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Cops Cry Foul Over Holder Marijuana Policy Move

Organized law enforcement has some problems with Attorney General Holder's announcement last week that the Justice Department would not seek to block Colorado and Washington from implementing their marijuana legalization laws. In a joint letter last Friday, the leaders of seven major law enforcement groups expressed "extreme disappointment" with the move.

Those law enforcement groups are the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriff's Association, the National Sheriff's Association, the Major Cities Chief's Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the National Narcotics Officers' Associations Coalition, and the Police Executive Review Foundation.

While law enforcement has long argued that its role is to enforce the law, not set policy, the police associations clearly felt they should have had input in the Justice Department's decision-making process.

"It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations -- whose members will be directly impacted -- for meaningful input ahead of this important decision," the cops wrote. "Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department's conclusion on this matter. Simply 'checking the box' by alerting law enforcement officials right before a decision is announced is not enough and certainly does not show an understanding of the value the Federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partnerships bring to the Department of Justice and the public safety discussion."

Beyond their issues with process, the law enforcement groups made it clear that they did not agree with the policy decision. The sky would fall if people could buy and smoke pot legally, the cops warned.

"The decision by the Department ignores the connections between marijuana use and violent crime, the potential trafficking problems that could be created across state and local boundaries as a result of legalization, and the potential economic and social costs that could be incurred," they wrote. "Communities have been crippled by drug abuse and addiction, stifling economic productivity. Specifically, marijuana's harmful effects can include episodes of depression, suicidal thoughts, attention deficit issues, and marijuana has also been documented as a gateway to other drugs of abuse."

As if that were not enough, the cops also warned of "grave unintended consequences, including a reversal of the declining crime rates" of the past decades. But they didn't explain how allowing for legal marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington would cause crime to increase.

For the cops, though, the bottom line was not enforcing the law, but setting policy.

"Marijuana is illegal under Federal law and should remain that way," they wrote. "While we certainly understand that discretion plays a role in decisions to prosecute individual cases, the failure of the Department of Justice to challenge state policies that clearly contradict Federal law is both unacceptable and unprecedented. The failure of the Federal government to act in this matter is an open invitation to other states to legalize marijuana in defiance of federal law."

Maybe law enforcement should just go back to enforcing the laws, not trying to write them.

Pot Apocalypse Looms, Marijuana Foes Warn

Not everybody is happy with Thursday's Justice Department announcement that it would not interfere with taxed, regulated, and legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington. While the announcement was greeted with accolades (and some questions) by the drug policy reform community, opponents of marijuana law reform were up in arms and prophesying hellfire and damnation.

It's Reefer Sadness for prohibitonists today.
"Decades from now, the Obama administration will be remembered for undoing years of progress in reducing youth drug use in America," Dr. Paul Chabot of the Coalition for a Drug Free California said in a statement. "This president will be remembered for many failures, but none as large as this one, which will lead to massive youth drug use, destruction of community values, increased addiction and crime rates."

Chabot is also the the coauthor, along with Richard Morgan, of "The Eternal Battle Against Evil: A Comprehensive Strategy to Fight Terrorists, Drug Cartels, Pirates, Gangs, and Organized Crime," and the coalition web site also hawks Morgan's "Soros: The Drug Lord. Pricking the Bubble of American Supremacy."

While Chabot, with his Anslingerian fulminations and Manichean thinking, represents old school Reefer Madness-style prohibitionism, the new school prohibitionists aren't too pleased either.

"We can look forward to more drugged driving accidents, more school drop-outs, and poorer health outcomes as a new Big Marijuana industry targeting kids and minorities emerges to fuel the flames," warned former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy in a statement issued by Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana), a neo-prohibitionist organization that couches its policy aims amid public health concerns.

"This is disappointing, but it is only the first chapter in the long story about marijuana legalization in the US. In many ways, this will quicken the realization among people that more marijuana is never good for any community," said Project SAM cofounder and director Kevin Sabet.

Project SAM warned that after the Obama administration instructed prosecutors to go easy on medical marijuana in 2009, "public health consequences soared" and called on the federal government to fund "robust data monitoring systems" to track those alleged consequences.

