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Chronicle Book Review: Reefer Movie Madness

Reefer Movie Madness: The Ultimate Stoner Film Guide, by Steven Bloom and Shirley Halperin (2010, Abrams Image Press, 336 pp., $18.95 PB)

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Even the wonkiest of drug policy reformers can't spend all their time reading policy proposals, research results, and desert-dry academic treatises, but Reefer Movie Madness is much more than a mere guilty pleasure. Penned by former High Times editor and Celebstoner.com proprietor Steve Bloom and former High Times intern turned entertainment writer Shirley Halperin, Reefer Movie Madness is not only a most excellent guide to stoner filmdom, it also maps the cultural acceptance of marijuana in America through film history.

A follow-up to the pair's well-done, comprehensive compendium of all things cannabinical, Pot Culture, Reefer Movie Madness profiles more than 700 films that are about marijuana, feature marijuana in key scenes, feature other drugs, or just plain a gas to watch stoned. The films are ranked via a five-star rating system, and the authors demonstrate exquisite taste and filmic knowledge in their rankings (meaning that their tastes agreed with mine).

They begin at the beginning, going back even before 1936's anti-pot propaganda classic Reefer Madness to note such obscure films as 1924's High on the Range, in which Cowboy Dave smokes a reefer, and 1933's International House, in which jazz legend Cab Calloway performs "Reefer Man."

But in the late 1930s, as Harry Anslinger crusaded against the demon weed, so did Hollywood. In addition to Reefer Madness, the movie industry cranked out propaganda like Marijuana: The Weed with Roots in Hell (1936), Assassin of Youth (1937), and just a handful of years later, Devil's Harvest (1942). While such films helped shape American attitudes at the time, and for decades to come, they are now the stuff of nonstop laugh fests.

While marijuana and other drug use was portrayed intermittently, and occasionally, even with some sympathy for drug users, it wasn't until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, bringing us classic stoner films like Wild in the Streets (1968) and Easy Rider (1969), that pot-smoking began to be widely portrayed as anything but deviant. And it wasn't until the late 1970s that Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke gave birth to the now ubiquitous stoner comedy genre (although Bloom and Halperin give the classic Animal House, with its single hilarious pot-smoking scene partial credit for establishing the genre, too).

By now, stoner movies and depictions of pot-smoking are everywhere, most notably, but not only, in the stoner comedy genre. Films like Half-Baked, How High, Friday, and Strange Wilderness are now being produced by mainstream production companies, and the Judd Apatow franchise alone has been responsible for numerous box office hit stoner flicks, including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the underrated Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, and Pineapple Express. This year's Get Him to Greek, featuring the inimitable and charismatic Russell Brand and Apatow regular Jonah Hill, was released too late for inclusion, but will certainly make the next edition.

The book is divided into sections by genre: comedy, drama, sci-fi/fantasy/horror, action, sports, music, documentaries and offers spot-on capsule reviews of more than 700 films, complete with plot summaries, star rankings, and choice quotes. Reefer Movie Madness also includes themed lists (Best Buds: Ten stony duos that take friendship to a higher level; Stoner Inventions and Innovations), celebrity Q&As, and lists of favorite stoner movies from well-known actors, directors, and musicians, including Cheech & Chong, the Trailer Park Boys, Snoop Dog, and Melissa Etheridge, among many more.

Reefer Movie Madness is a bookshelf must for pot movie fans, whether they be culture mavens or fully-baked couch potatoes. Even for veteran stoner film watchers, it contains some delicious movies you've never seen before and helps you remember long-forgotten gems. It has already vastly increased the length of my Netflix queue, and once you pick it up, the same thing is going to happen to you.

But beyond that, Reefer Movie Madness is a valuable and important contribution to charting and understanding the pop cultural role of marijuana in the past few decades. And it's a gas to read, stoned or not.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year, Drug Czar's Office Seeks Input on Harms of Drug Policies, More... (7/7/21)

The punishment of Olypmic athlete Sha'carri Richardson for testing positive for marijuana draws intense interest and criticism, New Mexico drug dogs are getting laid off in the wake of legal pot, and more.

New Mexico drug dogs are being forced into retirement by marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Drug Dogs Face Retirement in Wake of Marijuana Legalization. Drug-sniffing police dogs in the state are being forced into retirement because they have been trained to alert on any drug, including marijuana, and cannot be retrained. As the Tucumcari Police Department noted as it announced the retirement of its drug dog, Aries: "With the legalization of recreational marijuana, K9 Aries is unable to continue his function as a narcotics detection dog." Other cities and towns are doing the same thing, and so is the State Police, which will be retiring all nine of its current drug dogs. "Once the new canines are trained, the handlers will have the option of retiring their current assigned canine to their home, or we will look at other options to the likes of donating them to other law enforcement entities outside of the state of New Mexico who have yet to legalize marijuana," the State Police said.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar's Office Seeks Comment on How Drug Policies Create Systemic Barriers for Underserved Communities. In a notice published in the Federal Register Wednesday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said it is seeking comment on whether existing federal drug control policies create "systemic barriers to opportunities for underserved communities" and to better promote equity in future programs. Although the agency has embraced some progressive drug policy positions, such as pushing for broader access to buprenorpine, this level of acknowledgment of harms caused by drug policy marks a change of direction.

