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Washington Marijuana Legalization Measure In Strong Position [FEATURE]

 

A little more than a month out from Election Day, Washington state's I-502 marijuana legalization, regulation, and taxation initiative looks to be well-positioned yet to actually win at the ballot box, with powerful supporters, lots of money, and a healthy lead in the polls. But it's not a done deal yet.

Sponsored by New Approach Washington, I-502 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over, but not allow them to grow their own. Instead, it would create a scheme of licensed, taxed, and regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and retail sales under the eye of the state liquor control board. Medical marijuana patients are exempted from its provisions.

I-502 polled at 57% support two weeks ago, up three points from a June poll. Meanwhile, opposition to the initiative is declining in those polls, from 37% in June to 34% this month.

The good numbers are due at least in part to the powerful list of endorsements, which include not only the usual drug reform suspects, but also labor, civil rights, and children's and retiree's groups, the state Democratic and Green parties, an increasing list of the state's most-read newspapers, including the Seattle Times and the Olympian, both of which endorsed the initiative within the last week. Also on board are figures are mainstream criminal justice figures like Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and former US Attorney for the Western District of Washington John McKay, the man who prosecuted Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery (who also endorses the initiative).

Money helps, too, and I-502 has it. The campaign has raised over $3 million so far, including $715,000 from the Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, $821,000 from Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform Daddy Warbucks Peter Lewis, and $450,000 from Seattle-based travel writer Rick Steves. That means that although it has already spent $1 million on early ad buys, it still has $2 million in the bank, and it's still fundraising.

The initiative has drawn some criticism internally within the drug reform movement, including some outright opposition, mainly for a drugged driving provision. Under I-502's language, drivers caught driving with more than 5 nanograms of the longer-acting THC metabolites in their blood can be convicted, per se, of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID). Supporters point out that the initiative excludes the long-acting THC-COOH metabolite from the reach of the DUID provision, and that police are prohibited from ordering blood tests unless there is probable cause to suspect that a driver is impaired. They also argue that language addressing driving is necessary to make the initiative palatable to those voters in the state whose summers don't revolve around Hempfest.

New Approach Washington is being cautious.

"You know it's going to be close, very close, everything seems to be going well, but we're still six weeks out," said campaign director Allison Holcomb, counseling against complacency.

"We definitely will have money to do some paid media advertising, but fundraising will go on until the last moment," said Holcomb. "We've raised $2 million from big donors, but also lots with local support. People with no connection to drug policy or marijuana policy are stepping forward. They get that we're not promoting marijuana use, but better marijuana laws. It's all starting to click."

Aside from the intramural criticisms, Holcomb said there is little organized opposition.

"There are about a half dozen law enforcement and treatment and prevention folks who make the rounds and debate with us, but in terms of organizations launching a campaign against the initiative, we're really not seeing that," she said. "We view that as a testament to the drafting and endorsements we're picking up."

And while the intra-movement opposition is loud and boisterous, there may be less to it than meets the eye, said Holcomb.

"It doesn't seem to be that much of a problem," she said, although she acknowledged it had been "upsetting" on a personal level. "When we are at events like Hempfest or the High Times Cannabis Cup and have our table, people come up and express their concerns and ask questions. There is a lot of confusion within the grassroots, but we can clear up that confusion. A lot of the concern is built around fear of the unknown, too, but if you can get off the Internet and off Facebook, you can talk to people and address their concerns."

Two of the most prominent movement opponents of the initiative told the Chronicle it was hopelessly flawed, but the campaign and a raft of national drug reform groups begged to differ.

"This isn't legalization -- in order to legalize you have to remove all the criminal penalties, but this actually adds them in the form of DUIDs," said Steve Sarich, a medical marijuana businessman and advocate who spokesman for Vote No on I-502, a movement group opposing the initiative.

One of the loudest opponents of the initiative, Seattle defense attorney and Sensible Washington co-founder Douglass Hiatt. Sensible Washington twice tried to get a more sweeping legalization initiative on the ballot, but came up short. It is already planning another try for next year. "It doesn't legalize hemp or marijuana, but instead creates a narrow exception for possession of up to an ounce by adults over 21," Hiatt claimed.

