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Medical Marijuana Now Legal in DC

Medical marijuana is now legal in Washington, DC, nearly 12 years after District residents voted overwhelmingly to approve it. The DC Council in May approved legislation allowing the city to permit up to eight dispensaries, but under Home Rule laws, Congress had 30 working days in which it could overrule the District. It declined to do so.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/uscapitol.jpg
US Capitol
For more than a decade, the voters' decision was blocked by the Barr Amendment, authored by then Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), which blocked the District from spending any money to implement a medical marijuana program. But after Democrats took control of both Congress and the White House in the 2008 elections, the Barr Amendment was successfully stripped from the DC appropriations bill.

"We have faced repeated attempts to re-impose the prohibition on medical marijuana in DC throughout the layover period," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. "Yet, it is DC's business alone to decide how to help patients who live in our city and suffer from chronic pain and incurable illnesses."

"After thwarting the will of District voters for more than a decade, Congress is no longer standing in the way of effective relief for DC residents who struggle with chronic ailments," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "This moment is a long overdue victory for both DC home rule and the well-being of District residents whose doctors believe medical marijuana can help ease their pain."

"DC Councilmembers and members of Congress should be commended for providing relief to cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients who need medical marijuana," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Now we need to make sure that everyone who needs the medicine gets it and that federal law enforcement doesn't undermine the process. Providing marijuana to sick patients in DC is a major step forward, but this law has some faults that will have to be fixed over time," said Piper. "By not allowing patients to grow their own medicine, the DC law leaves patients at the mercy of medical marijuana dispensaries and the US Justice Department -- who could shut down those dispensaries."

The bill allows people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic, debilitating ailments to use and possess marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Patients can possess up to four ounces, but cannot grow their own, making the DC law one of the most restrictive in the country. Instead, patients will have to buy their medicine from licensed dispensaries, which either grown their own (up to 95 plants) or procure it from a licensed cultivator.

But don't expect the system to fall into place tomorrow. It is likely to be several months before the first dispensary or cultivation operation opens its doors. Mayor Adrian Fenty and the city Department of Health must now promulgate regulations for the bidding process for a dispensary or cultivation license, and once the process is completed and the permits issued, potential dispensaries will still have to undergo a zoning process in which residents could protest their locations.

Still, while it's been an awfully long time coming, the city is one step closer to actually having an operational medical marijuana program.

Washington, DC
United States

Congress Reduces Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

More big drug policy news from Congress in this last week before the recess: The House has at long last passed legislation, already adopted by the Senate, which will reduce crack cocaine sentences by reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. S 1789 will also repeal the much-condemned five-year mandatory sentence for simple possession of crack.  It heads now to the president's desk -- AP story here.

While the bill does not do nearly everything reformers would like, it is more than a good start. To put the issue in perspective, groups had already been organizing on this issue for a number of years before I got involved in the movement in 1993. It's amazing how much time it takes to get even the most clear cases of racism and injustice addressed (the racism in this case coming in how the law was implemented, rather than the text of it.)

With medical marijuana cleared now in DC, and the Webb criminal justice commission bill moving forward by passing the House (unanimous consent!), it has been a big week for drug policy reform, and a good one, here in Washington.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Webb Criminal Justice Commission Passes House by Unanimous Consent

Big news from Washington today -- Senator Jim Webb's has just passed the US House of Representatives, by unanimous consent -- an important milestone that brings this important reevaluation of our dysfunctional policies in this area pretty darn close to being a reality.

Some of Sen. Webb's concerns that motivated the legislation -- shared no doubt by Rep. Bill Delahunt and his colleagues who championed the bill in the House -- from Webb's web page about the bill linked above:

  • With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses 25% of the world's reported prisoners.
  • Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.
  • Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.
  • Approximately 1 million gang members reside in the U.S., many of them foreign-based; and Mexican cartels operate in 230+ communities across the country.
  • Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

Needless to say, my colleagues and I are psyched. Look for more details about the legislation and its prospects for the remaining stages in the legislative process in the Chronicle tomorrow or Thursday.

Update: In related news, the New York Times and the Washington Post this week and last called on Congress to address the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

Call Congress Today to Tell Them to Vote YES for Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform

Please Support S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

Call Your Representative Today

 

Dear Colleagues,

 

Early next week, the House of Representatives may vote on legislation, recently passed unanimously by the Senate, to reduce the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to 18-to-1. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789, also would eliminate the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine (5 years for 5 grams without intent to distribute). The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates the changes could reduce the average crack cocaine sentence by nearly 30 months and reduce the federal prison population by 3,800 over 10 years.

