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Home State Blues, or What's an Itinerant Activist To Do?

Your itinerant Drug War Chronicle has been bouncing around North America for the last few years, spending significant amounts of time in Washington state, British Columbia, Mexico, Northern California, and my home state, South Dakota. The traveling is nice, but I’ve felt politically homeless, as if my presence anywhere were too fleeting for me to be able to do local or state-level politics, and that’s a frustration. So, as much as I would rather be elsewhere, I’m thinking I need to hunker down here in Dakotaland and try to get something done. It is not friendly territory. South Dakota is the only state where voters rejected an initiative to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Although it was a close vote, 52% to 48%, it was still a loss. Medical marijuana bills (introduced by an acquaintance of mine) early in the decade went nowhere. The state has one of the fastest growing prison populations right now, thanks largely to its approach to methamphetamine use. Marijuana possession is routinely punished by $500 fines, and there is a good chance of jail time, too. (In fact, you may be better off being convicted of drunk driving, if my local court records are any indication.) And, most hideously of all, South Dakota is the only state I know of that has an “internal possession” law. That means when the police arrest you with a joint, they make you submit to a urine test, then charge you with an additional offense if you test positive. South Dakota judges also routinely sign drug search warrants that include forced drug tests. I know one gentleman currently serving a five-year prison sentence for “internal possession” of methamphetamine metabolites, and no, it wasn’t a plea bargain. That was the only charge they had. South Dakota’s drug reform community (which can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand) seems beaten down, but I think I’m going to reach out and see if I can’t get anyone interested in a four-pronged drug reform legislative package: Hemp. Our neighbors in North Dakota have passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp and are currently suing the DEA to force it out of the way. South Dakota farmers would like to make profits, too. Medical marijuana. Yeah, we lost a close one last year, and it’s never been able to get any traction in the legislature. But I think we should make them deal with it again. Our neighbors in Montana seem to be surviving medical marijuana. Marijuana decriminalization. Does South Dakota really think pot possession is more serious than drunk driving? Does the legislature understand the lifelong impact of pot conviction on its constituents? Our neighbors in Nebraska decriminalized pot back in the 1970s, and the cornfields are still standing. Repeal of the internal possession laws. Criminalizing someone for the content of his blood or urine is just wrong. Winning any of these will be an uphill battle, and perhaps even linking hemp to broader drug reform issues would spell its doom here. But I think it’s every good activist’s responsibility to do what he can to slow down the drug war juggernaut, so I’m going to give it a shot. What are you doing in your state?
Localização: 
United States

South Pacific: Northern Mariana Islands in Tizzy Over Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal

A proposal by the highest law enforcement official in the Confederation of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to consider decriminalizing marijuana has met with a barrage of public criticism, according to the Saipan Tribune. The proposal saw the light of day when the newspaper obtained a copy of a letter from Health Secretary Joseph Villagomez to Attorney General Matthew Gregory addressing a May meeting between the two.

According to the letter, Gregory and Villagomez met to discuss Gregory's proposal to convene a meeting of experts to discuss marijuana's "benefits and lack of harm." In the letter, Villagomez said the Gregory hoped the health secretary would ask the legislature to remove marijuana from the archipelago's list of controlled substances.

That got to Senate Vice President Pete Reyes. "Just the idea that the highest law enforcement of the land is even thinking about it is very disheartening, frightening. It gives the impression that we're so desperate to generate some money that we would sell our souls," Reyes said.

In the wake of the blast from Reyes, a Gregory spokesman denied that he wants to legalize marijuana, but said that he is in touch with people who want to hold such a conference. He also said the administration has not take a position on making marijuana legal in the CNMI, but it approves of an open debate on the issue.

"No definite commitment has been made with regard to this proposal. The AGO will not do anything without the consent of the governor. We support an open discussion. We should let the people decide what they think is right," the spokesman said.

Health Secretary Villagomez, a 15-year substance abuse professional, declined to ask the legislature to decriminalize marijuana, saying he could not ignore the physical and psychological damage that he had seen drugs, including marijuana, cause to people. He also expressed concern that legalizing marijuana would result in more broken families, traffic accidents, and teen addiction, among other things. He noted that DPH would have to deal with these likely consequences. If Attorney General Gregory wants to decriminalize the weed, he should ask the governor to convene a meeting, he said.

