Federal Government

RSS Feed for this category

Marijuana: Yesterday Marked 70 Years of Federal Pot Prohibition

It was 70 years ago yesterday that Congress passed the first federal law outlawing marijuana. The law, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, effectively banned the weed by establishing onerous taxes on buyers, sellers, producers, and prescribers and creating draconian penalties for noncompliance.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/devilsharvest.jpg
1930's ''Reefer Madness''-style film poster
The subsequent seven-decades of marijuana prohibition have seen a vast increase in the drug's popularity and acceptance, even as it remains a lightning rod for conservative culture warriors determined to smite the hippies. Around 100 million or more adult Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, and some 16 to 20 million are regular consumers today.

According to researcher Jon Gettman, marijuana is now the nation's largest cash crop, accounting for more agricultural income than wheat, corn, and soybeans combined. It is also grist for the law enforcement mill, with some 800,000 marijuana arrests in 2005, nearly 90% of them for simple possession.

While about a dozen states have decriminalized marijuana possession, only one of them, Nevada, has done so in recent years. The others came in a wave of reform in the 1970s. Similarly, a dozen states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, but those measures are ignored by federal drug enforcers.

"It's hard to think of a more spectacularly bad, long-term policy failure than our government's 70-year war on marijuana users," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Since the federal government banned marijuana in 1937, it's gone from being an obscure plant that few Americans had even heard of to the number-one cash crop in the United States. It's time to steer a new course and regulate marijuana like we do alcohol."

This week, we commemorate the beginning of federal marijuana prohibition. We would much rather be writing its obituary.

For a good laugh -- or cry -- read Prof. Charles Whitebread's recounting of the history of the marijuana laws, describing the incredibly shoddy way the debate on the issue was handled.

Law Enforcement: FBI Lowers Bar on Past Marijuana Use by Would-Be Agents

In the midst of a campaign to hire hundreds of new agents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has loosened its policies on past drug use by potential applicants. The old policy, in effect since 1994, disqualified applicants who had smoked marijuana more than 15 times or ever used any illegal drug.

Under the new policy, unannounced but in effect since January, applicants who have not used marijuana for the past three years or for more than just "experimentation" will not be barred. Applicants who have not used any other illegal drug for at least 10 years will not be disqualified, either.

FBI Deputy Director Jeff Berkin told USA Today that the previous system had become "arbitrary" and it was difficult for applicants to pass polygraph tests about drug use because they could not remember how many times they had smoked pot.

"It encourages honesty and allows us to look at the whole person," Berkin said as his agency sought to increase the number of applicants for the 221 agent positions and 121 intelligence analyst positions it has open.

The FBI is only the latest law enforcement agency to amend its policies on past marijuana use. Increasing numbers of departments are reporting problems with applicants being excluded over past pot-smoking, and increasingly, departments are loosening their standards. Even the drug czar's office understands.

"Increasingly, the goal for the screening of security clearance applicants is whether you are a current drug user, rather than whether you used in the past," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "It's not whether you have smoked pot four times or 16 times 20 years ago. It's about whether you smoked last week and lied about it."

D.C. Drug Policy Softball Team Ranked #1

Just when you thought reformers couldn’t play ball on Capitol Hill:

WASHINGTON, DC – The One Hitters, a softball team sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, took over the #1 ranking in the Congressional Softball League last night. The team’s 13-3 record has vaulted them to the top of the league, which is made up of Congressional offices, lobbying and consulting firms, non-profit organizations, and local businesses. [Dare Generation Diary]

With players from SSDP, MPP, NORML, and of course StopTheDrugWar.org, the One Hitters represent the athletic side of the drug policy reform movement. Opponents who arrive expecting clumsy Cheech & Chong antics get slaughtered and humiliated. It's been a while since the One Hitters surprised anyone, however, since they are now well known throughout the Congressional League for raising hell on the field.

The One Hitters garnered national media coverage two years ago when the Office of National Drug Control Policy started a team and promptly refused a face off. ONDCP's Tom Riley was not at his best attempting to explain why ONDCP was unwilling to challenge the "stoner" softball team:

"I wouldn't think we would play any team that promotes drug use," Riley said, adding, "that includes teams that promote smoking meth or smoking crack." [MAPinc]

A more likely explanation is that ONDCP heard rumors of a severe and inevitable beating if such a game were to take place, and now that the One Hitters have risen to the top of the league, it seems they made the right call. It's too bad though. A picture of sheepish ONDCP staffers sulking off the field would be worth a thousand blog posts.