Sarich's and others' fears notwithstanding, the experience of other states that have adopted per se DUID laws does not suggest a massive wave of arrests as a result. A chart compiled by NORML looks at what has happened in 14 states that have adopted such laws, some of them "zero tolerance," some of them with specified per se levels. No data was available for four states, DUIDs declined in five of them and increased in five others. In most cases, the percentage increase was under 10%. The number of marijuana DUIDs is smaller than the actual DUID numbers by some unknown percentage because the states do not differentiate between marijuana and other drug DUIDs.

National groups such as NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition told the Chronicle the initiative represents the best chance of winning a legalization vote and they are standing strong behind it despite concerns about some of the provisions. The Drug Policy Alliance, for its part, has put its political action committee's money where its mouth is.

"We support I-502 and hope it passes," said MPP spokesman Morgan Fox. "MPP generally will stand behind any initiative that results in fewer arrests, and I-502 will mean roughly 13,000 fewer arrests for adult possession. Passage of this initiative will also be a tremendous step forward in marijuana policy reform nationally and will help to show the federal government that prohibition is no longer what the public wants."

MPP is not putting money into the campaign, but is supporting it logistically and through getting the word out to its members, Fox said. Like many other supporters, it is endorsing I-502 despite reservations about the DUID limits.

"While per se DUID limits are not supported by our current scientific knowledge and MPP would prefer not to see them included in I-502, it is necessary to include some sort of provision to address impaired driving," Fox said. "It is more than likely that the negative effects of this particularly law will be far less severe than some may fear."

"We prefer proposals that include the right to grow your own and we certainly oppose per se DUID standards, but if you're asking whether we would support an initiative that has made the ballot, those flaws become insignificant compared to the benefits for all of us should this pass," echoed NORML founder Keith Stroup. "The NORML board of directors unanimously supported this."

"We can't win just with the support of the stoners," Stroup continued. "If you had listened to the Hempfest debates, you would have been convinced the community was divided, but to win, we have to have a majority of voters, not a majority of Hempfest attendees. The campaign did extensive polling and found that if they included personal cultivation and no DUID, they couldn't win," the silver-haired reform veteran argued.

"All the surveys show you aren't likely to win the non-pot smokers unless you can satisfy them that we are not unleashing a significant number of impaired drivers on them," Stroup noted. "That may not be a rational fear, but as we saw in the Proposition 19 exit polling, one of the main reasons people opposed was the concern about impaired drivers. Of course, that presumes stoners wouldn't drive if this didn't pass, but millions are driving every day and most have no problems."

"Look," said Stroup, "I admire this campaign. They have succeeded in getting the most establishment support for any legalization proposal ever. You have the individual who was responsible for prosecuting marijuana cases in Seattle sponsoring this initiative. The reason they are able to get establishment support is that they took establishment positions. Despite the provisions we don't really like, we totally support I-502, just like we support the initiatives in Colorado and Oregon."

The issue of impaired driving is going to continue to plague legalization efforts, Stroup said, and the movement has to figure out a response.

"One way or another, we'll be dealing with DUID provisions in any legalization proposal coming down the road," he said. "We're going to have to accept some DUID provisions, but hopefully we convince people that per se is not necessary."

"Flawed as it is, I-502 represents that best chance we've seen in this country to legalize, tax, and control marijuana," said former Seattle police chief and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition member Norm Stamper. "That per se DUID provision is causing a whole lot of us some heartburn, but on the other hand, this initiative gives us the best chance to really test the federal government's clout. If it passes, it's on a collision course with the feds, and we need to pass this in a very strategic and powerful way to make them blink.

"There is no such thing as a perfect initiative," Stamper continued, but this one has a whole lot going for it. I'm campaigning for it, I'm voting for it, and I encourage everyone to do the same." Stamper also predicts "an early test case" on the DUID provision. "[U]nlike the 0.008% blood alcohol content level, the per se DUID is not established science," he said.