"If the governor is onboard with this plan then I respectfully ask the governor to call for such a meeting. Since the Legislature will be the ultimate body that will remove marijuana from the listing, maybe they should be the one to call for such a meeting," Villagomez said.

Europe: One-fifth of MEPs support decriminalisation of cannabis

[Courtesy of EURODRUG] A wide-ranging survey of Members of the European Parliament - including Britain's representatives - has revealed strong support for the decriminalisation of cannabis across Europe. The team from The Universities of Manchester, Aberystwyth and the London School of Economics also revealed controversial attitudes to abortion, crime, defence and immigration among members. Professors David Farrell from The University of Manchester, Simon Hix from the London school of Economics and Roger Scully from the University of Aberystwyth, contacted all 732 MEPs of whom 272 responded. The study - carried out in summer 2006 - found that one-fifth of the MEPs felt marijuana should be decriminalised. One-third of British MEPs -- much higher than the average -- supported decriminalisation, though Dutch MEPs were the most liberal at 83 per cent. Other results included: * Half of the MEPs (51%) think there should be more harmonisation of national immigration policies. The British figure, however, is less than one-third at 32%. * Just short of three-quarters of MEPs (70%) think that women should be free to decide on abortion, though only 20% of Irish MEPs agree. * Three-quarters (73%) of MEPs think there should be EU-wide arrest warrants for serious crimes. 54%of British MEPs agree. * 40% of MEPs think that the EU rather than NATO should be responsible for European defence, though only 29 % of British MEPs agree. * 40% of MEPs think that EU foreign policy should be a counterweight to the US. In the case of French MEPs, the figure rises to 64%. * 68% of MEPs think the EU should no longer meet in Strasbourg, though only 7 per cent of French MEPs agree. Professor Farrell, Head of the School of Social Sciences at The University of Manchester, said: "For much of its life, the European Parliament could have been justly labelled a 'multi-lingual talking shop'. "But this is no longer the case: the EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world both in terms of its legislative and executive oversight powers. "The views of MEPs as shown in this survey may very well have a direct impact on policy and therefore on all citizens in the EU. "So the public should sit up and take notice of what their representatives are saying." Professor Simon Hix from the London school of Economics added: "Our work also shows that politics in the European Parliament is becoming increasingly based around party and ideology. "Voting is increasingly split along left-right lines, and the cohesion of the party groups has risen dramatically, particularly in the fourth and fifth parliaments. "So there are likely to be policy implications here too." NOTES FOR EDITORS The survey will be officially launched at the Brussels European Parliament headquarters of the European Parliament on June 13, 2007. A more comprehensive data sheet is available. UK National Centre for Social Research designed the web-site on which the survey was hosted. Each MEP was contacted personally by letter (translated into their mother tongue), and invited to participate in the survey online. Professors Farrell and Hix are available for comment For more details contact: Mike Addelman Media Relations Officer Faculty of Humanities The University of Manchester 0161 275 0790 07717 991 567 [email protected]
Localização: 

Marijuana: Wisconsin Towns Join Decriminalization Trend

Small town Washburn, Wisconsin, may cling to the shores of Lake Superior at the northernmost tip of the state, but it's not clinging to tough marijuana law enforcement. Last week, the Washburn City Council passed an ordinance allowing city police to issue tickets to people caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and booking them.

That made Washburn only the latest Cheesehead State locality to pass a decrim ordinance -- and that distinction was short-lived. On Monday, the Two Rivers City Council passed an ordinance making possession of less than eight grams of marijuana a municipal offense.

The move to municipal decrim began in the 1970s, when 15 cities, mostly college towns, adopted ordinances, according to veteran Wisconsin marijuana and civil liberties activist Ben Masel. Milwaukee moved to the scheme in the early 1990s. Also in the early 1990s, counties were given similar authority, and Walworth County, home of the Alpine Valley Music Theater, which hosted Grateful Dead tours, notoriously turned a nice profit on $454 marijuana possession citations.