The agency didn't take the action independently. Rather, it is part of a broader executive order requiring agencies to seek feedback and "assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups. Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all," ONDCP explained. Comments on how ONDCP can better achieve equity are being accepted at [email protected] through August 6.

Drug Testing

Sha'Carri Richardson Out of Olympics After Positive Marijuana Test. Star athlete Sha'Carri Richardson was disqualified last week from the Tokyo Olympics' women's 100 meter race after testing positive for marijuana after the qualifying run, and now will completely miss the games after being left off the team chose for the women's relay race. Her disqualification has caused howls of outrage, with some commentators calling it racist, and even President Biden, who initially responded with "the rules are the rules," suggesting the rules need to change. Richardson said she smoked marijuana to cope with the death of her biological mother and did so in Oregon, where it is legal, but she took responsibility for her actions: "I know what I did," Richardson said. "I know what I'm supposed to do... and I still made that decision."

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year. The Assembly Health Committee has informed Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) that his bill to allow a safe injection site pilot program, Senate Bill 57, which is billed as an "overdose prevention program," will not get a hearing until January. The state is in the first year of its two-year legislative session, so the bill is not dead, just delayed. "While I'm extremely disappointed that we are experiencing another delay in passing this life-saving legislation -- which has passed both the Senate and Assembly twice in different forms over the past five years -- I continue to be optimistic that we'll pass SB 57 and get it signed into law," said Weiner. "San Francisco and other California cities are experiencing record overdose deaths, and safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people into recovery. I am deeply committed to this legislation -- as is our broad coalition -- and I look forward to moving SB 57 forward in January." The bill has already passed the Senate.

Two Takes on the Global Drug War and Global Drug Cultures [FEATURE]

America shows signs of emerging from the century-long shadow of drug prohibition, with marijuana leading the way and a psychedelic decriminalization movement rapidly gaining steam. It also seems as if the mass incarceration fever driven by the war on drugs has finally broken, although tens if not hundreds of thousands remain behind bars on drug charges.

As Americans, we are remarkably parochial. We are, we still like to tell ourselves, "the world's only superpower," and we can go about our affairs without overly concerning ourselves about what's going on beyond our borders. But what America does, what America wants and what America demands has impacts far beyond our borders, and the American prohibitionist impulse is no different.

Thanks largely (but not entirely) to a century of American diplomatic pressure, the entire planet has been subsumed by our prohibitionist impulse. A series of United Nations conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, pushed by the US, have put the whole world on lockdown.

We here in the drug war homeland remain largely oblivious to the consequences of our drug policies overseas, whether it's murderous drug cartels in Mexico, murderous cops in the Philippines, barbarous forced drug treatment regimes in Russia and Southeast Asia, exemplary executions in China, or corrupted cops and politicians everywhere. But now, a couple of non-American journalists working independently have produced a pair of volumes that focus on the global drug war like a US Customs X-ray peering deep inside a cargo container. Taken together, the results are illuminating, and the light they shed reveals some very disturbing facts.

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov and Pills, Powder, and Smoke by Antony Loewenstein both attempt the same feat -- a global portrait of the war on drugs -- and both reach the same conclusion -- that drug prohibition benefits only drug traffickers, fearmongering politicians, and state security apparatuses -- but are miles apart attitudinally and literarily. This makes for two very different, but complementary, books on the same topic.

Loewenstein, an Australian who previously authored Disaster Capitalism and Profits of Doom, is -- duh -- a critic of capitalism who situates the global drug war within an American project of neo-imperial subjugation globally and control over minority populations domestically. His work is solid investigative reporting, leavened with the passion he feels for his subject.

In Pills, Powder, and Smoke, he visits places that rarely make the news but are deeply and negatively impacted by the US-led war on drugs, such as Honduras. Loewenstein opens that chapter with the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, which was not directly related to the drug war, but which illustrates the thuggish nature of the Honduran regime -- a regime that emerged after a 2009 coup overthrew the leftist president, a coup justified by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which has received millions in US anti-drug assistance, mainly in the form of weapons and military equipment.

Honduras doesn't produce any drugs; it's only an accident of geography and the American war on drugs that we even mention the country in the context of global drug prohibition. Back in the 1980s, the administration of Bush the Elder cracked down on cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and as traffickers sought to evade that threat, Honduras was perfectly placed to act as a trampoline for cocaine shipments taking an alternative route through Mexico, which incidentally fueled the rise of today's deadly and uber-wealthy Mexican drug cartels.

The drug trade, combined with grinding poverty, huge income inequalities, and few opportunities, has helped turn Honduras into one of the deadliest places on earth, where the police and military kill with impunity, and so do the country's teeming criminal gangs. Loewenstein walks those mean streets -- except for a few neighborhoods even his local fixers deem too dangerous -- talking to activists, human rights workers, the family members of victims, community members, and local journalists to paint a chilling picture. (This is why Hondurans make up a large proportion of those human caravans streaming north to the US border. But unlike Venezuela, where mass flight in the face of violence and economic collapse is routinely condemned as a failure of socialism, you rarely hear any commentators calling the Honduran exodus a failure of capitalism.)