Stamper and other LEAP members have been hitting the hustings in support of I-502, bringing the powerful message of law enforcement support for reform to audiences across the state. "People are very impressed with LEAP," said Stamper. "There probably isn't a LEAP speaker who hasn't heard 'coming from you guys, we have to listen.' That's not so much a function of our elegance as speakers, but of the fact that we were on the front lines of the drug war for so many years, and some of us still are."

In Washington state, this movement argument over per se DUID may cost some purist pot votes on election day, but having that language in the initiative could also be the key to bringing enough worried soccer moms over to make it a winning issue. As Stroup noted, this is an issue that the movement will have to continue to confront, but it may be better to confront it from a position where the voters have already said "legalize it."

WA
United States

Did You Know? Impairment Potential for Different Kinds of Drugs, on DrugWarFacts.org

Different kinds of drugs affect people differently, but the details often get lost in debate. Read about the specific kinds of impact that different classes of drugs can have on people, including for driving and other safety-sensitive activities, in the Drug Testing -- Impairment section of DrugWarFacts.org.

DrugWarFacts.org, a publication of Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP), is an in-depth compilation of key facts, stats and quotes on the full range of drug policy issues, excerpted from expert publications on the subjects. The Chronicle is running a series of info items from DrugWarFacts.org over the next several weeks, and we encourage you to check it out.

Follow Drug War Chronicle for more important facts from DrugWarFacts.org over the next several weeks, or sign up for the DWF new facts RSS feed.
Read last week's Chronicle DrugWarFacts.org blurb here.
Common Sense for Drug Policy is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to reforming drug policy and expanding harm reduction. CSDP disseminates factual information and comments on existing laws, policies and practices.

Colorado Drugged Driving Bill Dies -- Again

The third time wasn't the charm for Colorado legislators trying to pass a "per se" drugged driving bill aimed directly at marijuana users. The bill died last year in the Senate, it died this year in the House, and on Tuesday, it died once again after Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) brought it back for consideration during a short-lived special session he called to deal with unfinished business.

The bill, House Bill 12S-1005, would have mandated that anyone found driving with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood was presumed to be guilty of driving while impaired. Prosecutors would have needed no other evidence of actual impairment to win a conviction.

The bill failed by a single vote in the Senate Tuesday, with senators split 17-17 on the measure. The bill had already won approval earlier in the day in the House.

The bill was opposed by medical and recreational marijuana advocates and some members of the state legislature, even some Republicans, who argued that it unfairly targeted pot users with a scientifically uncertain measure of impairment.

"I don't think it'll make our roads any safer," said Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver).

Once again, only one vote made the difference. Will the legislature now give up on its quest to criminalize marijuana users who drive? We'll have to check back next year.

Denver, CO
United States

Jacksonville Cop Kills Unarmed Drug Suspect

A Jacksonville, Florida, police officer shot and killed an unarmed drug suspect during a traffic stop early last Wednesday morning when the man reached down inside his car. Davinian Darnell Williams, 36, becomes the 28th person to die in domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Davinian Darnell Williams (JCSO)
According to Jacksonville Police Chief Tom Hackney, Officer Jeff Edwards pulled over Williams for "driving suspiciously in a[n]… area known for drug activity." Williams tried to evade Edwards by making sudden turns and running stop signs.

When Williams finally stopped, the chief said, he refused commands to show his hands and was moving around inside the vehicle. Officer Edwards moved from one side of the car to the other to get a better view of what Williams was doing.

"At that time, the suspect made a sudden motion, reaching down," Hackney said.

Edwards then opened fire, shooting seven times through a side window and hitting Williams with six of the shots. Williams died at the scene.

Police found 17 grams of powder cocaine in one of Williams' socks and less than a gram of crack cocaine in the other. There was no weapon on Williams or in the car.

Williams had a criminal record dating back to 1992, including possession of marijuana, sale and possession of cocaine, resisting arrest, and battery on a law enforcement officer.

Officer Edwards has been placed on administrative leave while the State's Attorney's Office investigates.

Williams' killing was the seventh shooting by Jacksonville police this year and the fourth fatal one. In 2010 and 2011, Jacksonville police shot eight people each year, and in both years, four of them died.