Location: 
United States

Why Don't More Republicans Oppose the DEA's Medical Marijuana Raids?

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Town Hall (DC)
URL: 
http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/JacobSullum/2007/08/01/why_dont_more_republicans_oppose_the_deas_medical_marijuana_raids

Opposition to Medical Marijuana is a Conspiracy to Prevent Broader Legalization

An important fact to understand about the medical marijuana debate is that the federal government knows perfectly well that marijuana is an effective medicine:

*They've been providing it for decades to a select group of seriously ill patients, and continue to do so.
*They've approved a synthetic drug with the same active ingredient (THC).
*They commissioned a huge study in 1999, which explicitly said it works.
*They've been blocking research, which makes no sense if they think the results will favor them.

So the debate over medical marijuana isn't even about whether it has medical properties. It is about something else entirely, stated perfectly by ONDCP's Tom Riley just the other day:
"…a lot of the people who are behind this aren't really interested in sick people who need medicine, they're interested in marijuana legalization and they're playing on the suffering of genuinely sick people to get it." [Reuters]
As silly as it is, this argument explains everything there is to know about why the government actually opposes medical marijuana. Though countless mainstream medical, legal,  and religious organizations support medical marijuana, the federal government remains fixated on drug policy reformers and our role in defending the rights of patients.

The simple truth is that they are afraid that medical marijuana could lead to full-blown legalization of marijuana for recreational use. And it's not an irrational concern. If you're struggling to prevent accurate information about marijuana's effects from reaching the scientific community and the public, the last thing you want is a huge user population that can speak openly about their experiences with the drug.

Ironically, it is ONDCP's obsession with legalization that has turned medical marijuana into a great controversy, not ours. Similarly, it is ONDCP that exploits patients for political purposes, not us. Opposition to medical marijuana is not championed by doctors or scientists. It is funded and carried out by political operatives who want to keep marijuana illegal for everyone. That's the real medical marijuana conspiracy.

Location: 
United States

Important Exchange Re: Clinton & Obama on Needle Exchange

Ben Smith's blog on The Politico web site today discussed an important exchange of comments between Hillary Clinton and Charles King, the executive director of Housing Works, at a private appearance earlier this month, as well as comments by Barack Obama at a different meeting in the same series. King had asked Clinton if she would lift the ban on use of federal AIDS funds to support needle exchange programs, an issue that previously came to a boil in 1998 during her husband's second term. (Some activists believe that Bill Clinton would have lifted the ban if Donna Shalala rather than Barry McCaffrey had boarded a certain Air Force One flight.) According to Smith:
Clinton responded to King's question, after some prodding, by saying, "I want to look at the evidence on it" to see whether needle exchange would prevent the spread of HIV without increasing drug abuse. Shalala, King responded, had "certified" the safety and effectiveness of the programs. "And then she refused to order it, as you remember," Clinton said. King replied that that had been her husband's decision. "Well, because we knew we couldn't maintain it politically," Clinton said, and went on to discuss the trade-offs in that dispute with Congress. "I wish life and politics were easier," she said. King then referred back to Clinton's opening remarks. "You made a great comment earlier about how our next president needs to have some spine," he said. "We’ll have as much spine as we possibly can, under the circumstances," Clinton responded.

Obama, by contrast, had responded that he supports lifting the ban. Click here to read Smith's full post, which includes the video footage. A little background: Housing Works has for years been a stalwart in the harm reduction movement. (Harm reduction is the idea that people who use drugs should be helped in reducing the harm they do, to themselves or others, whether they are about to stop using drugs or not.) The organization is very well known in New York City, which successfully beat back a late 1990s attempt by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani to bankrupt them. In 2000, activists from Housing Works stormed the Ashcroft confirmation hearings to denounce his record on needle exchange. King's co-founder and co-executive director of Housing Works for years, the late Keith Cylar, was a member of DRCNet's board of directors (and a friend).