NACDL has been working hard with a diverse group of allies to pass this legislation, but we need your help now. Please call your representative today to ask them to vote yes for the Fair Sentencing Act.   If you have never called your Member of Congress before, it's quick and easy. Now is the time to make your voice heard.

Please Take Action by clicking the link and/or entering your zip code to contact your U.S. House of Representatives. Suggested talking points are provided once you follow the instructions and links.

 

Thank you for taking a few moments to help pass this long overdue, historic legislation.

 

Kyle O'Dowd

Associate Executive Director for Policy 

Capitol Hill Hearing -- Quitting Hard Habits: Efforts to Expand and Improve Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug-Involved Offenders

The Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House of Representative's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding this hearing to focus on front-end alternatives to incarceration for drug-involved offenders and abusers of illegal drugs. It will examine the extent to which and why (or why not) these efforts have been effective in reducing the levels and associated harms of incarceration, reducing recidivism, effectively treating drug abuse, and improving other social outcomes and which approaches (or mix approaches) are best suited to accomplishing these goals. This hearing is held as part of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee’s mandate as the authorizing committee for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the House of Representatives.
Date: 
Thu, 07/22/2010 - 2:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: 
Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street
Washington, DC 20003
United States

Press Release: Hearing to Assess Alternatives to Incarceration For Drug-Involved Offenders

For Immediate Release Contact: Nathan White, (202) 225-5871 Oversight Hearing to Assess Alternatives to Incarceration For Drug-Involved Offenders Washington D.C. – Chairman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today announced a Domestic Policy Subcommittee hearing entitled “Quitting Hard Habits: Efforts to Expand and Improve Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug-Involved Offenders.” The hearing will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 22, 2010 in room 2154 Rayburn House Office Building. The purpose of the hearing is to focus on front-end alternatives to incarceration for drug-involved offenders and abusers of illegal drugs. It will examine the extent to which and why (or why not) these efforts have been effective in reducing the levels and associated harms of incarceration, reducing recidivism, effectively treating drug abuse, and improving other social outcomes and which approaches (or mix approaches) are best suited to accomplishing these goals. This hearing is held as part of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee’s mandate as the authorizing committee for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the House of Representatives. http://oversight.house.gov/index.php?option=com_jcalpro&Itemid=1&extmode... ###
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Plan Colombia: Ten Years Later

The United States has been trying to suppress Colombian coca production and cocaine trafficking since at least the time of Ronald Reagan, but the contemporary phase of US intervention in Colombia in the name of the war on drugs celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. As Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) security analyst Adam Isaacson pointed out Wednesday in a cogent essay, "Colombia: Don't Call It A Model," it was on July 13, 2000, that President Bill Clinton signed into law a $1.3 billion package of mainly military assistance known as Plan Colombia.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/eradication.jpg
Plan Colombia coca eradication scene
Plan Colombia was supposed to cut Colombian cocaine production in half by mid-decade, and while total US expenditures on it have now risen to $7.3 billion, that goal was clearly not met. But, a decade down the road, there has been some "progress." The leftist peasant guerrillas of the FARC have been seriously weakened and are operating at half the strength they were 10 years ago. Violence has steadily decreased, as has criminality. The Colombian state has been strengthened -- especially its military, which has nearly doubled in size.

Still, as Isaacson notes, those gains have come at a tremendous cost. Thousands have been killed at the hands of rightist paramilitary groups aligned with powerful landowners and political elites, and while those paramilitaries officially disbanded several years ago, they appear to be reconstituting themselves. The seemingly endless "parapolitics" scandals linking the paramilitaries to high government actors demonstrate that the price of "progress" in Colombia has been corruption, impunity and human rights abuses.

And the war continues, albeit at a lower level. Some 21,000 fighters from all sides and an estimated 14,000 civilians died in the fighting this decade, and all the while, peasants were planting and harvesting coca crops, and traffickers were turning it into cocaine and exporting it to the insatiable North American and, increasingly, European markets.

While Colombian and US policy-makers have hailed Plan Colombia as a "success," neither Isaacson nor other analysts who spoke to the Chronicle this week were willing to make such unvarnished claims. "'Success' has come at a high cost," wrote Isaacson. "Colombia's security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by 'collateral damage,'" including mass killings, other human rights abuses, and the weakening of democratic institutions."