"In Colorado, we've seen an explosion of consequences among kids as a result of the new industry that emerged around so-called medical marijuana after 2009," remarked Christian Thurstone, SAM Board Member and Denver Health treatment provider. "We now have to prepare the floodgates."

Just what will come through those floodgates, though, is unclear. Reform advocates point to 2011 data showing that youth marijuana use declined in Colorado since the state adopted its system of regulated dispensaries in 2009.

CADCA conference (nationalservice.gov)
The taxpayer-funded Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) also weighed in with disappointment, doom, and gloom.

"The Department of Justice announced that it will not sue to block the implementation of laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize marijuana, despite the fact that these laws are in conflict with federal law," said CADCA head Gen. Arthur Dean in a statement. "CADCA and its more than 5,000 community coalitions across the country have been anticipating a response from the administration that would reaffirm the federal law and slow down this freight train. Instead, this decision sends a message to our citizens, youth, communities, states, and the international community at large that the enforcement of federal law related to marijuana is not a priority."

"The fact remains that smoked marijuana is not medicine, it has damaging effects on the developing adolescent brain, and can be addictive, as evidenced by the fact that 1 in 6 youth who use it will become addicted," Dean claimed, adding that the country is in "a growing crisis" as marijuana law reforms take hold. "The nation looks to our Justice Department to uphold and enforce federal laws. CADCA is disappointed in the Justice Department's decision to abdicate its legal right in this instance. We remain gravely concerned that we as a nation are turning a blind eye to the serious public health and public safety threats associated with widespread marijuana use."

Despite the bitter disappointment of the prohibitionists, marijuana law reform is moving forward, and the momentum is only likely to accelerate in the years to come. We may see in a few years if their dire warnings are correct -- if the country is still standing, that is.

Administration Gives States Okay on Marijuana Legalization [FEATURE]

Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Colorado and Washington Thursday that the Justice Department would not -- at least for now -- block their states from implementing regimes to tax, regulate, and sell marijuana. The message was sent during a joint phone call early Thursday afternoon.

The Justice Department will take a "trust but verify" approach, a department official said. The department said it reserved the right to challenge the state legalization laws with a preemption lawsuit at a later date if necessary.

The go-ahead from Holder to the states was accompanied by a memorandum from Deputy US Attorney General James Cole to federal prosecutors laying out Justice Department concerns and priorities. If marijuana is going to be sold, the memo said, it must be tightly regulated.

"The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests," the memo said. "A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."

The memo listed a number of activities that could draw federal prosecutorial attention or result in a Justice Department reassessment, including sales to minors, profits going to criminal actors, diversion to pot prohibition states, marijuana sales as a cover for other drug sales, violence and the use of firearms, drugged driving and other "adverse public health consequences," and growing marijuana on public lands.

Attorney General Eric Holder (usdoj.gov)
That leaves some wiggle room for federal prosecutors, some of whom have shown a willingness to be quite aggressive in going after medical marijuana providers. But it also gives them a clear signal that legalization will, in general, be tolerated in states where voters have approved it.

In a first response from marijuana reform activists, Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority called the Justice Department's stance "a step in the right direction", but also blasted the administration for its aggressive enforcement activities against medical marijuana providers and warned that interpreting the new directive will be up to US attorneys.

"It's nice to hear that the Obama administration doesn't at this point intend to file a lawsuit to overturn the will of the voters in states that have opted to modernize their marijuana policies, but it remains to be seen how individual US attorneys will interpret the new guidance and whether they will continue their efforts to close down marijuana businesses that are operating in accordance with state law," Angell said.

"It's significant that US attorneys will no longer be able to use the size or profitability of a legal marijuana business to determine whether or not it should be a target for prosecution, but the guidelines seem to leave some leeway for the feds to continue making it hard for state-legal marijuana providers to do business," he continued.

Angell chided the administration for using cheap rhetoric about not busting pot smokers to obscure deeper issues of federal harassment of marijuana businesses.

"The administration's statement that it doesn't think busting individual users should be a priority remains meaningless, as it has never been a federal focus to go after people just for using small amounts of marijuana," he said. "The real question is whether the president will call off his federal agencies that have been on the attack and finally let legal marijuana businesses operate without harassment, or if he wants the DEA and prosecutors to keep intervening as they have throughout his presidency and thus continue forcing users to buy marijuana on the illegal market where much of the profits go to violent drug cartels and gangs."

