater amount of discussion about the details of the Oregon initiative (especially if polls suggested it had a chance), increasing the negative impact that certain aspects of it would have had on the aforementioned picky legalization supporters.

But do I know that for sure? No. Oregon's vote should certainly be studied to see what can be learned. So should Colorado's, a system that is pretty different from and a lot more open than Washington's. (At a Cato forum last week, former DEA chief Asa Hutchinson scarcely even mentioned Washington.)

One way or another, it is very likely that a page of history turned last month. Whether as many as seven states will go for legalization in the next few years, or whether Rolling Stone has called all the right ones, only time can tell. But the optimism is certainly appropriate -- time is on the side of marijuana legalization, and I hope for overall drug reform as well.

Slim Majority of New Yorkers Say Legalize Marijuana

A Quinnipiac poll released last Friday has New Yorkers supporting marijuana legalization by a narrow majority. The poll found 51% supported marijuana legalization, with 44% opposed.

That puts New York in line with the rest of the country, where most post-election polls are showing support for legalization at over 50%. Those polls come in the wake of victories for the Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, respectively.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been pushing marijuana decriminalization, but the Quinnipiac poll suggests New Yorkers are ahead of their political leaders on the issue of marijuana reform.

New York City has achieved notoriety as the marijuana arrest capital of the world, with the NYPD arresting tens of thousands of mainly young black and brown men each year. Despite recent reforms, those numbers have yet to significantly decrease.

In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch found that between 1996 and 2011, the NYPD arrested more than 563,000 people for possession of marijuana in public (typically after police intimidate them into emptying their pockets and revealing their baggies), including nearly 100,000 in 2010 and 2011 alone. Neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor the NYPD "has ever provided a detailed justification for the high number of marijuana arrests, suggesting only that the arrests improve public safety," the report noted.

But the report also examined the subsequent criminal histories of the 2003 and 2004 cohorts of New York City pot possession arrestees. It found that more than 90% of them had not subsequently been arrested on a felony charge.

The Quinnipiac poll found majority support for legalization in New York City (54%) and its suburbs (50%), and a plurality (49%) for legalization upstate. Majorities supported freeing the weed in every age group except seniors, while majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (57%) also favored legalization. Only 33% of Republicans did.

Men were more likely to support legalization (56%) than women (47%), while people with college degrees were more likely to support it (58%) than those without (47%). People who identified themselves as belonging to a religious denomination had levels of support ranging from 46% to 48%, while 70% of those who said they had no religion supported legalization.

Gov. Cuomo has been talking decriminalization. Given last month's election results and this month's polling, perhaps he should raise his sights.

The poll contacted 1,302 New York state voters between December 5 and 10 and asked"Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal in New York State, or not?" The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

NY
United States

Legalization and the UN Drug Treaties -- A Minor Obstacle at Worst

I have criticized the ease with which some media outlets and even some reformers have accepted the argument made by prohibitionist advocates that courts are certain to overturn the Washington and Colorado marijuana legalization initiatives, or their regulatory systems at least, based on federal supremacy. Most legal scholars in the news have expressed skepticism that a preemption challenge of the laws, as it's called, would succeed, though we can't know for sure until and unless that goes through the courts.

Another argument that's been made is that legalization would violate US obligations as signatories to the UN's international drug control treaties, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and two others. While it's not clear that state legalization existing alongside continuing federal prohibition including those states would violate the treaties, the argument is somewhat more tenable with respect to the possibilities of federal legalization or even of federal exceptions to prohibition in those states. My understanding of the treaties is that they discourage but do permit legal drug possession (given a public health system in place for addressing drug abuse), but not legal production and sales excepting medicine and research.

How easy would this to be address? Pretty easy. Bolivia did it this year. That nation has had problems with the treaty ban on coca growing, even for traditional purposes (purposes other than cocaine) as has been done in Bolivia for thousands of years. Attempts to enforce the ban through US-backed eradication programs have fomented civil instability, ultimately leading to a backlash in which a coca grower and indigenous leader, Evo Morales, won the presidency in 2006. (Shameless promotional fact: Morales's vice-president, Álvaro García Linera, spoke at our 2003 conference.)

What happened is that the Morales administration sought a modification to the Single Convention to address the coca issue, but was rebuffed. So late last year, they withdrew from it. Then they announced they would rejoin the treaty on January 1, but with "reservations" stating their non-participation with respect to the coca provision. If one third of member nations object to Bolivia's readmission to the treaty -- by the end of this year, if I'm not mistaken -- they can be prevented from rejoining it, and potentially have problems in some regulatory areas. But other countries would suffer problems from that as well, and it is unlikely.

The US could do that too. Or, and better, we could seek the revision of the treaties to permit legalization. The US would be powerful enough to pull that off, and the rest of the world is mostly concerned with their own interests and are not clamoring for the continuation of marijuana prohibition in the US in any case.

One way or another, it will be pretty easy to handle the drug treaties, once the political will exists here to enact legalization under our own laws. The treaties are a valid issue, but not a difficult one to surmount.

Obama Comments Beg the Question on Marijuana Legalization

In an interview last Friday with ABC News' Barbara Walters, President Obama said going after marijuana smokers in states that have legalized it should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement, but he failed to address how the federal government would respond to efforts by state governments in Colorado and Washington to implement taxation and regulation schemes for legal marijuana commerce.

President Barack Obama (whitehouse.gov)
Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington were both approved by voters in last month's elections. Their provisions legalizing marijuana possession (and cultivation in Colorado) are already in effect, but officials in the two states are now charged with crafting those taxation and regulation rules.