"These traffic stops are filled with inherent dangers," Hackney said.

Jacksonville, FL
United States

Colorado Per Se Drugged Driving Bill Dies

A bill that would make it illegal to drive with more than a certain amount of THC in one's system has died in the state legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 117, passed the Senate last Tuesday and was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday, but failed to make it to a House floor vote before the session ended Wednesday.

Under the bill, drivers found with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter in their blood are automatically presumed to be driving under the influence of drugs, even if they can show they were not impaired. That makes it a "per se" drugged driving law, where the presence of a set amount of a specified chemical is enough to win conviction.

Per se laws currently apply to drunk driving, where a blood alcohol content of 0.08% is all the evidence needed to convict someone for that offense. Per se drugged driving laws have also been passed in a number of states, but the science around the effects of marijuana on drivers is much less settled, and that's leading some to cry foul.

A similar bill nearly passed last year, winning approval in the House, but was derailed in the Senate at the last minute, at least in part thanks to Westword marijuana columnist William Breathes, who underwent drug and driving tests the day after smoking marijuana. Breathes demonstrated that his ability to drive was unimpaired, even though the THC level in his blood was three times that which would have gotten him convicted of DUID.

The bill barely made it out of the Senate this week. It appeared ready to die on a voice vote, but then bill sponsor Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) called for a roll call vote, and it passed 18-17.

The bill faced similar drama in the House Judiciary Committee, where it was also approved by a single vote. There, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), sat silently for almost an entire minute when called to cast his vote. He then voted in favor of the bill, while signaling that he didn't really support it.

"I have issues with the bill," Sonnenberg said. "The truth is I think it needs a full hearing in front of the house... I had made the commitment to make sure that hearing happens."

Foes of the bill said it is almost certain to result in people being convicted of impaired driving when they are not impaired. They also noted that, unlike alcohol, there is no practical way for people who have used marijuana to test their blood levels.

"You really can't be sure every time you step in your car if you're going to be convicted as a result of it," said Rep. Daniel Kagan, (D-Cherry Hills Village) before voting against the measure.

While the bill easily passed the House last year, opponents early this week still hoped to kill or amend it either in the Appropriations Committee or on the House floor. The Marijuana Policy Project was asking that the bill be amended to make the five nanogram limit presumptive instead of per se, so that a driver's having exceeded that limit could be used as evidence of impairment, but would not result in an automatic conviction. It was also asking for an amendment to exempt medical marijuana patients from the law.

But now, the bill is dead--for the second year in a row.

Denver, CO
United States

Connecticut Bill to Strengthen Racial Profiling Ban Passes

The Connecticut House Monday passed a bill to strengthen the state's 12-year-old racial profiling reporting, which some senators said was not being followed by police. The bill, Senate Bill 364, passed the Senate last month. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said in statement Monday he would sign it into law.

]"More than 10 years ago, as the mayor of Stamford, I was proud to stand with the men and women of the Stamford Police Department on Martin Luther King Day to announce that we did not tolerate racial profiling and would lead the efforts to ensure its elimination. As governor, I will continue to insist that every effort is taken to protect individual rights in every community and that racial profiling is eliminated," Malloy said. "This is a real problem that deserves a real solution, and my administration is committed to carrying out the spirit and letter of this law. I look forward to signing the bill when it arrives at my desk."

The original racial profiling law was pushed by then-Senator Alvin Penn, who spoke out loudly against the practice. Penn said he himself had been stopped by police for no reason except for his skin color. Penn died of pancreatic cancer in 2003.

That law required police departments to report on each traffic stop, noting the driver's race and the reason for the stop. In the first six months the law was in effect, police wrote 315,000 reports, and a 2001 study of those reports found that blacks accounted for only 8% of the state's population, but 12% of the traffic stops.

Still, the state's top prosecutor said at the time that the numbers did not suggest racial profiling.

"We did not find a pattern of racial profiling,'' said then Chief State's Attorney John M. Bailey. "Minority drivers do not appear to be treated systematically any different than non-minority drivers.''