"Success has eluded efforts to achieve Plan Colombia's main goal: reducing Colombian cocaine supplies," wrote Isaacson. Despite years of aerial eradication, coca remains stubbornly entrenched in the Colombian countryside, showing a significant decline only last year, after Colombia switched its eradication emphasis from spraying to manual eradication. "This strategic shift appears to be reducing coca cultivation, for now at least. In 2009 -- a year in which both aerial and manual eradication dropped sharply -- the UNODC found a significant drop in Colombian coca-growing, to 68,000 hectares."

But, as Isaacson and others note, that decline has been offset by increases in cultivation in Peru and Bolivia. In fact, total coca cultivation in the region has remained remarkably consistent since 2003, at about 150,000 hectares per year.

"If you look at it from point of aiding the Colombian government to fight against the FARC and other insurgents, it has worked," said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin American analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. "A decade ago, Colombia was close to being a failed state, with the FARC controlling large swathes of territory and threatening major cities. Today they are terribly weak and on the run, and much of their leadership has been killed," he noted.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/coca-seedlings.jpg
coca seedlings
"Due to the widespread use of helicopters and the fact that guerrillas don't have that kind of mobility, the Colombians and Americans have been successful in shrinking the area of operation available to the guerrillas, and that has hurt the guerrillas' ability to recruit," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "A few years ago, there were maybe 16,000 FARC operating in six or seven major theaters, and now it's about half that. But that doesn't necessarily mean the FARC is finished; we haven't seen any sign of that. Their options are fewer, but they are far from disappeared. Plan Colombia has been successful in empowering the Colombian military, but not so much in solving the problem of the FARC insurrection."

"On the military side, the counterinsurgency, there has been definite progress," agreed Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drugs and counterinsurgency expert at the Brookings Institution. "The situation in the late 1990s was very bad. The FARC was in the hills above Bogotá, and the paramilitaries were highly organized. Today, the FARC is much weaker, land travel is more possible, and other security indicators also show progress. That said, the FARC is still around in substantial numbers and can jeopardize security and economic development in particular areas. And the paramilitaries are back, even if the Colombian government insists they are not the paramilitaries. They are, for all intents and purposes, just like the paramilitaries of the 1980s and 1990s."

"The idea was that if they suppressed the coca, the capabilities of the FARC, the ELN, and the paramilitaries would be substantially weakened," said Felbab-Brown. "They said that if you eliminated coca in Colombia, the conflict would end, but I don't think you can bankrupt the belligerents through eradication. That didn't pan out. In some places, the government was able to diminish at least temporarily economic flows to particular elements of the FARC, but that was the result of military operations, not eradication," she argued.

"A lot of people say the FARC have lost their political agenda, that they are just traffickers, but I don't subscribe to that view," said Felbab-Brown. "If someone wants to conduct a rebellion, they have to have a way to finance it. I don't think the FARC is any different. One of the big accomplishments of the US and the Colombian military was taking out a lot of top FARC leaders," she continued. "Their current leaders have been out in the jungle so long, they suffer from a lack of intellectual imagination. But the FARC are peasant guerrillas, with a few intellectuals and students, and they were never strong ideologically. There is no equivalent of Comrade Gonzalo [of Peru's Shining Path] or Mullah Omar or Bin Laden for the FARC. And I think they've run out of ideas. Times have changed, and the ideological story they want to tell the world and their members is crumbling, but it's not the case they are just interested in money. They still want power, they still believe in narratives of war and conquest, but they don't have anything to frame it with anymore."

"They are about more than just criminality," agreed Isaacson. "They're raising drug money to buy guns and those guns are for something. While their ideology may be pretty stunted at this point, they are driven by a desire to take power -- unlike, say, the Sinaloa cartel, which is driven by a desire to sell drugs. They hate Colombia's political class, and they represent that small percentage of peasants on the fringe. Those boomtowns on the frontier, that's where the FARC's base is. Wherever there is no government and people are on their own, the FARC claims to protect them. They are not bandits -- they are more dangerous than bandits."

The paramilitaries continue to wreak havoc, too, said Felbab-Brown. "They assassinate community leaders and human rights organizers," she said. "In some areas, they collude with the FARC; in others, they fight the FARC over cocaine routes and access to coca production. They are still a real menace, and it is very discouraging that they have come back so quickly. That shows the failure of the Colombian government to address the real underlying causes of the problems."

That has been a serious flaw from the beginning, the Brookings Institution analyst said. "At first Plan Colombia was aimed at root causes of conflict and coca production, but that was dropped, and in the Bush administration it morphed into a counternarcotics and counterinsurgency project. Economic development was a minor component of the plan, and the US never tried to pressure Uribe to take on economic redistribution and the distribution of political power, nor has the US been very vocal about human rights and civil liberties issues."