He reexamines one of the DEA's most deadly recent incidents, where four poor, innocent Hondurans were killed by Honduran troops working under DEA supervision in a raid whose parameters were covered up for years by the agency. Loewenstein engaged in extended communication with the DEA agent in charge, as well as with survivors and family members of those killed. Those people report they have never received an apology, not to mention compensation, from the Honduran military -- or from the United States. While the Honduran military fights the drug war with US dollars, Loewenstein shows it and other organs of the Honduran government are also deeply implicated in managing the drug traffic. And news headlines bring his story up to date: Just this month, the current, rightist president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, of meeting with and taking a bribe from a drug trafficker. This comes after his brother, former Honduran Senator Juan Antonio Hernández, was convicted of running tons of cocaine into the United States in a trial that laid bare the bribery, corruption, and complicity of high-level Hondurans in the drug trade, including the president.

Loewenstein also takes us to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country where 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day and whose biggest export is cashews. Or at least it was cashews. Since the early years of this century, the country has emerged as a leading destination for South American cocaine, which is then re-exported to the insatiable European market.

Plagued by decades of military coups and political instability, the country has never developed, and an Atlantic shoreline suited for mass tourism now serves mainly as a convenient destination for boatloads and planeloads of cocaine. Loewenstein visits hotels whose only clients are drug traffickers and remote fishing villages where the trade is an open secret and a source of jobs. He talks with security officials who frankly admit they have almost no resources to combat the trade, and he traces the route onward to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamic militants.

He also tells the tale of one exemplary drug bust carried out by a DEA SWAT team arguably in Guinean territorial waters that snapped up the country's former Navy minister. The DEA said he was involved in a "narco-terrorist" plot to handle cocaine shipments for Colombia's leftist FARC guerillas, who were designated as "terrorists" by the administration of Bush the Junior in a politically convenient melding of the wars on drugs and terror.

It turns out, though, there were no coke loads, and there was no FARC; there was only a DEA sting operation, with the conspiracy created out of whole cloth. While the case made for some nice headlines and showed the US hard at work fighting drugs, it had no demonstrable impact on the use of West Africa as a cocaine conduit, and it raised serious questions about the degree to which the US can impose its drug war anywhere it chooses.

Loewenstein also writes about Australia, England, and the United States, in each case setting the historical and political context, talking to all kinds of people, and laying bare the hideous cruelties of drug policies that exert their most terrible tolls on the poor and racial minorities. But he also sees glimmers of hope in things such as the movement toward marijuana legalization here and the spread of harm reduction measures in England and Australia.

He gets one niggling thing wrong, though, in his chapter on the US. He converses with Washington, DC, pot activists Alan Amsterdam and Adam Eidinger, the main movers behind DC's successful legalization initiative, but in his reporting on it, he repeatedly refers to DC as a state and once even mistakenly cites a legal marijuana sales figure from Washington state. (There are no legal sales in DC.) Yes, this is a tiny matter, but c'mon, Loewenstein is Australian, and he should know a political entity similar to Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

That quibble aside, Loewenstein has made a hardheaded but openhearted contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted malevolence of the never-ending war on drugs. And I didn't even mention his chapter on the Philippines. It's in there, it's as gruesome as you might expect, and it's very chilling reading.

Vorobyov, on the other hand, was born in Russia and emigrated to England as a child. He reached adulthood as a recreational drug user and seller -- until he was arrested on the London Underground and got a two-year sentence for carrying enough Ecstasy to merit a charge of possession with intent to distribute. After that interval, which he says inspired him to write his book, he got his university degree and moved back to Russia, where he picked up a gig at Russia Today before turning his talents to Dopeworld.

Dopeworld is not staid journalism. Instead, it is a twitchy mish-mash, jumping from topic to topic and continent to continent with the flip of a page, tracing the history of alcohol prohibition in the US at one turn, chatting up Japanese drug gangsters at the next, and getting hammered by ayahuasca in yet another. Vorobyov himself describes Dopeworld as "true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book."

Indeed. He relates his college-boy drug-dealing career with considerable panache. He parties with nihilistic middle-class young people and an opium-smoking cop in Tehran, he cops $7 grams of cocaine in Colombia and tours Pablo Escobar's house with the dead kingpin's brother as a tour guide, he has dinner with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's family in Mexico's Sinaloa state and pronounces them nice people ("really chill"), and he meets up with a vigilante killer in Manila.

Vorobyov openly says the unsayable when it comes to writing about the drug war and drug prohibition: Drugs can be fun! While Loewenstein is pretty much all about the victims, Vorobyov inhabits the global drug culture. You know: Dopeworld. Loewenstein would bemoan the utter futility of a record-breaking seizure of a 12-ton load of cocaine; Vorobyov laments, "that's 12 tons of cocaine that will never be snorted."

Vorobyov is entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and he brings a former dope dealer's perspective to bear. He's brash and breezy, but like Loewenstein, he's done his homework as well as his journalistic fieldwork, and the result is fascinating. To begin to understand what the war on drugs has done to people and countries around the planet, this pair of books makes an essential introduction. And two gripping reads.

Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov (August 2020, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 432 pp., $29.99)

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs by Antony Loewenstein (November 2019, Scribe, paperback, 368 pp., $19.00)

Rick Steves Has Three Must-Sees for a Jeff Sessions European Drug Policy Trip

PBS star and prolific travel guidebook author Rick Steves is a prominent advocate of marijuana legalization and drug reform. For years, he has advocated for freeing the weed and adopting a more moderate, European-style approach to drug policy.

Rick Steves dishes out some travel tips for the attorney general. (Wikimedia)
He has enjoyed successes, playing a leading role in bringing the public around in Washington state, which legalized weed in 2012, and continuing to make his high-profile calls for more enlightened drug policies. But now, the Trump administration, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in particular, is trying to put the brakes on, and that got Steves thinking.

In response, as Rolling Stone reports, Steves has now combined his travel savvy and his drug reform advocacy in proposing an eye-opening, pot-centric European travel itinerary tailor-made for Sessions in the hope that some of the Old World tolerance would rub off on him.

Here are the three must-sees on Steves' Sessions European drug policy itinerary:

1. Switzerland. "I would take him to Switzerland and we'd go to a heroin maintenance clinic," Steves said, referring to the country's pioneering and non-criminal approach to opioid addiction.

2. Barcelona. Cannabis clubs are allowed there. "In Spain they can't sell marijuana but they can grow it. In practice, they don't want to grow it so they join a club that grows it collectively, and they can enjoy the harvest."

3. The Netherlands. Steves said he would take the attorney general to one of those famous Dutch "coffee shops" where adults can legally purchase small amounts of weed. "After the coffee shop, we'd visit a mayor and a policeman and have [Sessions] listen to the mayor and policeman explain why they'd rather have coffee shops than have marijuana sold on the street," Steves says.

Although he didn't mention it, there is one other European destination that could be an eye-opener for Sessions:

4. Portugal.The Iberian nation decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001. And not only is it still standing, it has drug use levels similar to other European countries, but without all the arrests.

Of course, Sessions is unlikely to take Steves up on his offer and even more unlikely to be convinced by saner European approaches, but Steves' point is still made: There are better ways of dealing with drug use and abuse. We just have to acknowledge them.

Chronicle AM: Maine Legalization Initiative On Target for Ballot, Narcan in the News, More... (2/1/16)

Maine's legalization initiative looks like it will qualify for the ballot, Tommy Chong endorses Bernie Sanders, a new federal bill would fund needle exchanges, naloxone is in the news, and more.

Naloxone kits save lives. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Says Marijuana Reform Not on His Agenda in Final Year. In a Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said any progress on further federal marijuana reform would have to come from Congress, not the president. "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Tommy Chong Endorses Bernie Sanders. This is not exactly a shocker, but every endorsement helps. Iconic stoner comedian Tommy Chong has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the Democratic presidential nomination, citing his support of marijuana legalization. "Bernie does support that… legalization that I care so deeply about, legalization of the super-medicine marijuana. So I know this year, you and I are going to 'Feel the Bern,' go up to the polling booths, and light up, man, for progress and change." Chong also touted Sanders' positions on immigration, equality, and a living wage, and he jokingly referred to Sanders as the "commander-in-Kush."

Maine Legalization Group Submits Nearly Double the Signatures Needed to Qualify for Ballot. It looks like Mainers will be voting on legalization in November. Today, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Seattle Medical Marijuana Shops Sue State Over Licensing Process. A handful of long-time Seattle dispensaries filed a lawsuit last Friday against the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, saying the agency isn't following its own rules in issuing a new round of licenses for retail pot shops. The agency is supposed to give priority to dispensaries that have played by the rules, but the plaintiffs say it isn't doing that.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Refuses to Expand List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New York Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Federal Bill Would Provide Funding for Needle Exchange Programs. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) last Friday introduced HR 4396 to address heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill has provisions for prevention, treatment, and recovery, as well as grant programs for needle exchanges and to reduce overdose deaths. The bill has been assigned to four different committees.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Bill to Make Police Prove Seized Property Was Involved in Crime Wins Committee Vote. Rep. Brian Greene's (R-Pleasant Grove) House Bill 22, which would require police to prove seized property is involved in a crime, reversing the burden of proof requirement under the state's civil asset forfeiture law, has unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill also includes a provision making the state pay citizens' attorney fees and costs is property is wrongfully seized. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Prevention Drug Has Saved 2,000 Lives in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported last Thursday that the number of people whose opiate overdoses were reversed by naloxone (Narcan) had surpassed 2,000.

CVS to Make Overdose Prevention Drug More Widely Available in Ohio. The pharmacy chain announced today that it will make naloxone (Narcan) more available at stores throughout the state. Law enforcement had been skittish about using the drug, but as Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp noted, "We are in a heroin epidemic and this is just another tool to save lives."

New Orleans to Make Overdose Reversal Drug Available Over the Counter. People seeking naloxone (Narcan) will be able to pick it up without a prescription at the University Medical Center, city officials announced last Friday. City Medical Director Dr. Joseph Kanter has ordered the move in a bid to reduce fatal overdoses."There are no side effects. There is no abuse potential," Kanter said. "The primary effect of this medicine is to save a life."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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.)