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Location: 
New York, NY
United States

Republican and Democratic Senators Query Gonzales on Crack Sentencing Views

User "puregenius" reports over in the Reader Blogs that Republican and Democratic senators -- Jeff Sessions and Pat Leahy -- queried Alberto Gonzales about his views on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, in last Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Dept. of Justice oversight. Short answer -- he likes it, they don't. Update: Just saw this link on TalkLeft to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Derrick Kimbrough, a federal prisoner serving time on a crack cocaine offense. LDF contends that "The Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Have Resulted in Vast Racial Disparities" and "The Racial Disparities Associated with the Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Have Caused Widespread Distrust of the Law.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

New Resource on Judges' Views on Federal Sentencing -- Basically, They Hate It

Law professor David Zlotnick has released a new resource on judicial views on the federal sentencing system, available on his web site at the Roger Williams School of Law (link below). Briefly, judges don't like it. A few of the comments Zlotnick collected -- from the additional comments section -- provide some flavor of what it is to be found there:
Judge Morris S. Arnold Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Appointed by George H.W. Bush, 1992 "You may say that I said that many of our drug laws are scandalously draconian and the sentences are often savage. You may also quote me as saying the war on drugs has done considerable damage to the Fourth Amendment and that something is very wrong indeed when a person gets a longer sentence for marijuana than for espionage." Senior Judge Andrew W. Bogue District of South Dakota Appointed by Richard Nixon, 1970 Prior Legal Experience: State's Attorney, Turner County, South Dakota, 1952-1954 "I will say this on the sentencing guidelines: I detest them. The sentencing guidelines divest courts of their role in imposing just and appropriate sentences to fit the crime and the defendant, with due consideration to all the attendant circumstances. They deprive judges of their discretion which is the touchstone of justice. Were the sentencing guidelines merely suggestive, they might very well serve as an important and helpful model which could assist judges in a difficult task. However, in their present form, as I said, they are detestable." Judge Richard A. Gadbois, Jr. (deceased) Central District of California Appointed by Ronald Reagan, 1982 "The law stinks. I don’t know a judge that thinks otherwise."
Following are some introductory comments from Zlotnick, via Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog:
I am pleased to announce that the website for my federal sentencing project can be now be accessed at this link. The underlying research for this project was funded by a Soros Senior Justice Fellowship grant and was conducted over the past four and a half years. The heart of the work is contained in forty comprehensive case studies of federal cases in which Republican appointees complained that the sentences required by law were excessive. These profiles are the most comprehensively documented cases studies of federal sentencings available on the Internet. The site also includes a draft of my forthcoming article in the Colorado Law Review, "The Future of Federal Sentencing Policy: Learning Lessons from Republican Appointees in the Guidelines Era." This article contains a blueprint for sentencing reform legislation that might resonate with this cohort of federal judges in the post-Booker era. The launch of the website this summer is intended to allow my work to be used by sentencing reformers in the upcoming debate in Congress over the Sentencing Commission's proposed changes to the crack cocaine penalties. By showing that Republican appointees share many of the same concerns as academics and criminal defense attorneys, I hope to explode the myth of the liberal federal judiciary and pave the way for meaningful and bipartisan sentencing reform.
Location: 
United States

DPA Press Release: As Feds Raid Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in CA, Congress Rejects Proposal to Protect Ill Patients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2007 CONTACT: Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430 or Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 On Day That Feds Raid and Shut down Ten Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in California, Congress Rejects Proposal to Protect Seriously Ill Patients and Their Caregivers from Federal Arrest House Rejects Amendment to Cut Off Funding to the Raids, 262 to 165 Majority of Democrats Vote for States’ Rights and Compassion, While Republicans Betray Both Their Principles and Their Grassroots Base As the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided and shut down ten medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives considered and rejected an amendment that would have prohibited federal law enforcement agencies from arresting and prosecuting terminally ill patients and their caregivers in states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. The amendment was voted down, 262-165. Offered by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), the amendment received 150 votes from Democrats and 15 votes from Republicans. “It is outrageous that members of Congress rejected a sensible amendment to protect sick people and their families ," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will make sure that voters in their districts know that they voted to send cancer and AIDS patients to federal prison for following their doctor’s recommendation." "With soldiers dying in Iraq, new terrorism threats emerging, and the federal defecit so large, both Congress and the Bush Administration need to get their priorities straight," Piper continued. "America can not afford these raids on medical marijuana patients and their caregivers, not on fiscal terms, not on law enforcement and national security terms, and not on human terms. This ongoing assault on the will of California voters is an utter waste of federal resources, and it's causing great suffering to sick people and their families. If we don't stop this federal interference now, the feds could start interfering with the laws of Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and other medical marijuana states." Background and Key Facts: Twelve states passed laws allowing terminally ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington). More than 70 percent of voters support the right of patients to use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation – including substantial majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents (Gallup, Time/CNN, Pew Research Center, other polls). In 1997, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to assess marijuana’s medical value. After two years of reviewing the scientific data available “the study team found substantial consensus among experts in the relevant disciplines on the scientific evidence about potential medical uses of marijuana.” The study team concluded, “nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety…all can be mitigated by marijuana.” The esteemed medical journal, The Lancet Neurology, reported that marijuana’s active components “inhibit pain in virtually every experimental pain paradigm.” Health organizations supporting legal access to medical marijuana include: American Academy of HIV Medicine, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Nurses Association, American Preventive Medical Association, American Public Health Association, California Academy of Family Physicians, California Medical Association, Florida Medical Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Lymphoma Foundation of America, New England Journal of Medicine, New York State Association of County Health Officials, New York State Hospice and Palliative Care Association, New York State Medical Society, and the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Faith-based organizations supporting legal access to medical marijuana or state discretion on the issue include: Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, National Council of Churches, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Society of Friends (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting), Union for Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Methodist Church. No religious denomination opposes medical marijuana.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Taking it to the Drug Warriors--Is It Time for Direct Action?