"When Plan Colombia was first conceived, it was primarily a domestic program aimed at drawing in the Colombian population, which at that time had become totally disaffected from the state," recalled Birns. "It was to emphasize economic development, nutrition, and education. It was the Clinton administration that militarized Plan Colombia and made it into a security doctrine rather than an economic development formula."

That only deepened in the wake of 9/11, said Birns. "Increasingly, Plan Colombia morphed first into a counternarcotics program than again into an anti-terrorist vehicle. The US began to define the FARC, which never had any international aspect, as terrorists. It was a convenience for the US policy of intervention to emphasize the terrorism aspect."

But at root, Plan Colombia was first and foremost about reducing Colombian coca and cocaine production. "It wasn't sold here in the US as a counterinsurgency effort, but as an effort to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market," Cato's Hidalgo pointed out. "If you look at the acreage of coca planted in Colombia, it has decreased, but the production of coca remains the same, and coca production is increasingly dramatically in Peru and Bolivia. Once again, we see the balloon effect at work."

"As the reduction took place in Colombia, it simply moved back to Peru, whence it originally came," concurred COHA's Birns. "Peruvian cocaine production is now half the regional total, so total cocaine production remains essentially the same, even though there has been a reduction in the role Colombia plays."

"One of the best measures to see if the supply of cocaine has decreased is to look at price, but what that tells us is that cocaine was 23% cheaper in 2007 than it was in 1998 when Plan Colombia was launched," said Hidalgo. "It is clear that Plan Colombia has failed in its main goal, which was to reduce the supply of cocaine to the US market."

"We've tried everything," said Hidalgo. "Aggressive aerial spraying of fields, manual eradication, as well as softer measures to entice producers to adopt other crops, and it's all failed. As long as the price of cocaine remains inflated by prohibition, there is big profit and a big incentive for producers and traffickers to grow the plant and export the product to the US and elsewhere. The only way to curtail this is by legalizing cocaine. Other than that, I don't see this as a battle that can be won."

Felbab-Brown called the coca and cocaine production estimates "extraordinarily squishy," but added it was clear that Plan Colombia had failed to achieve its goals there. "The plan was supposed to halve production in six years, and that clearly was not accomplished," she said. "It would be false to deny there has been some progress, but it has not been sufficient. I think it was bound not to work because it was so heavily focused on eradication in the context of violence and underemphasized the need for economic programs to address why people cultivate coca. And the larger reality is even if you succeeded in Colombia, production would have moved elsewhere."

Counternarcotics cannot solve Colombia's problems, said Felbab-Brown, because coca is not at the root of those problems. "There is only so much that counternarcotics programs can do given the basic economic and political situation in Colombia," said Felbab-Brown. "You have a set-up where labor is heavily taxed and capital and land are lightly taxed, so even when you get economic growth, it doesn't generate jobs, it only concentrates money in the hands of the rich. The Colombian government has been unwilling to address these issues, and inequality continues to grow. You can only do so much if you can't generate legal jobs. You have to take on entrenched elites, the bases of political power in Colombia, and Uribe's people are not interested in doing that."

But Uribe will be gone next month, replaced by his elected successor, Juan Manuel Santos. That could mean change, said Isaacson. "He's not as ideologically to the right as Uribe, some of his appointments indicate people who actually have an interest in governance, and he is the principle author of the program they're carrying out in the countryside to get the state and not just the military out there," he said. "He could also be more open to the idea of peace negotiations than Uribe was."

That may or may not be the case, but Plan Colombia under whatever president is not going to solve Colombia's drug problem -- nor America's, said Isaacson. "At home, we need to reduce demand through treatment and other options," he said. "In Colombia, as long as you have parts of the country ungoverned and as long as members of the government have nothing to fear if they abuse the population, there will always be drugs. Colombia needs to build the state and do it without impunity. We built up the Colombian military, but there was no money for teachers, doctors, or any public good besides security."

Today is Juvenile Justice National Call-in Day

Announcement

Sentencing Project
 

Today's the Day!

Tell Your Congressional Representatives to Make Juvenile Justice a Priority This Year


For too long, "tough on crime" political rhetoric has resulted in juvenile justice policies that are bad for youth and don't keep the public safe. More effective ways to deal with juvenile offenders exist, and now is the time for Congress to take action, but we need your help.