Chronicle AM: Lynch Reaffirms Obama MJ Stance, Celebs Come Out for Sentencing Reform, More (10/5/15)

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is following the same path on marijuana states as her predecessor, the big California legalization initiative rolls out, Uruguay grants licenses to grow commercial marijuana, there will be no cannabis sales in Berlin (at least for now), and more.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Lynch Reaffirms Obama Administration's Approach to Marijuana States. The new attorney general has made clear she is not going off the reservation when it comes to marijuana policy. Former Attorney General Holder crafted the administration's largely hands-off approach, and Lynch has now said she will follow that path. "I think states have to make these decisions on their own," she said in an interview with NBC. "They listen to their citizens and they take actions. What we have said, and what we continue to say is that states have to also have a system designed to, number one, mitigate violence associated with their marijuana industries. And number two, and perhaps most importantly, keep young people, children away from the products."

ReformCA Rolls Out Its California Legalization Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, also known as ReformCA, has filed a draft marijuana legalization initiative with state officials, the group announced Sunday. The long-anticipated move means the campaign best-placed to bring legalization to the Golden State can finally get underway.The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 would allow people 21 and over to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana and it would set up legal marijuana commerce overseen by a pair of new state agencies, the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs. Click on the title link to read our feature story.

Oregon Dispensaries Rake in the Bucks from Recreational Sales. Dispensaries, which were allowed to start selling marijuana to any adults October 1, are reporting "gangbuster" business during their opening weekend. One Southeast Portland dispensary reported 600 customers a day, compared to the 30 a day it had been seeing for medical marijuana. A Bend dispensary reported $55,000 in sales on opening day, and a Northeast Portland dispensary was staying open 24-hours-a-day to meet demand.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois' First Medical Marijuana Crop is Coming In. Shine on, harvest moon. The state's medical marijuana cultivation centers spent the weekend harvesting their first legal crop, and some are already preparing their first shipments to patients. The state has had a medical marijuana law in effect since January 2014, but only now is the medicine about to get to patients.

Ohio Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Summary. For the second time, Attorney General Mike DeWine has rejected the summary language for a proposed medical marijuana initiative from Ohio Medical Cannabis Care LLC. DeWine pointed to six defects in the language. The group can resubmit its language once it has addressed them. Click on the link for details on the defects.

Three of Kettle Falls Five Sentenced to Federal Prison. The Kettle Falls Five were a family group of medical marijuana patients pursued by federal prosecutors even though both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Washington. Last Friday, two were sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison, while a third was sentenced to 33 month. Family patriarch Larry Harvey was also prosecuted, but has died, and a fifth member has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 16 months. The three sentenced last Friday are still free while their convictions are being appealed.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill Aimed at Opiate Abuse. The measure, Senate Bill 2020, is focused on prevention and intervention to curb opiate use. It has provisions regarding pain management, expanded manufacturer drug take-back programs, and insurance changes to make it easier to get coverage for drug treatment. The bill now goes to the House.

Sentencing

A-List Celebs Get Behind Sentencing Reforms, Prison Population Reductions. Amy Schumer, Steph Curry, Ed Norton, Jesse Williams, Chris Pine, Russell Simmons, and Piper Kerman are among 90+ celebrities calling for reform to our criminal justice system. The stars are joining the campaign led by #cut50, a bipartisan effort to reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years. The celebrity push comes on the heels of a historic deal on criminal justice reform last week. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release. Click on the link for more.

International

No Cannabis Cafes for Berlin. Plans for Germany's first legal marijuana sales businesses have gone up in smoke after federal regulators rejected plans by Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friedrichschain district to allow them. The Federal Institute on Pharmaceuticals put the kibosh on the plan, but this isn't the end of it. Similar moves are afoot in Hamburg, Bremen, Munster, and Dusseldorf, and Kruezberg-Friedrichschain says it isn't giving up, either.

Uruguay Awards Commercial Marijuana Cultivation Permits. Marijuana should be available for sale at pharmacies in about eight months after Uruguay has now selected two companies to grow it for the country's legal market. It will go for about $1.20 per joint.

The Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories [FEATURE]

Whew, what a year! Two more states legalize it -- and DC, too -- decriminalization spreads, and more. But it wasn't all good news. Here's our Top 10:

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins at the Polls in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. In an Election Day clean sweep, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, delivered a marijuana legalization trifecta. Legalization won with 53% of the vote in Alaska, 55% in Oregon, and a whopping 69% in Washington, DC, the highest percentage vote for legalization ever recorded. With victory in Oregon this year, every state that has had the chance to vote for legalization since 2012 has now done so.

2. The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Colorado and Washington. It's now been two years since the first two states to legalize marijuana did so, and the predicted horrible consequences have not materialized. While possession became legal almost immediately, legal sales commenced in January in Colorado and in July in Washington. Teen pot smoking declined this year, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, and Colorado teens in particular were consuming less weed, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Neither have traffic fatalities increased, according to The Washington Post. Nor has crime increased. What has increased is state revenues from the taxation of marijuana, from zero before legalization to tens of millions of dollars annually now.