This year, Dane County (Madison) and Eau County prosecutors announced they would charge offenders exclusively under county ordinances rather than state law. But in other locales, that decision is left to local prosecutors. Being prosecuted under local ordinances has the benefit of leaving no criminal conviction and no loss of student aid or other benefits. But there can still be hefty penalties, and, Masel noted, a lower burden of proof for a civil infraction and no right to a jury trial.

It's all good with Washburn Assistant Police Chief Jeremy Clapero, who told a local radio station the ordinance would give police flexibility in dealing with pot users. Under Wisconsin law, simple marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Previously lacking a municipal ordinance, police had to put marijuana possessors in jail.

"They were arrested on the spot and brought to jail -- they were booked into the jail and then they would be at some point released and appear in court on that charge," said Clapero. "Now there's a situation where they can get a ticket with the fine amount and released. It's not on their criminal record at that point."

While Clapero said people could still be arrested under the state law, the ordinance will save police time and resources. "A situation where a person has a small or a very small amount of marijuana in their possession or in their car, this may be used instead of bringing that person to criminal court and having a criminal offense on their record for something would he be issued a city ordinance citation which is a forfeiture offense -- similar to like a speeding ticket."

But don't think this means Washburn police have seen the light regarding the war on drugs. "It's not intended to say that we're not tough on drugs. We're still tough on drugs it's just gives us another avenue. We're behind just what every other agency has done, so we just kind of stepped up and did what they did." Clapero said.

Chafee questions effectiveness of global drug laws

Localização: 
Providence, RI
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Pawtucket Times (RI)
URL: 
http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18209981&BRD=1713&PAG=461&dept_id=24491&rfi=6

Reefer Madness: A Modest Proposal

Localização: 
TX
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Austin Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/column?oid=oid%3A460811

The Truth About Marijuana Use in the UK

As Phil notes below, there's a new wave of reefer madness taking hold in England. The Independent's reporting is hysterical in both senses of the word, so much so that the ONDCP blog wasted no time in picking up the story.

We're told that marijuana addiction among teenagers has skyrocketed, that marijuana is 25 times stronger than it was generation ago, and that marijuana just might cause schizophrenia. And the underlying implication of all this is that the effort to legalize marijuana, culminating in the UK's 2004 reclassification decriminalizing simple possession, has somehow caused all of these horrible problems.

Interestingly, The Independent's multiple articles yesterday reached their conclusions without mentioning usage rates. Here's why: marijuana use in the UK is going down. From The Observer in October, 2006:
According to a report by the Central Narcotics Office, after more than a decade of rapid growth, seizures of cannabis resin in Europe dropped by a fifth last year, to 831 tonnes.


The apparent trend is reinforced by British figures which show that the popularity of cannabis in the UK has plummeted, with 600,000 fewer people smoking or eating marijuana than three years ago.
The failure to address this relevant, yet contradictory fact is a hallmark of alarmist pseudo-scientific drug war reporting. Instead we get this:
Today record numbers of young people are in treatment programmes for skunk [high-grade marijuana] abuse and hospital admissions due to the drug are at their highest ever.
We know that rumors of more potent pot are both wildly exaggerated and largely irrelevant since users adjust their doses to achieve the desired effect regardless of potency. We also know that potency has increased notably (3-4 times, not 25) and that increased potency has much to do with prohibition, which creates a financial incentive for growers to maximize their risk/reward ratio since punishment is determined by weight rather than THC content.

So if it isn't the potency, then what's driving the spike in marijuana treatment in the UK? I think the answer is that reduced stigma and a new policy of not arresting casual users have resulted in more people seeking help. It makes vastly more sense than arguing that marijuana suddenly turned into crack laced with heroin the moment they decriminalized it.

I can't prove my theory anymore than addiction "experts" can prove that marijuana had almost no THC in the '60's. But it makes intuitive sense. Wouldn't you expect more people to seek treatment once the risk of arrest is removed?

After decriminalizing marijuana, the British are seeing lower usage rates and more people seeking treatment. Let's talk about that.