The looming question is what the federal government will do about that. President Obama's comments Friday did not shed new light on that topic.

"We've got bigger fish to fry" than going after individual pot smokers in Colorado and Washington, Obama said. "It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal."

That is in parallel with the administration's approach to medical marijuana. It has not gone after individual patients, but in the past two years, the Obama Justice Department has vigorously and aggressively targeted medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries for raids, threats of asset forfeiture, and, more rarely, federal criminal prosecutions.

Obama also told Walters that he does not support marijuana legalization "at this point," but he added that shifting public opinion -- polls are now showing majorities in favor of legalization -- and questions about how to allocate limited government resources are good reasons to seek to find a middle ground on dealing with the weed.

The president also said he had asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to look into how to resolve the conflict between state and federal laws. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

"I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about is how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?" Obama said.

Holder said last Wednesday that he expected a Justice Department review to be completed "relatively soon."

While Obama notoriously partook of the weed in his youth, being a leading member of the "Choom Gang" of serious recreational puffers, according to biographer David Maraniss, he has downplayed his own use and not favored marijuana legalization. He told Walters Friday he had regrets over his youthful behavior.

"There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid," Obama told Walters. "My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society. "I want to discourage drug use," he added.

Washington, DC
United States

Marijuana Is Now Legal in Colorado! [FEATURE]

And then there were two. On Monday, December 10, 2012, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order certifying last month's Amendment 64 victory and legalizing the use, possession, and limited cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and over.

Colorado now joins Washington as states where voters approved marijuana legalization last month and where the will of the voters has now become law. In both states, it is only the possession (and cultivation in Colorado) parts of the new laws that are now in effect. Officials in Denver and Olympia have a matter of some months to craft and enact regulatory schemes for commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution -- provided the federal government does not seek to block them from doing so.

While the federal government may seek to block implementation of regulations, it cannot make the two states recriminalize marijuana possession. And the states have no obligation to enforce federal marijuana laws.

In both states, however, it remains illegal to sell marijuana or cultivate it commercially pending the enactment of regulatory schemes. Still, pot possession is now legal in Washington and Colorado.

"Voters were loud and clear on Election Day," Hickenlooper wrote. "We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64."

In addition to the executive order certifying the election results, Hickenlooper also signed an executive order establishing a 24-person task force charged with coming up with a way to implement Amendment 64's taxation and regulation provisions. The task force consists of government officials and other stakeholders, including representatives of medical marijuana patients, producers, and non-medical consumers, and will make recommendations to the legislature on how to establish a commercial marijuana market.

"All stakeholders share an interest in creating efficient and effective regulations that provide for the responsible development of the new marijuana laws," the executive order said. "As such, there is a need to create a task force through which we can coordinate and create a regulatory structure that promotes the health and safety of the people of Colorado."

Issues that will be addressed include: the need to amend current state and local laws regarding the possession, sale, distribution or transfer of marijuana and marijuana products to conform them to Amendment 64's decriminalization provisions; the need for new regulations for such things as security requirements for marijuana establishments and for labeling requirements; education regarding long-term health effects of marijuana use and harmful effects of marijuana use by those under the age of 18; and the impact of Amendment 64 on employers and employees and the Colorado economy.

The task force will also work to reconcile Colorado and federal laws such that the new laws and regulations do not subject Colorado state and local governments and state and local government employees to prosecution by the federal government.

"Task force members are charged with finding practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges of implementing Amendment 64 while at all times respecting the diverse perspectives that each member will bring to the work of the task force," the executive order emphasized. "The task force shall respect the will of the voters of Colorado and shall not engage in a debate of the merits of marijuana legalization or Amendment 64."

Marijuana legalization supporters cheered the issuance of the executive orders.

"This is a truly historic day. From this day forward, adults in Colorado will no longer be punished for the simple use and possession of marijuana. We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for issuing this declaration in a timely fashion, so that adult possession arrests end across the state immediately," said Mason Tvert, one of the two official proponents for Amendment 64 and newly appointed communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"We look forward to working with the governor's office and many other stakeholders on the implementation of Amendment 64," Tvert continued. "We are certain that this will be a successful endeavor, and Colorado will become a model for other states to follow."

Not everyone was as thrilled as Tvert. Both US Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Colorado State Patrol James Wolfinbarger issued statements Monday warning respectively that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that driving while impaired by marijuana is still a crime.

"The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington state," Walsh said in his statement. "The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 10th in Colorado, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses."

"The Colorado State Patrol would like to remind motorists that if you chose to consume marijuana and make the decision to drive that you are taking a huge risk," Wolfinbarger said. "Drivers must realize that if you are stopped by law enforcement officials and it is determined that your ability to operate a motor vehicle has been affected to the slightest degree by drugs or alcohol or both, you may be arrested and subjected to prosecution under Colorado's DUI/DUID laws. It is imperative that everyone takes responsibility for public safety when driving on Colorado's highways."

While the implementation of regulations for marijuana commerce in Colorado and Washington is by no means assured, the legalization of pot possession in the two states is a done deal. And with it, a huge hole has been blown through the wall of marijuana prohibition. Since the election last month, public opinion polls have shown increasing support -- and in three out of four cases, majority support -- for marijuana legalization, as well as little patience for federal interference in states that have legalized.

Marijuana prohibition may not be dead yet, but voters in Colorado and Washington have delivered a mortal blow. The clock is ticking.

Denver, CO
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

StopTheDrugWar Video Archive