3. Big Eastern Cities Decriminalize Pot Possession. The city councils in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, this year approved the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. Although New York state decriminalized in 1978, New York City had been the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to NYPD's habit of stopping people, telling them to empty their pockets, and then charging them with the misdemeanor office of public possession instead of the civil infraction. Now, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York cops can't do that anymore. And let's not forget Baltimore; the state of Maryland decriminalized this year, too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose crystallized concerns over abuse of opiates. (wikimedia.org)
4. The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman Crystallizes Rising Concerns About Heroin and Prescription Opiates. The February overdose death of the acclaimed actor turned a glaring spotlight on the issues of heroin and prescription pain pill addiction and overdoses. Ever since, government at the federal, state, and local level has been moved by the urge to "Do something!" And it has -- with responses covering the gamut from harm reduction measures like 911 Good Samaritan laws and increased access to overdose reversal drugs to calls for more drug treatment to more-of-the-same drug war approaches and calls for more money for law enforcement.

5. California Defelonizes Drug Possession. With one fell swoop, California voters struck a big blow against mass incarceration when they approved Proposition 47 in November. The initiative makes drug possession and five other low-level, nonviolent offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. It becomes the 14th state to do so, and by far the largest.

6. Congress Tells the Justice Department to Butt Out of Medical Marijuana States. In passing the omnibus spending bill last week, Congress approved an historic amendment barring the Justice Department from spending taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Passage does not promise an end to all federal interference -- it doesn't address taxing issues, for instance -- and it is only for this fiscal year, but this is still a landmark vote.

Attorney General Holder has striven to reduce overincarceration of drug offenders. (usdoj.gov)
7. Floridians Vote for Medical Marijuana, But It Still Loses. Florida should have been the first Southern state to approve medical marijuana, and 57% of Florida voters agreed in November. But because the Florida initiative was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass. Even with that high bar, the initiative still could have passed, if not for some campaign gaffes. Some $5 million worth of contributions to the "no" side by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson didn't help, either.

8. Medical Marijuana Lite. Maryland passed a medical marijuana law and Minnesota and New York passed limited medical marijuana laws, but this was the year of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws. Such measures passed in a number of states where full-blown medical marijuana hasn't, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. They typically provide access to high-CBD cannabis oils to a limited number of patients.

9. The Obama Administration Moves to Reduce the Federal Drug War Prison Population. It didn't do it all by itself -- the US Sentencing Commission deserves recognition for proposing sentencing reforms -- but the president and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke our vigorously and repeatedly against mandatory minimums and over-incarceration. It wasn't just talk; the Justice Department instructed US Attorneys to find ways to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and exhorted federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

10. But The Drug War Juggernaut Continues to Roll. Despite all the good news this year, the reality is that we are still nibbling around the edges. While marijuana arrests the previous year were down to just under 700,000 (the historic high was 872,000 in 2008) and overall drug arrests declined by about 50,000, there were still 1.5 million people arrested on drug charges. And the number of people arrested for drugs other than marijuana actually increased.

Chronicle AM: CA Decrim Report, Afroman's Back, Pill ODs Drop, Colombia Synthetic Drug Trade, More (10/15/14)

A report on decriminalization in California has good news, state-level marijuana legalization could be an impetus for the US to modify international drug treaties, pain pill deaths are down (but heroin deaths are up), New Zealand has a different take on employee drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:

Afroman's got a whole new positive take on "Because I Got High."
Marijuana Policy

Report: California Decriminalized, and Nothing Bad Happened. A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines California's experience with marijuana since decriminalization went into effect at the beginning of 2011. It finds that "marijuana decriminalization in California has not resulted in harmful consequences for teenagers, such as increased crime, drug overdose, driving under the influence, or school dropout. In fact, California teenagers showed improvements in all risk areas after reform." There's lots of good number-crunching and analysis. Click on the second link to read the whole thing.

Afroman Revised: Good Things Happened "Because I Got High." California rapper Afroman burned up the charts in 2001 with his catchy lamentation about the perils of being a stoned-out couch potato, but now, thanks to NORML and Weedmaps, he's back with a new version of "Because I Got High," and he's singing a different tune. He eased his glaucoma thanks to the "cannabis aroma" and he can deal with anxiety attacks without Xanax, he sings. The song's new lyrics praise the benefits of marijuana in a number of ways, all supported by scientific evidence, says NORML, which has been working with Afroman for several years. Click on the title link to view the video.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Patients Protest Over Medical Marijuana Implementation. Several dozen patients and advocates rallied outside the Department of Public Health in Boston Tuesday to call on the department and the governor to get the state's medical marijuana program moving. Voters legalized medical marijuana nearly two years ago, but: "We have zero cannabis plants in the ground to serve the patients," said Mickey Martin, a medical marijuana activist. "It's unacceptable to make patients wait." The protestors are calling for the state to immediately open up the program, get dispensaries up and running, and ease restrictions on "hardship cultivation" so more patients can grow their own.

Drug Policy

Brookings Report Sees Marijuana Legalization as Chance to Update International Drug Treaties. A report from the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management, "Marijuana Legalization is an Opportunity to Modernize International Drug Treaties," says that the Obama administration's tolerance of legal marijuana in the states creates tension with international drug control treaties and that, as state-level legalization spreads, the US should consider "narrowly crafted treaty changes" to "create space within international law for conditional legalization." The US could, for now, argue that even allowing state-level legalization is compliant with the treaties, but that argument will not hold water if legalization spreads, the authors say. Click on the report link to read the whole thing.