Localização: 
United States

The Independent on Sunday Reverses Itself on Decrim, Warns of Killer Skunk, Reefer Madness

A decade ago, the British newspaper the Independent on Sunday made headlines itself when it came out strongly for the decriminalization of marijuana. Now, sad to say, it appears that the venerable newspaper has succumbed to Reefer Madness. In a front page editorial and series of related articles yesterday, the Independent reversed course:
Yes, our front page today is calculated to grab your attention. We do not really believe that The Independent on Sunday was wrong at the time, 10 years ago, when we called for cannabis to be decriminalized. As Rosie Boycott, who was the editor who ran the campaign, argues, the drug that she sought to decriminalize then was rather different from that which is available on the streets now. Indeed, this newspaper's campaign was less avant-garde than it seemed. Only four years later, The Daily Telegraph went farther, calling for cannabis to be legalized for a trial period. We were leading a consensus, which even this Government - often guilty of gesture-authoritarianism - could not resist, downgrading cannabis from class B to class C. At the same time, however, two things were happening. One was the shift towards more powerful forms of the drug, known as skunk. The other was the emerging evidence of the psychological harm caused to a minority of users, especially teenage boys and particularly associated with skunk. We report today that the number of cannabis users on drug treatment programs has risen 13-fold since our campaign was launched, and that nearly half of the 22,000 currently on such programs are under the age of 18. Of course, part of the explanation for this increase is that the provision of treatment is better than it was 10 years ago. But there is no question, as Robin Murray, one of the leading experts in this field, argues on these pages, that cannabis use is associated with growing mental health problems.
Ouch. This is really a shame, and it's even more shameful because the Independent on Sunday appears to have fallen prey to propaganda that could have come straight from the mouth of the American drug czar. This is not your father's marijuana, the newspaper argues with a straight face, this is the KILLER SKUNK! As one of the related articles puts it, "skunk - a form of cannabis so powerful that experts are warning it can be 25 times more powerful than the cannabis used by previous generations." What!? As far as I know, the most high-powered strains of marijuana are capable of THC yields of around 25% to 30%, with what is commonly known as "kind bud" having a yield of 10% to 15%. (These figures may be a bit off, but not much). Marijuana with 1% THC is about the equivalent of ditch weed. For the Independent's claims to be accurate, all those people smoking pot in Swinging London in the 1960s must have been smoking ditch weed and deceived into thinking they were getting high, while everyone in London now must be smoking the most exclusive buds in the world. This "25 times" figure is just plain bogus, and I don’t understand how the Independent fell for it. We've already debunked the American drug czar's version of this. Now are we going to have to do remedial work across the pond? Besides, skunk is but one variety of high-potency weed. What about AK-47 and White Widow? Singling out skunk as the culprit seems to be to be based on ignorance more than anything. I am also struck by the increasingly shrill claims of links between marijuana and madness. These seem to be especially prevalent in the United Kingdom and Australia. (While the UK frets about skunk, the Australians have their own idiosyncratic and equally scientifically indefensible bogeyman: HYDROPONIC! As if the growing medium used to produce marijuana were the determinant of its nature.) I'm not prepared to debunk the Independent on these claims today, but I do wonder about at least two things: Why isn’t this stuff driving us crazy over here, or, at least, why isn’t John Walters raising holy hell about the link between marijuana and madness? And if marijuana use has increased dramatically in the UK in past decades and if potency has indeed increased (which I don't doubt), then where is the accompanying spike in reported schizophrenia cases? I think I'm going to have to do a feature article on this important and disappointing turn of events. I'll use that to look more closely at the claims about marijuana and mental illness. I am starting to get worried, though; I've been smoking that stuff for 35 years, and now madness could be right around the corner. Who knew?
Localização: 
London
United Kingdom

UMD: Senators poised to wage pot fight

Localização: 
College Park, MD
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Diamondback (MD)
URL: 
http://media.www.diamondbackonline.com/media/storage/paper873/news/2007/03/16/News/Senators.Poised.To.Wage.Pot.Fight-2778059.shtml

Australia: NSW Greens' Call to Decriminalize Drug Possession Causes Pre-Election Stir

Drug policy is becoming a major campaign issue in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW). With an ongoing, highly publicized "epidemic" of methamphetamine use under way and elections now less than 10 days away, the NSW Green Party is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession -- even the dreaded ice, as meth is commonly referred to Down Under -- and Liberal and Labor party foes are attacking them for it.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/learhiannon.jpg
Lee Rhiannon
Although Greens hold only a handful of seats in the state parliament, by throwing their support to the governing Labor Party in some key districts, they could end up holding the balance of power in the Upper House. The NSW Greens' leading Upper House candidate, Lee Rhiannon, has been the party's main spokesperson in the increasingly nasty exchanges over drug policy.