In the decade since then, the issue has quietly festered while police departments quietly quit reporting. According to Senate Democrats, only 27 of the state's 92 police departments are complying with the law.

Last month, the head of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, Douglas Fuchs, told the Hartford Courant that most departments were complying with the law. He added that racial profiling data does not "accurately portray how Connecticut law enforcement across the state conducts business,'' although he did not explain why not.

But former state Rep. Michael Lawlor, who is now Gov. Malloy's (D) chief criminal justice advisor, disagreed. "The fact of racial profiling is very real. Almost every African-American has a story like that [of profiling], and very few white people do. It's real.''

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams (D) also disagreed, saying, "Racial profiling is a problem in Connecticut and throughout the United States… It's time to strengthen' the law."

Malloy said his administration hadn't waited for the law to pass to start working on its provisions.

"Our administration has already begun taking some of the steps required under the legislation," he said. "Last year, I instructed the Office of Policy and Management, with the help of Central Connecticut State University, to create the advisory group called for in the bill, and they have begun to develop standardized methods and guidelines to improve collection of racial profiling data."

Hartford, CT
United States

Oregon Methamphetamine Defendant Killed After Ramming Patrol Car

A convicted meth offender facing new charges was shot and killed by Oregon deputies late Saturday after he tried to escape in his pick-up truck and rammed a patrol car. Walter Phillips, 46, of Cave Junction becomes the 27th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Phillips had been convicted of methamphetamine possession in 2011 and was set to appear in court May 7 on new meth and marijuana trafficking charges. He also had an outstanding warrant for driving without a license.

According to the Josephine County Sheriff's Office, deputies attempted to pull over Phillips' truck Saturday night in Cave Junction, but he sped off when deputies turned on their lights. He then pulled off the highway and skidded to a stop before shifting into reverse and hitting the patrol car.

The two officers, Deputy Robert Baker and Reserve Deputy Mike Holguin, then opened fire "to try to stop him," the office said.

Phillips was airlifted to a hospital in Medford, where he was pronounced dead. The deputies did not require medical attention.

The sheriff's office has not released details on any evidence found in the pick-up truck or provided any motive for why Phillips fled.

His death is being investigated by the Oregon State Police, with assistance from Grants Pass Public Safety detectives, Josephine County Sheriff's Office, and the Josephine County District Attorney's Office.

Cave Junction, OR
United States

Connecticut Senate Votes to Put Teeth in Racial Profiling Law

The Connecticut Senate last Thursday passed a bill to strengthen the state's 12-year-old racial profiling reporting, which some senators said was not being followed by police. The bill, Senate Bill 364, passed on a 31-3 vote.

The original racial profiling law was pushed by then-Senator Alvin Penn, who spoke out loudly against racial profiling. Penn said he himself had been stopped by police for no reason except for his skin color. Penn died of pancreatic cancer in 2003.

That law required police departments to report on each traffic stop, noting the driver's race and the reason for the stop. In the first six months the law was in effect, police wrote 315,000 reports, and a 2001 study of those reports found that blacks accounted for only 8% of the state's population, but 12% of the traffic stops.

Still, the state's top prosecutor said at the time that the numbers did not suggest racial profiling.

"We did not find a pattern of racial profiling,'' said then Chief State's Attorney John M. Bailey. "Minority drivers do not appear to be treated systematically any different than non-minority drivers.''

In the decade since then, the issue has quietly festered while police departments quietly quit reporting. According to Senate Democrats, only 27 of the state's 92 police departments are complying with the law.

Last week, the head of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, Douglas Fuchs, told the Hartford Courant that most departments were complying with the law. He added that racial profiling data does not "accurately portray how Connecticut law enforcement across the state conducts business,'' although he did not explain why not.

But former state Rep. Michael Lawlor, who is now Gov. Dan Malloy's (D) chief criminal justice advisor, disagreed. "The fact of racial profiling is very real. Almost every African-American has a story like that [of profiling], and very few white people do. It's real.''

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams (D) also disagreed, saying, "Racial profiling is a problem in Connecticut and throughout the United States… It's time to strengthen'' the law.