The Marijuana Policy Project also reacted Thursday afternoon, saying it applauded the move.

"Today's announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition. The Department of Justice's decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana," said Dan Riffle, the group's director of federal policy.

"We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision," he added. "It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests. The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation's broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them."

Washington, DC
United States

Oregon 2014 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Likely

Oregon activists organized as New Approach Oregon will try to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2014 ballot, the leader of the group told the Willamette Week this week. The move comes after an effort in the legislature to put the issue before voters didn't bear fruit.

"Our coalition is moving forward with a legalization measure to end cannabis prohibition in Oregon in the 2014 election," said New Approach Oregon director Anthony Johnson.

Johnson said the Oregonians were working with Drug Policy Alliance(DPA), a move that should help with funding. Fundraising was a key shortcoming of the failed 2012 marijuana legalization Measure 80 initiative campaign headed by Paul Stanford.

Stanford filed two new initiatives in June, but it's not clear if he's going to move forward with them.

"DPA will help us draft the measure that we'll move forward in 2014," Johnson said.

The move comes after New Approach Oregon, DPA and a group of Oregon political insiders were unable to move House Bill 3371. Lawmakers could have referred that marijuana legalization bill to the voters, but declined to do so.

OR
United States

Legalize/Decriminalize Marijuana, Canadians Say

The Canadian public strongly supports reforming the country's marijuana laws, according to a new Forum Research poll. The survey found that 69% either want to see marijuana legalized, taxed, and regulated or see the possession of small amounts decriminalized.

The poll comes just weeks after Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau called for legalization, bringing new life to the long-running debate on pot policy north of the border. It also comes just a week after Canadian police chiefs called for decriminalization, although they didn't want to use that word, instead preferring to say they wanted a "ticketing option."

Support for legalization was slightly higher (36%) than for decriminalization (34%), but the combined support for pot law reform was far ahead of support for the status quo (15%) or increasing marijuana penalties (13%). Only 3% were undecided.

Among political parties, support was strongest among self-described Liberals (76%), followed by New Democrats (72%), and even 61% of Conservatives. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper has positioned itself as the party of cracking down on marijuana, but the ministers might want to check in with their base.

The poll also asked respondents whether Trudeau's recent admission that he had smoked pot while a Member of Parliament would affect their vote. Nearly two-thirds (63%) said it did not matter, while one in five (21%) said they would be less likely to vote for him. Conversely, 14% said they would be more likely to vote for him.

"Justin Trudeau is ahead of the zeitgeist on this issue, and the government's disapproval of his position is a strength he can play to in the coming months. Decriminalization or legalization has majority support right across the country, even among Conservative voters, and there appears to be little downside to this issue for him," said Forum Research President Dr. Lorne Bozinoff.

Canada

Senator Leahy Calls Judiciary Hearing on Federal Marijuana Policy [FEATURE]

US Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced Monday that he would hold a hearing next month on the Justice Department's response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington and legal medical marijuana in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The hearing is set for September 10.

Patrick Leahy (senate.gov)
Leahy has invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify before the committee and help clarify the conflicts between state and federal law, as well as the federal response. Cole is the author of the 2011 Cole memo giving federal prosecutors the green light to go after medical marijuana providers in states where it is not tightly regulated.

"It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal," Leahy said in a statement Monday. "I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government."

After Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana last November, Leahy sent a letter to the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy asking that the Obama administration make public its position on the matter. Although Holder said in February that a Justice Department response would be coming "relatively soon," it still hasn't appeared.

State officials in Colorado and Washington said last week that they thought the Justice Department had given them "tacit approval" to move forward with their plans to implement marijuana regulation, taxation, and legalization. Leahy, who has said he supports the efforts in those two states, would like to get something more definitive from the Justice Department.

In the meantime, while the feds are silent on how they will deal with legalization, federal prosecutors and the DEA have kept up the pressure on medical marijuana producers and distributors. Since the Cole memo came out two years ago, hundreds of dispensaries have been raided and hundreds more subjected to federal "threat letters." While actual prosecutions have been more rare, the result has been a reduction in access to medical marijuana for patients in areas where dispensaries have been forced out of business.