The Greens' position on the decriminalization of drug possession is not ad hoc. It reflects the party's formal platform on drug policy, adopted last October after extensive consultations with party members. The platform also calls for the stronger embrace of harm reduction measures and the decriminalization of marijuana growing for personal use.

While the Greens' drug platform is not new, Rhiannon's public reiteration of it Monday ignited a firestorm of criticism and mischaracterization. The Daily Telegraph blurted to its readers that the Greens were "effectively saying that ice junkies should be free to buy as much of the deadly substance as they want." The Daily Telegraph also described the Green position that decriminalizing drug possession was less dangerous than prohibition as "a bizarre defense."

Liberal leader Peter Debnam was also caustic, writing in his blog: "Any Member of Parliament who thinks we should decriminalize drugs, including 'Ice', should take a good hard look at themselves, do the community a favour, and resign" and "This drug is death to young people and it is undermining a whole generation."

While Debnam accused the Greens and the Labor Party of cooking up some sort of "ice deal," there was little sign of that from Labor Premier Morris Iemma. He responded to the Green drug platform by saying: "It is just an absurd, ridiculous and disgusting policy." Any MP who supported such a policy was "completely out of touch with reality," he said.

Just to make things perfectly clear, Labor Party secretary Mark Arbib added that while Labor was willing to cut an electoral deal with the Greens, it does not endorse Green drug policy. "There will be no watering down of the (Labor) party's tough drug laws or positions on other social issues," he said.

But the Greens are fighting back, against both the political attacks and the yellow journalism. "The allegation in today's Daily Telegraph that the Greens policy would allow people to buy unlimited amounts of the deadly drug 'ice' is totally false," Rhiannon said in a Tuesday statement. "The Greens policy does not support unlimited supply of any drug, least of all crystal methamphetamine. This attack on the Greens is an election scare tactic which will distract from the urgent task of protecting young people from ice. The Greens do not support drug use and our policy does not condone people using the new drug known as ice."

Rhiannon also went after Premier Iemma for both failure and hypocrisy. "The Iemma government has failed to deal with the increased use of ice," she said. "The use of crystal methamphetamine has increased during the term of the Iemma/Carr government. There are now more than 17,700 regular methamphetamine users and 14,700 dependent methamphetamine users in Sydney and the number is growing rapidly," she noted.

"The drug policies of the Labor government are failing to deal with the epidemic," Rhiannon continued. "What is needed are prevention initiatives that educate the target populations to the dangers of using the drug and effective and accessible treatment programs for dependent and addicted users."

In fact, as the Greens noted in a Wednesday press release, Labor actually quietly supports many Green harm reduction notions and treatment and diversion programs for meth users. "The Premier is quick to put the boot into the Greens for our approach to ice. But the reality is Labor has instituted innovative ice programs, based on the harm minimization principles advocated by the Greens," Rhiannon said.

Among those programs is a stimulant treatment program at two hospitals, the safe injection room at Kings Cross, and the "MERIT" program that diverts meth users into treatment instead of jail. "If we really want to make NSW ice free, these programs need to be expanded and receive a massive increase in funding," said Rhiannon. "Premier Iemma should shout these initiatives from the rooftops instead of hiding behind his tough "law and order" policies. It appears that he is more concerned about a political backlash. To successfully eradicate ice politicians must be willing to take action that may be at first unpopular. Without brave policy from government, ice will continue to wreak havoc in our society."

Perhaps Debnam, Arbib and Iemma should listen to prominent Australian physician Dr. Alex Wodak's interview last year with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Among Wodak's quotes of note: "Prohibition didn't work in America in the 1920s and it won't work now."

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