The vast majority of his colleagues agreed with Williams, with only three Republicans voting against the measure. The new bill beefs up the law by requiring a standardized form from all departments, requiring reports to go to the governor's office instead of the African American Affairs Commission, and creating an advisory board to oversee compliance with the law.

The bill has now been placed on the House calendar.

Hartford, CT
United States

Obama's 2012 Drug Strategy: The Same Old Same Old [FEATURE]

The Obama administration released its 2012 National Drug Control Strategy and accompanying 2013 drug budget Tuesday, and while the administration touted it as a "drug policy for the 21st Century," it is very much of a piece with anti-drug policies going back to the days of Richard Nixon.

Drug war spending continues to exceed treatment and prevention spending (ONDCP)
"We will continue to pursue a balanced approach… in a national effort to improve public health and safety," wrote Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) head Gil Kerlikowske in the introduction to the strategy. "We will work to prevent illicit drug use and addiction before their onset and bring more Americans in need of treatment into contact with the appropriate level of care. We will continue to build on the administration’s progress in reforming the justice system, ensuring that laws are applied fairly and effectively -- protecting public safety while also ensuring that drug-involved offenders have the opportunity to end their drug use and rebuild their lives."

But that's only one half of the administration's approach. The other half, as Kerlikowske makes clear, it continued adherence to classic war on drugs strategies.

"We will continue to counter drug produc­tion and trafficking within the United States and will implement new strategies to secure our borders against illicit drug flows," the drug czar wrote. "And we will work with international partners to reduce drug production and trafficking and strengthen rule of law, democratic institutions, citizen security, and respect for human rights around the world."

The federal government will spend more than $25 billion on drug control under the proposed budget, nearly half a billion dollars more than this year. And despite the administration's talk about emphasizing prevention and treatment over war on drugs spending, it retains the same roughly 60:40 ratio of law enforcement and interdiction spending over treatment and prevention training that has obtained in federal drug budgets going back years. In fact, the 58.8% of the proposed budget that would go to drug war programs is exactly the same percentage as George Bush's 2008 budget and even higher than the 56.8% in Bush's 2005 budget.

ONDCP director Gil Kerlikowske
In the 2013 drug budget, treatment and early intervention programs would be funded at $9.2 billion, an increase of more than $400 billion over this year, but most of that increase is for treatment covered under the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Grant programs under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), including Access to Recovery, early screening and referral, and drug courts are all reduced under the 2013 budget, although drug courts would see an increase in funding under the Department of Justice's Problem Solving Justice Program.

One area where treatment funding is unequivocally increased is among the prison population. Federal Bureau of Prisons treatment spending would jump to $109 million, up 17% over this year, while the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program for state prisoners would be funded at $21 million, up nearly 50% over this year.

The drug strategy's rhetorical emphasis on prevention is not reflected in the 2013 budget, which calls for a 1% decrease in funding. SAMHSA prevention grants and Drug Free Communities funding would decrease slightly, while the administration seeks $20 million to restart the much maligned and congressionally zeroed-out Youth Drug Prevention Media Campaign.

On the drug war side of the ledger, domestic anti-drug law enforcement spending would increase by more than $61 million to $9.4 billion, with the DEA's Diversion Control Program (prescription drugs) and paying for federal drug war prisoners showing the biggest increases. The administration anticipates shelling out more than $4.5 billion to imprison drug offenders.

But domestic law enforcement is only part of the drug war picture. The budget also allocates $3.7 billion for interdiction, a 2.5% increase over the 2012 budget, and another $2 billion for international anti-drug program, including assistance to the governments of Central America, Colombia, Mexico, and Afghanistan.

Critics of the continued reliance on prohibition and repression were quick to attack the new drug strategy and budget as just more of the same.

"The president sure does talk a good game about treating drugs as a health issue but so far it's just that: talk," said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a former narcotics officer in Baltimore. "Instead of continuing to fund the same old 'drug war' approaches that are proven not to work, the president needs to put his money where his mouth is."