Right now please let Congress know that voters care about juvenile justice reforms.

Three major juvenile justice initiatives remained stalled in the Congress:

·         Reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which is currently three years overdue for reauthorization. The JJDPA, first enacted in 1974, promotes the use of effective community-based alternatives to detention, keeps youth out of adult facilities, reduces the disproportionate involvement of youth of color in the system, and promotes other research-driven best practices in the juvenile justice system. Call on Congress to reauthorize the JJDPA bill, S. 678.

·         Increasing appropriations for juvenile justice programs, which were the only category of children's programs that received a significant decrease in funding in the President's proposed budget. In order for the States to make positive changes, they must receive the federal support they need to prevent youth crime and rehabilitate juvenile offenders. States have experienced a steady decline in funding for juvenile justice programs since 2002. Ask Congress to preserve and increase juvenile justice appropriations for the coming fiscal year.

·         Passing the Youth PROMISE Act to promote cost-effective prevention-based strategies to reduce youth crime. Among many improvements to juvenile justice, this legislation allows representatives from the communities facing the greatest juvenile crime challenges to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent youth crime through a coordinated prevention and intervention response. 

Action item:  Today, contact your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. House Representative and urge them to make juvenile justice a priority in the 111th Congress by:

•    Reauthorizing the JJDPA;
•    Increasing juvenile justice appropriations; and
•    Passing the Youth PROMISE Act.

Click here to contact your Congressional Representative and Senators today. After entering your zip code, you will be provided with the phone numbers for your representatives, along with suggested talking points and a feedback form to report on the response you received.

Thank you for your help.

 

The Sentencing Project is located at 1705 DeSales Street, NW 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036.  Send an email to The Sentencing Project.

The Sentencing Project is a national, non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.

Reminder: Wednesday is Juvenile Justice National Call-in Day

Announcement

Sentencing Project
 

Reminder: Wednesday July 7, 2010

Tell Your Congressional Representatives to Make Juvenile Justice a Priority This Year


For too long, "tough on crime" political rhetoric has resulted in juvenile justice policies that are bad for youth and don't keep the public safe. More effective ways to deal with juvenile offenders exist, and now is the time for Congress to take action, but we need your help.

Time is running out!  On July 7, please let Congress know that voters care about juvenile justice reforms.

Three major juvenile justice initiatives remained stalled in the Congress:

·         Reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which is currently three years overdue for reauthorization. The JJDPA, first enacted in 1974, promotes the use of effective community-based alternatives to detention, keeps youth out of adult facilities, reduces the disproportionate involvement of youth of color in the system, and promotes other research-driven best practices in the juvenile justice system. Call on Congress to reauthorize the JJDPA bill, S. 678.

·         Increasing appropriations for juvenile justice programs, which were the only category of children's programs that received a significant decrease in funding in the President's proposed budget. In order for the States to make positive changes, they must receive the federal support they need to prevent youth crime and rehabilitate juvenile offenders. States have experienced a steady decline in funding for juvenile justice programs since 2002. Ask Congress to preserve and increase juvenile justice appropriations for the coming fiscal year.

·         Passing the Youth PROMISE Act to promote cost-effective prevention-based strategies to reduce youth crime. Among many improvements to juvenile justice, this legislation allows representatives from the communities facing the greatest juvenile crime challenges to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent youth crime through a coordinated prevention and intervention response. 

Action item:  On July 7th, contact your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. House Representative and urge them to make juvenile justice a priority in the 111th Congress by:

•    Reauthorizing the JJDPA;
•    Increasing juvenile justice appropriations; and
•    Passing the Youth PROMISE Act.

Click here to contact your Congressional Representative and Senators on Wednesday. After entering your zip code, you will be provided with the phone numbers for your representatives, along with suggested talking points and a feedback form to report on the response you received.

Thank you for your help.

 

The Sentencing Project is located at 1705 DeSales Street, NW 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036.  Send an email to The Sentencing Project.

The Sentencing Project is a national, non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.

Help Us Stop Drug Testing!

SSDP Action Alert

Please make a contribution and help SSDP stop drug testing.
Act now!

Dear friends,

Please see the video below for an update about a terrible drug testing amendment in Congress ... and find out how you can help us stop it!

Will you help us continue our important work in Washington by making a one time donation today or becoming a monthly donor to SSDP?

Soon, SSDP will finalizing our strategy for the year at our annual retreat. I'm excited about all of the possibilities and to tell you about our plans.  Stay tuned...

Sincerely,

Aaron Houston

Executive Director

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

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