Leahy isn't the only one in Congress who is interested in federal marijuana policy. At least seven bills have been filed, most with bipartisan sponsorship, addressing federal marijuana policy. They range from bills to legalize hemp and marijuana to bills that would prevent the use of the IRS to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Holder won kudos from many drug reformers earlier this month when he announced his support for further sentencing reforms, but medical marijuana and marijuana legalization advocates were disappointed that he did not address the tension and contradictions between state and federal marijuana policies. Now, it appears that Leahy is going to force the issue, and marijuana reform advocates couldn't be more pleased.

"This is an important development for all sorts of reasons -- not least because the Senate has been so remarkably passive on marijuana issues even as twenty states have legalized medical marijuana and two have legalized it more broadly. I am delighted that Senator Leahy now seems ready to provide much needed leadership on this issue," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"The ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado made history not so much because they legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana but because they mandated that state governments regulate and tax what had previously been illicit markets," Nadelmann continued. "Ending marijuana prohibition not just in the states but also nationally is going to require the sort of leadership that Senator Leahy is now providing. Now is the time for his colleagues to stand up as well in defense of responsible state regulation of marijuana."

"Two states have made marijuana legal for adult use and are establishing regulated systems of production and distribution. Twenty states plus our nation's capital have made it legal for medical use. By failing to recognize the decisions of voters and legislators in those states, current federal law is undermining their ability to implement and enforce those laws," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Marijuana prohibition's days are numbered, and everyone in Washington knows that," Riffle continued. "It's time for Congress to stop ignoring the issue and develop a policy that allows states to adopt the most efficient and effective marijuana laws possible. We need to put the 'reefer madness' policies of the 1930s behind us and adopt an evidence-based approach for the 21st Century."

"We're still waiting for the administration to announce its response to the marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, a policy that the attorney general has been saying is coming 'relatively soon' since December," said Tom Angell, head of Marijuana Majority. "If the administration is serious about using law enforcement resources in a smarter way, it should be a no-brainer to strongly direct federal prosecutors to respect the majority of voters by allowing these groundbreaking state laws to be implemented without interference."

It ought to be an interesting, and perhaps, historic hearing. It's two weeks away.

Washington, DC
United States

Canadian Police Chiefs Want Ticket Option for Marijuana Possession

Canada's police chiefs are ready to quit arresting people for marijuana possession. Meeting in Winnipeg over the weekend, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution recommending "an expansion of enforcement options" to deal with pot possession offenses.

The "enforcement option" they have in mind is issuing tickets instead of criminal charges. That sounds a whole lot like decriminalization, even though CACP denies it.

"The current process of sending all simple possession of cannabis cases under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act to criminal court is placing a significant burden on the entire Justice system from an economic and resource utilization perspective," said CACP President Chief Constable Jim Chu in a statement announcing the passage of the resolution.

"The CACP is not in support of decriminalization or legalization of cannabis in Canada," Chu continued. "It must be recognized, however, that under the current legislation the only enforcement option for police, when confronted with simple possession of cannabis, is either to turn a blind eye or lay charges. The latter ensues a lengthy and difficult process which, if proven guilty, results in a criminal conviction and criminal record."

More than 50,000 Canadians are arrested each year on marijuana charges, the vast majority for simple possession.

Canada's Liberals toyed with marijuana law reform when they held national power a decade ago, proposing a ticketing scheme similar to that now recommended by the top cops, but failed to push it through. The ruling Conservatives, on the other hand, have moved to toughen marijuana penalties.

Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has this year called for legalization. That puts him in line with the Canadian public, which consistently returns majorities for legalization in national polls.

Winnipeg
Canada

Poll Finds Few Think We're Winning War on Drugs

Four decades after President Richard Nixon ushered in the modern war on drugs, fewer than one out of 20 Americans think it is being won, according to a new poll. A Rasmussen Reports poll released on Sunday found that only 4% of respondents believe that the US is "winning" the war on drugs. Some 82% said it is "losing."