"This budget is appalling. The drug czar is trying to resurrect those stupid TV ads, like the one where a teenager gets his fist stuck in his mouth," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "The budget intentionally undercounts the federal government's expenditures on incarcerating drug offenders, who comprise more than half of the federal prison population. And the budget dangerously proposes a massive escalation in using the military to fight drugs domestically. Congress should just ignore this budget and start from scratch. Specifically, Congress should not provide the Obama administration with any money to go after nonviolent marijuana users, growers, or distributors."

In the 2013 drug strategy, the administration is highlighting a renewed emphasis on drugged driving and is encouraging states to pass "zero tolerance" drugged driving laws. It is also emphasizing attacking the massive increase in non-prescription use of opioid pain pills.

While the strategy calls for lesser reliance on imprisonment for drug offenders, it also calls for increased "community corrections" surveillance of them, including calling for expanded drug testing with "swift and certain" sanctions for positive tests. But drug testing isn't just for parolees and probationers; the drug strategy calls for expanded drug testing in the workplace, as well.

The drug strategy acknowledges the calls for recognition of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, but only to dismiss them.

"While the Administration supports ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine, to date, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine has found the marijuana plant itself to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition," the strategy said. "The Administration also recognizes that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use."

For Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, the 2012 drug strategy was all too familiar.

"This strategy is nearly identical to previous national drug strategies," he said. "While the rhetoric is new -- reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure -- the substance of the actual policies is the same. In reality, the administration is prioritizing low-level drug arrests, trampling on state medical marijuana laws, and expanding supply-side interdiction approaches -- while not doing enough to actually reduce the harms of drug addiction and misuse, such as the escalating overdose epidemic."

The release of the drug budget comes just days after President Obama returned from the Summit of the Americas meeting, where he was pressed to open up a debate on legalizing and regulating drugs by sitting Latin American presidents like Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala. And it comes as marijuana legalization is at the cusp of majority support and trending upward.

It is past time to keep making minor adjustments -- a slight funding increase here, a decrease there, a shift of emphasis over there -- in what is fundamentally a flawed and failed policy, said LEAP's Franklin.

"The chorus of voices calling for a real debate on ending prohibition is growing louder all the time," said Franklin. "President Obama keeps saying he is open to a discussion but he never seems willing to actually have that discussion. The time for real change is now. This prohibition strategy hasn't worked in the past and it cannot work in the future. Latin American leaders know it, and President Obama must know it. Let's stop the charade and begin to bring drugs under control through legalization."

Washington, DC
United States

Obama Releases 2012 National Drug Control Strategy

The Obama administration released its 2012 National Drug Control Strategy and accompanying 2013 drug budget Tuesday, but while the administration touted it as a "drug policy for the 21st Century," it is very much of a piece with anti-drug policies going back to the days of Richard Nixon.

The federal government will spend more than $25 billion on drug law enforcement under the proposed budget, and despite the administration's talk about emphasizing prevention and treatment over war on drugs spending, it retains the same roughly 60:40 ratio of law enforcement and interdiction spending over treatment and prevention training that has obtained in federal drug budgets going back years.

The administration is high-lighting a renewed emphasis on drugged driving and is encouraging states to pass "zero tolerance" drugged driving laws. It is also emphasizing the massive increase in non-prescription use of opioid pain pills.

While the strategy calls for lesser reliance on imprisonment for drug offenders, it also calls for increased "community corrections" surveillance of them, including calling for expanded drug testing with "swift and certain" sanctions for positive tests. But drug testing isn't just for parolees and probationers; the drug strategy calls for expanded drug testing in the workplace, as well.

The drug strategy acknowledges the calls for recognition of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, but only to dismiss them.

"While the Administration supports ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine, to date, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine has found the marijuana plant itself to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition," the strategy said. "The Administration also recognizes that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use."

This year's drug strategy looks like last year's drug strategy, which looked like Bush administration drug strategies, which looked like Clinton administration drug strategies. When it comes to the federal drug war, it's more of the same old same old.

Look for an expanded version of this news brief Thursday afternoon, with deeper analysis and commentary from drug war observers.

Washington, DC
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, 2015 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