Opiates

Prescription Pain Reliever Deaths Drop for First Time in Years, But Heroin Deaths Up. For the first time since 1999, deaths from prescription opiates declined in 2012. The number of prescription opiate ODs quadrupled to nearly 17,000 by 2011, before dropping to 16,007 in 2012, a decline of 5%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials are crediting crackdowns on "over-prescribing" and the expansion of prescription drug monitoring programs. The decline in prescription opiate ODs follows a tapering off of the rate of increase that began in 2006. Before that, ODs had increased at a rate of 18% a year beginning in 1999; after that, the rate of increase declined to 3% through 2011. But with the crackdowns has come an apparent shift to heroin among some prescription opiates, and with that is a rising heroin OD death toll. Heroin ODs jumped 35% from 2011 to 2012, reaching 5.927 that year.

Prescription Drugs

Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Goes to Governor's Desk. A bill that would establish a prescription drug monitoring database has passed the House. Senate Bill 1180 already passed the Senate in May, and after a pro forma housekeeping vote there, goes to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who has said he will sign it. The legislation would track all prescriptions for Schedule II through Schedule V drugs, which is a bit too far for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The rights groups said it had privacy concerns, and that low abuse potential Schedule V drugs should not be tracked.

Law Enforcement

"Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid Protestors March to Atlanta Federal Courthouse. Supporters of Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesevahn, the Georgia toddler severely burned by a flash bang grenade during a botched SWAT drug raid, marched to the federal courthouse in Atlanta Tuesday to press for federal action in the case. A local grand jury refused to indict any of the officers involved. The group, included a lawyer for the family, met with US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates to discuss possible federal charges. Yates' office said it is considering the case.

International

New Zealand Arbitrator Throws Out Positive Marijuana Test Firing. The Employment Relations Authority has overturned the firing of a man forced to take a drug test after an anonymous caller told his employer he had been smoking pot in a parking garage. The Authority held that the company was not entitled to force the man to take a drug test. The company was ordered to pay $14,000 in damages and lost wages.

Colombia Massacre Opens Window on Black Market Synthetic Drug Trade. Eight reported drug traffickers involved in trying to dominate the trade in synthetic stimulants were gunned down outside Cali recently, and TeleSur TVhas a lengthy and interesting report on what it reveals about the fragmented nature of the drug trade there and the role of the new synthetics in it. The new drugs, such as 2CB, known colloquially as "pink cocaine," are popular with elite youth, and are now apparently being produced in-country. The lucrative trade is leading to turf wars, with the Cali killings being the most evident example.

Chronicle AM: Carl Sagan Pot Papers Released, Supreme Court Takes Up Highway Drug Dog Detentions, More (10/8/14)

The Library of Congress unveils writings on marijuana and drug reform from astronomer Carl Sagan, pot pops up in the Oklahoma Senate race, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of how long police can detain someone on the side of the road waiting for a drug dog, the "Baby Bou Bou" SWAT raid case isn't over yet, and more. Let's get to it:

Carl Sagan
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Pops Up in Oklahoma US Senate Race. Even in Oklahoma, though that is not really a big surprise, given that Democratic contender state Sen. Constance Johnson is a leading Sooner advocate for legalization. At a debate in Stillwater with Republican contender US Rep. James Lankford, Johnson surprised no one by standing by her well-known position on pot. And Lankford surprised no one by opposing it. Click on the link to get some flavor.

Carl Sagan's Writings on Marijuana, Drug Policy in New Library of Congress Exhibit. The Library of Congress in Washington, DC, has made available to the public a huge trove of astronomer and PBS "Cosmos" host Carl Sagan's papers relating to marijuana and drug policy. Sagan was a proponent of marijuana and drug reform, and Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority has penned a nice piece about the collection and its release. Click on the title link to read it.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Committee Assignment. The bill, Senate Bill 1182, passed the Senate last month, but is being slowed down by Republicans in the House. It was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, but Republican members said it would have to have at least two public hearings before going to a committee vote. With only four working days left in the legislative session, that isn't going to happen this year.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court to Rule on Roadside Detention of Motorists While Cops Await Arrival of Drug Dogs. How long can police hold a driver on the side of the road while waiting for a drug dog to arrive to do a sniff (which the Supreme Court considers not a search)? The US Supreme Court agreed yesterday to take up a case that could decide that issue. In the case, a Nebraska man was stopped for an alleged traffic infraction and ticketed by the officer 21 minutes later. But he remained detained by the officer for another six minutes, until backup arrived. The officer then used the dog to sniff the car, the dog alerted, a search ensued, and methamphetamine was found. The man pleaded guilty, but appealed, saying his detention after the ticket was written amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Oral arguments will be presented early next year. The court opinion will likely be announced by June 2015.

Family of Toddler Burned in Georgia SWAT Drug Raid Seeks Federal Charges. After a Georgia grand jury declined to indict any police officers in the botched drug raid that left toddler Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" severely injured when a SWAT officer through a flash-bang grenade in his play pen, his family is seeking a meeting this week with federal prosecutors in hopes of getting federal charges filed. While the local grand jury failed to indict, it was highly critical of law enforcement practices in the case. "There should be no such thing as an emergency narcotics investigation," the jurors wrote in their report. Georgia US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement that her office is looking into it. "Federal authorities have been participating in the investigation of this terrible incident, and now that a state grand jury has declined to return an indictment. We will review the matter for possible federal charges," said Yates.