You know, a guy gets tired fighting for decades for the right to do something which should be our right anyway. Yeah, I know the litany: We've got to play the game...if you don't like the law, change it...the political process is slow...we can't be impatient...we have to educate politicians and cultivate law enforcement....blah blah blah. Well, in the face of the no-progress Hinchey-Rohrabacher vote and the continuing defiance of the will of California voters by the DEA, not to mention all the other drug war horrors, I'm prepared to once again make inciteful (if not insightful) calls for direct action against these downpressors. 1. Let's take the DEA's war on medical marijuana patients and providers to the DEA. Let's shut 'em down in California. Blockade their offices, and not for symbolic civil disobedience purposes, but for the actual purpose of disrupting their activities. 2. Let's really take it to the DEA. These black-suited, paramilitary-style goons presumably have homes in the area. I'd like to see protestors on the sidewalk in front of their houses. Ooh, but you say it's not polite or uncouth to do that sort of thing! Well, I frankly find DEA goons kicking down doors and arresting harmless people who didn't do anything to anybody pretty impolite and uncouth. Maybe they'll enjoy explaining to their neighbors (two out of three of whom voted for Prop 215) how they earn a living. These thugs need to pay a price for what they do, and I personally don't care if it offends the sensibilities of some of our more delicate members. And I don't buy their "I'm only following orders" excuse, either. It didn't fly at Nuremburg, and it shouldn't fly now. It's time for public shaming and shunning. 3. And maybe we should be focusing on a mass march aimed at national DEA headquarters one of these months. Again, the purpose would be practical--not symbolic--to shut the monster down. This is an agency that needs to be abolished, and until we can accomplish that, the least we can do it make it impossible for it to function properly. 3. More broadly, let's attack the snitch system that underpins the drug war. Last week, we did a newsbrief on the couple in Philadelphia indicted for posting flyers outing a snitch. They copied information from the Who's A Rat? web site, which is protected by the First Amendment. The folks in Philadelphia are charged with intimidating witnesses--by making public information about what they are doing--and I hope they fight that case all the way. Snitches have no right to have their exploits go unsung. In solidarity with the Philadelphia folks, and everyone who has suffered from drug war snitchery, I propose that DRCNet enter into a collaboration with Who's a Rat? by posting the information about one undercover officer (they list more than 400) or one snitch (they list over 4000) online each week. Personally, I would rather go after the narcs than the snitches, most of whom are victims themselves. ("You're gonna go to prison for 30 years and get raped by hardened cons if you don't give up the names..."). Snitches may be victims of circumstance (and a weak values system), but narcs do this horrid work for a living, either because they believe in or they like it. I want to see their names and mugs plastered across the internet. I don't suppose my boss will agree with me on this one, although I'd like to hear why not. 5. Police on a drug raid in Belfast this week were met by a rock-throwing mob. Mindful of the incitement statutes, I have no comment. Whaddya think, folks? I'm really, really tired of waiting for lamebrain politicians to protect me from these thugs. I guess I'm going to have to do it myself. With your help. More "responsible" members of our movement generally shy away from tactics like these. Let them be responsible. I want to fight back.
Location: 
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