"Americans continue to overwhelmingly believe that the so-called war on drugs is failing, but they are more divided on how much the United States should be spending on it," Rasmussen concluded.

While agreement that the drug war is a failure is at near consensus levels, the Rasmussen poll also revealed a public deeply divided over what to do about it. More than half (55%) think there are too many people in prison, and nearly as many (51%) agree with Attorney General Holder's call to reduce the prisoner load by reducing reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing. At the same time, 54% said illegal drug use is primarily a criminal justice problem, not a public health problem.

The poll also showed Americans split nearly evenly on marijuana legalization, with 44% approving of it and 42% disapproving. The numbers supporting legalization are lower than most recent polls, where in the past year support has consistently climbed above 50%, but still show more Americans supporting legalization than opposing it.

The survey was conducted Aug.12-13, and involved interviews with 1,000 American adults, and has a margin-of-error of plus/minus 3.1%.

NYC Comptroller Says Legalize and Tax Marijuana in New Report

New York City Comptroller John Liu Wednesday released a report calling for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Doing so would reduce the harms generated by marijuana prohibition and generate more than $400 million a year in taxes to pay for higher education, Liu said.

New York City Comptroller John Liu (wikipedia.org)
The comptroller is the chief fiscal officer and financial officer for the city. Liu, who has served one four-year term, is not seeking reelection.

"New York City's misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities," said Comptroller Liu. "It's time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren't enough, it would also boost our bottom line."

Liu estimated the size of the city's marijuana market at $1.65 billion a year and proposed using tax revenues from the legalized trade to cut tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY) by up to 50%.

"In this way, we'll invest in young people's futures, instead of ruining them," he said. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol, New York City can minimize teens' access to marijuana, while at the same time reducing their exposure to more dangerous drugs and taking sales out of the hands of criminals."

Under Liu's proposal, adults age 21 and over could possess up to one ounce of marijuana, which would be grown, processed, and sold by government-licensed businesses for recreational or medicinal purposes. A strict driving under the influence enforcement policy would be implemented concurrently, and marijuana use in public would be prohibited.

The report comes just days after a federal judge slammed the city for its stop-and-frisk policing tactics, which have played a key role in making the Big Apple the world leader in marijuana possession arrests. The street searches are racially biased, the judge found, ordering reforms.

"New Yorkers, like people elsewhere around the country, are questioning our broken polices related to marijuana," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comptroller Liu's report offers another important opportunity for New Yorkers to examine the issues and discuss the range of options for fixing these laws. An increasing number of elected officials in the City and state agree that our marijuana policies are broken -- resulting in racial disparities, Constitutional violations, fiscal waste and needless suffering. While there may not be widespread agreement about how to fix these problems, it's critical that we have an open and vigorous debate about the issue."

New York City, NY
United States

Norway Greens Call for State Marijuana Production

The Norwegian Green Party is calling for "state-controlled production and sale of cannabis," as well as the decriminalization of possession for all drugs. The call comes as the party releases its platform ahead of elections set for September.

Aker River, Oslo (wikimedia.org)
Norway's Greens are not a major political force in the Scandinavian country. While they have won some local elections, they hold no seats in parliament and have never gathered more than 0.5% of the popular vote in parliamentary elections. They have, however, been on the upswing since elections in 2011, when they won 17 local council seats and 1.3% of the popular vote. 

"Current policies are clearly not working," the party's spokesperson Hanna Marcussen, told Aftenposten newspaper. "Today marijuana is sold openly along the Aker River in Oslo without anyone managing to restrict access. It is time that someone takes on this difficult debate."

Marcussen also said the Greens do not view hard drug users as criminals and that decriminalizing drug possession would improve public health.

"We want to decriminalize the use of heavier drugs. This is a health problem," Marcussen said. "Compared with other countries, we have a particularly high number of fatal overdoses due to hard drugs."

The proposals resemble those of Copenhagen mayor Frank Jensen, who has long pushed for state-run cannabis production, and they come just a day after Uruguay's lower chamber of parliament approved a bill that would make the South American nation the first country in the world to legalize marijuana markets, also with state controls. That measure still awaits a vote in the country's upper chamber.

Oslo
Norway

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