International

Bolivian Presidential Candidates on Drug Policy. The PanAm Post has a nice analysis of the drug policy positions of the various candidates in the Bolivian presidential elections set for Sunday. While sitting President Evo Morales has won kudos for his coca policies, he has not undertaken any broader reform initiatives, such as drug decriminalization or legalization. Neither have any of the other candidates. The candidates are united in their "prohibitionist insanity," the article notes. Morales is expected to be reelected.

El Chapo Guzman Indicted in New York for Murders. Mexico's imprisoned Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been indicted for 12 murders in an indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn. He and his successor, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, were also charged with money-laundering more than $14 billion in drug profits. But don't look for him to be heading for New York any time soon; he faces numerous charges in Mexico, as well.

Mexican Drug Gang Hit Men Linked to Mass Murder of Student Teachers in Guerrero. The attorney general for the state of Guerrero said Tuesday that some of the 44 rural teachers' college students who went missing last week after clashing with police in the city of Iguala were probably executed by drug traffickers working with crooked police. Two men who identified themselves as members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang have supposedly confessed to killing at least 17 of them. Authorities have found a mass grave containing 27 bodies. The state attorney general said it appeared local police arrested the students, then handed them over to the hit men. The students were said to be political radicals and had been protesting against local officials. This sort of repressive political violence is nothing new in Guerrero, but the mass murder is one of the largest in recent Mexican history.

This article 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.)

World Leaders Call for Regulatory Alternatives to Drug Prohibition [FEATURE]

In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson.

These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. The commission's members include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, and more.

The report's executive summary lists a number of policy prescriptions, some of them quite breathtakingly bold:

  • Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession -- and stop imposing "compulsory treatment" on people whose only offense is drug use or possession.
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.

In other words, decriminalize drug possession, legalize and regulate drug markets, and end the failed decades-long embrace of prohibitionism. This is a policy advance from the Commission's initial 2011 report, which, while breaking new ground in advancing the debate of drug prohibition, did not go as far as calling for efforts to regulate and legalize drugs.

Global Commission meeting in Warsaw last year, with four former presidents present. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
"Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation," said Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue -- rather than as a crime -- and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let's also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking."

"Health-based approaches to drug policy routinely prove much less expensive and more effective than criminalization and incarceration," said former Mexican President Zedillo. "Decriminalization of drug consumption is certainly crucial but not sufficient. Significant legal and institutional reforms, both at the national and international levels, are needed to allow governments and societies to put in place policies to regulate the supply of drugs with rigorous medical criteria, if the engines of organized crime profiting from drug traffic are to be truly dismantled."

The Commission's report today is only the latest evidence of growing global momentum for fundamental drug policy reforms. After the Commission's 2011 report, sitting Latin American heads of state, including Presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay, as well as then-President Felipe Calderón in Mexico, for the first time made drug reform a major topic at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia.

That was followed 13 months later by an Organization of American States report, commissioned by the heads of state of the region, calling for consideration of drug legalization along with other possible scenarios as a potential policy alternative. And late last year, Uruguay broke new ground, becoming the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana commerce.

All of this has created a big push for a new look at global drug prohibition during the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs set for 2016. The last UNGASS, in 1998, was dominated by rhetorical calls for a "drug-free world" and ended with unrealistic goals of suppressing illicit drug production (which, of course, have not been met), but the Commission and the global political leaders whose voices it echoes are working to use the next UNGASS to advance a frankly and radically reformist alternative.

Celebrity Commission member Richard Branson (Wikimedia/David Shankbone)
"We can't go on pretending the war on drugs is working," said Richard Branson. "We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation."

American drug reformers liked what they were hearing.

"When the Commission released its initial report just three years ago, few expected its recommendations to be embraced anytime soon by current presidents," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's exactly what happened, with Colombian President Santos and Guatemala President Perez-Molina speaking out boldly, former Mexican President Calderon calling on the United Nations to reassess the prohibitionist approach to drugs, and Uruguayan President Mujica approving the first national law to legally regulate cannabis. Meanwhile, one Commission member, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has opened up the drug policy debate in West Africa, recruiting some of the region's most distinguished figures," he noted.

"The import of the Commission's report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations," Nadelmann continued. "The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There's no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle. I'm grateful to the Commission for the pivotal role it has played in taking drug policy reform from the fringes of international politics to the mainstream."

"With polling having shown consistent majority voter support for legalizing marijuana in the US for several years now, it's been clear that this is a mainstream issue in this country," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "Now this group of world leaders has not only put marijuana legalization on the table for serious consideration on the global stage, but has gone even further by suggesting that ending the prohibition of other drugs should be considered as a way to better protect public health and safety. The hope now is that these forward-thinking recommendations by so many respected former heads of state will encourage current officials to modernize their nations' policies."

The Global Commission on Drugs is showing the path forward to more enlightened drug policies. Now it's up to citizens to push for reform from the bottom up, and it's up to national and international leaders to start making those changes at the national and international level.

New York, NY
United States

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